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“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.

France

Cité de la Musique Part 1

18 March 2011 

Paris’s music scene proliferates throughout many of its arrondissements, from the Opéra Bastille (home of the Opéra National de Paris) and the Opéra-Comique to the Palais Garnier (or Opéra Garnier, mostly ballet today) and the Théâtre de la Ville (formerly Théâtre Lyrique; contemporary dance); from the Salle Pleyel (with resident ensembles Orchestre de Paris and Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France) and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (both classical music and theatre) to music halls such as Le Lido and l'Olympia (where Édith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier once performed); from the stage at IRCAM (avant-garde music) to performances at St-Eustache, Ste-Chapelle, and La Madeleine (classical music); and from Élysée-Montmartre (popular music) and Le Zénith (large-scale popular concerts) to New Morning (jazz and blues).

And then, out in the northeast corner of Paris in the 19th arrondissement, there is the Cité de la Musique.  It is a fine arts factory of sorts where all aspects of the assembly of music — its design, tools, science, pedagogy, and realization — take place.  On this day Colleen and I devoted an afternoon and an evening to dive into this swirling vortex of performance arts.

 

 

The Métro spit us out into the Parc de la Villette, a 1980s post-modern afterthought to what was a livestock market (one of Mitterand’s Grands Projets), encompassing 136 acres and including a science museum, exhibition pavilion, theatre, concert hall, and music center.  We walked around the huge Cité des Sciences et de L’industrie, past La Geode (an Omnimax cinema with a hemispherical screen), and various folies (red cubistic structures scattered throughout the park, offering various services:  café, day care, etc.), and strolled along the Canal de l’Ourcq, underneath the Galerie de Villette, a kilometer-long awning that parallels the canal.

Colleen was indifferent to the futuristic bent of the park; I found it, well, drôle.  In any case, the wide-open, green space provided a striking contrast to cobblestones, cathedrals, or catacombs experienced on previous days and, as hoped, a good cure for jet lag (our reason for choosing a more distant métro stop than needed).

 

Folies along the Canal de l’Ourcq

 

After ambling through the park for about 20 minutes, we reached the Cité de la Musique.  This complex has been home to the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris (Conservatoire de Paris, for short) since 1990.  In that year, the above-named music and dance wing left the Conservatoire National Supérieur D’art Dramatique (the acting, theatre, and drama wing) in their original building at 14, Rue de Madrid in the 8th arrondissement, where both units existed together as one school since 1911.  The original building — where the Conservatoire began during the revolutionary fervor of 1792 — is at 2, Rue Bergère in the 9th arrondissement.  It was here that the young Hector Berlioz had his “first interview” with Director Luigi Cherubini when he used the wrong door inadvertently, as he recounted in chapter IX of his Mémoires:

A peine parvenu à la direction du Conservatoire, en remplacement de Perne qui venait de mourir, Cherubini voulut signaler son avénement par des rigueurs inconnues dans l’organisation intérieure de l’école, où le puritanisme n’était pas précisément à l’ordre du jour. Il ordonna, pour rendre la rencontre des élèves des deux sexes impossible hors de la surveillance des professeurs, que les hommes entrassent par la porte du Faubourg-Poissonnière, et les femmes par celle de la rue Bergère ; ces différentes entrées étant placées aux deux extrémités opposées du bâtiment.

En me rendant un matin à la bibliothèque, ignorant le décret moral qui venait d’être promulgué, j’entrai, suivant ma coutume, par la porte de la rue Bergère, la porte féminine, et j’allais arriver à la bibliothèque quand un domestique, m’arrêtant au milieu de la cour, voulut me faire sortir pour revenir ensuite au même point en rentrant par la porte masculine. Je trouvai si ridicule cette prétention que j’envoyai paître l’argus en livrée, et je poursuivis mon chemin. Le drôle voulait faire sa cour au nouveau maître en se montrant aussi rigide que lui. Il ne se tint donc pas pour battu, et courut rapporter le fait au directeur. J’étais depuis un quart d’heure absorbé par la lecture d’Alceste, ne songeant plus à cet incident, quand Cherubini, suivi de mon dénonciateur, entra dans la salle de lecture, la figure plus cadavéreuse, les cheveux plus hérissés, les yeux plus méchants et d’un pas plus saccadé que de coutume. Ils firent le tour de la table où étaient accoudés plusieurs lecteurs ; après les avoir tous examinés successivement, le domestique, s’arrêtant devant moi, s’écria : « Le voilà ! » Cherubini était dans une telle colère qu’il demeura un instant sans pouvoir articuler une parole : « Ah ! ah ! ah ! ah ! c’est vous, dit-il enfin, avec son accent italien que sa fureur rendait plus comique, c’est vous qui entrez par la porte, qué, qué, qué zé ne veux pas qu’on passe ! — Monsieur, je ne connaissais pas votre défense, une autre fois je m’y conformerai. — Une autre fois ! une autre fois ! Qué-qué-qué vénez-vous faire ici ? — Vous le voyez, monsieur, j’y viens étudier les partitions de Gluck. — Et qu’est-ce qué, qu’est-ce qué-qué-qué vous regardent les partitions dé Gluck ? et qui vous a permis dé venir à-à-à la bibliothèque ? — Monsieur ! (je commençais à perdre mon sang-froid), les partitions de Gluck sont ce que je connais de plus beau en musique dramatique et je n’ai besoin de la permission de personne pour venir les étudier ici. Depuis dix heures jusqu’à trois la bibliothèque du Conservatoire est ouverte au public, j’ai le droit d’en profiter. — Lé-lé-lé-lé droit ? — Oui, monsieur. — Zé vous défends d’y revenir, moi ! — J’y reviendrai, néanmoins. — Co-comme-comment-comment vous appelez-vous ? » crie-t-il, tremblant de fureur. Et moi pâlissant à mon tour : « Monsieur ! mon nom vous sera peut-être connu quelque jour, mais pour aujourd’hui... vous ne le saurez pas ! — Arrête, a-a-arrête-le, Hottin (le domestique s’appelait ainsi), qué-qué-qué zé lé fasse zeter en prison ! » Ils se mettent alors tous les deux, le maître et le valet, à la grande stupéfaction des assistants, à me poursuivre autour de la table, renversant tabourets et pupitres, sans pouvoir m’atteindre, et je finis par m’enfuir à la course en jetant, avec un éclat de rire, ces mots à mon persécuteur : « Vous n’aurez ni moi ni mon nom, et je reviendrai bientôt ici étudier encore les partitions de Gluck !»

