Jolivets Incantations for flute solo

by Anja Weinberger

The composer André Jolivet (1905-1974) is not easy to grasp; his music defies classification. Although he wrote over 200 works for all genres, constantly searching for new directions, one major theme nevertheless seems to dominate his work: Humanism in a diverse world.

After training as an elementary school teacher, he first began to practice his learned profession. However, at the same time he took lessons in composition and orchestration.

His parental home was quite artistic. He discovered the piano and soon the cello early on, as well as painting, writing poetry and acting.

The meeting with Edgar Varèse in 1929, who was already living in the United States at that time, moved a lot. Jolivet became Varèse’s only European student, and the latter was a good teacher to him both musically and philosophically.

From 1935 his musical career took off. In 1936 he founded the group La Jeune France together with Messiaen, Daniel-Lesur and Baudrier.

World War II also left its mark on him, and from 1942 he was finally able to devote himself entirely to composition with the help of a scholarship. In the years that followed, Jolivet was for a time musical director of the Comédie-Française, directed the Centre Français d’Humanisme Musical, taught composition at the Conservatoire de Paris as Darius Milhaud’s successor, and made numerous trips abroad.

He was technical advisor to André Malraux in the Direction générale des arts et lettres of the Ministry of Culture, president of numerous cultural associations, and was showered with awards until his death in 1974.

Such are the facts. His music speaks a different language. Here he is not a Parisian intellectual, but rather a humble citizen of the world with a multilingual, wide-ranging musicality.

We flutists have a challenging, sonorous and very poignant example of his tonal language on our music stands in the 5 Incantations. Each one of the 5 incantations demands much. Technique, tone, breath control, everything is stretched to the limit.

The five headings alone immerse us in another world:

Pour accueillir les négociateurs – et que l’entrevue soit pacifique
Pour que l’enfant qui va naitre soit un fils
Pour que la moisson soit riche qui naitra des sillons que le laboureur trace
Pour une communion sereine de l’être avec le monde
Aux funérailles du chef – pour obtenir la protection de son âme

An approximate translation could read like this:

To receive the negotiators and so that the following talks will be peaceful.
May the child soon to be born be a son
So that the harvest on the field cultivated by the farmer may be rich
So that man may live in harmony with the world
To celebrate the death of the chief – to ask protection for his soul

5 Incantations: No. 1, Pour accueillir les négociateurs – et que l’entrevue soit pacifique

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5 Incantations: No. 2, Pour que l’enfant qui va naître soit un fils

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André Jolivet – Incantation Nº 3 – Jean-Pierre Rampal

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5 Incantations: No. 4, Pour une communion sereine de l’être avec le monde

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5 Incantations: No. 5, Aux funérailles du chef – pour obtenir la protection de son âme

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On the occasion of this work, a quote from Jolivet: “The flute is the musical instrument par excellence. It is, after all, animated by the breath that flows from the depths of humanity and gives to the tones that which comes from the viscera and at the same time means the cosmic.”

Jean-Pierre Rampal, for whom Jolivet had composed the other great work for flute – Chant de Linos – was one of the first to play the Incantations regularly in his concerts.

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