Florent Schmitt: The Composer Interviewed

Florent Schmitt

Florent Schmitt, photographed in the 1950s at the time he was asked to participate in several interviews about his life and career as a composer and musician dating back to the early 1900s.

Courtesy of several audio archives in Paris, music-lovers now have access to several interviews of Florent Schmitt, conducted towards the end of his long career as a composer.

Since the interviews were conducted in French, the major points Schmitt made are summarized in the articles below for the benefit of non-French language speakers.  The articles also provide YouTube links to hear the audio of the actual interviews.

Florent Schmitt interviewed by Georges Charbonnier at the studios of the ORTF (1954)

Florent Schmitt interviewed by Bernard Gavoty at the Jeunesses Musicales de France (1956)

These first-person documents, which provide direct historical links to France’s Golden Age of classical music, are extremely rare — which is what makes it even more gratifying when they come to light.

Of further interest is video footage of Florent Schmitt filmed at the composer’s home in St-Cloud, probably in the early or mid-1950s.  This short clip is the only such documentation I have ever seen — and likewise represents a link with music history.

Rare color film footage of Schmitt in his later years also survives — some of which appears in a documentary film about the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, with whom Schmitt enjoyed a particularly long and fruitful professional and personal relationship.  In that film, you can view a street scene of Schmitt and Villa-Lobos together, beginning at minute-marker 11:11:10.

Special thanks are due to French-American conductor David Grandis, musicologist and author Nicolas Southon, plus musician and audio specialist Peter Joelson for their efforts in finding, preparing and uploading these invaluable in-person interviews for the benefit of a new generation of music-lovers.

In addition to these audio and video artifacts, Florent Schmitt gave numerous interviews for the print press over his long career. One of the last interviews he gave (appearing in the January 11, 1958 edition of Le Figaro Littéraire) is also one of the most personal, giving us glimpses into his personality. It would have been very interesting to spend an afternoon in the composer’s company, hearing his sometimes-irreverent take on music and life.

Le Figaro Litteraire Florent Schmitt 1-11-58

The January 1958 interview article in Le Figaro Littéraire. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

In his dealings with colleagues and friends, Florent Schmitt was often known for his acerbic sense of humor. It’s on display in the calling card below which was left by the composer during a visit. Asked to describe the purpose of his call, Schmitt has written on the card: “To see you before I die.”

Florent Schmitt visiting card

This visiting card left by French composer Florent Schmitt bears a humorous description of the purpose of his visit.

Something of the same spirit can be seen in Florent Schmitt’s response to a question posed by the magazine Le Monde musical of numerous Paris-based composers during the summer of 1929, asking them about their compositions being created and other projects being undertaken.

Most of the composers queried — among them Charles Koechlin, Darius Milhaud, Serge Prokofiev, Alexandre Tansman and Jacques de la Presle — dutifully provided a listing of the fruits of their labors. Schmitt, on the other hand, is frustratingly vague in his response, as can be read here:

Florent Schmitt Le Monde musical Sept 30 1929

“What did you do on your summer vacation?” Florent Schmitt is characteristically vague and coy in his response to the question posed by Le Monde musical, as published in the magazine’s September 30, 1929 issue. (Article courtesy of Sébastien Damarey)