Voilà comment se passa ma première entrevue avec Cherubini. Je ne sais s’il s’en souvenait quand je lui fus ensuite présenté d’une façon plus officielle.

Having barely become director of the Conservatory, in replacement of Perne who had just died, Cherubini wanted to signal his coming by unknown rigors in the internal organization of the school, which had not exactly been puritanical.  He ordered, to make it impossible for students of the two sexes to encounter each other outside the supervision of the professors, that the men enter by the door of the Faubourg-Poissonnière, and the women by the one of the rue Bergère; these different entries being placed to the two opposed extremities of the building.

While returning one morning to the library, ignorant the moral decree that had just been promulgated, I entered, following my custom, by the door of the rue Bergère, the female door, and I was going to arrive at the library when a member of the staff, stopping me in the middle of the courtyard, wanted to make me go out and return to the same point while entering by the male door.  I found this expectation so ridiculous that I sent the Argus [a mythological watchman with 100 eyes] in livery to “graze,” and I went on my way.  The scoundrel wanted to impress the new master by showing himself as rigid as him.  He ran to relate the fact to the director.  After a quarter of an hour I was absorbed in reading Alceste, no longer thinking of this incident, when Cherubini, followed by my denunciator, entered into the reading room, his face more cadaverous, his hair more ruffled, his eyes more malicious and his step jerkier than ever.  They made their way around the table where several readers leaned on their elbows; after having examined each successively, the servant, stopping in front of me, shouted:  "Here he is!"  Cherubini was so angry that he remained an instant without being able to articulate a word:  "Ah! ah! ah! ah! it is you,” he says at last, with his Italian accent rendered more comical by his fury, “It is you that enter by the door, that, that, that it is prohibited to enter!”  — “Sir, I did not know your prohibition; another time I will obey.”  — “Another time! another time!  What-what-what are you doing here?”  — “You see it, sir, I come here to study Gluck’s scores.” — “And why is it that–that-that you look at Gluck’s scores? and who allowed you to come into-to-to the library?”  — “Sir!”  (I began losing my self-control), “Gluck’s scores are the most beautiful dramatic music that I know and I do not need the permission of anybody to come to study them here.  The Conservatory library is opened to the public from ten until three; I have the right to benefit from it.”  — “The-the-the–the right?”  — “Yes, sir.”  — “I forbid you to return here, I do!”  — “I will return, nevertheless.”  — “Wh-what-what-what is your name?"  he screams, trembling with fury.  And I in turn become pale:  " Sir! My name maybe will be known you some day, but for today . . . you will not know it!”  — “Stop, s-s-stop-him, Hottin,” (as the staff member was called) “that-that-that one that I will throw in prison!"  Then they set themselves, both master and staff member, to the astonishment of the onlookers, to chase me around the table, upending stools and desks, without being able to catch me, until I finally ran off while throwing, with a laugh, these words to my persecutor:  "You will not have me nor my name, and I will return here to study Gluck’s scores again soon!"

This is how my first interview with Cherubini happened.  I do not know if he remembered it when I next was officially presented to him.

Today, the modern complex known as Cité de la Musique features a museum, a restoration laboratory, a documentation center, a concert hall (where we planned to attend a concert this evening), a library, studios, and a café.  This last element, I suppose, is what qualifies the arrangement to be considered a cité, as every city seems to need caffeine to run properly.

 

Next, the Musée de la Musique.

 

 


The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (France)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

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