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

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Cité de la Musique Part 2

18 March 2011 

(Read Part 1)

The museum of the Cité de la Musique — Musée de la Musique — has, out of its collection of 4,500, more than 900 historic instruments on display, which the audio guide makes a valiant attempt to elucidate.  I say valiant, because it is no easy thing to define, in another language and using highly technical jargon, highly specialized artifacts from centuries past.

A few years ago I had viewed an instrument collection at another museum — I won’t say where, as these tenuous creatures are rare and certainly need our encouragement  — and was deeply perplexed as I looked at a spinet while the English version of the audio guide held forth at length about a Buddha.  At that point I really tried to attain harpsichordal enlightenment.  After a while, the keyboard did seem to be smiling, but ultimately I concluded that the legs were far too skinny for a Buddha.  I was finally able to gain the correct information by listening to the German version of the audio guide.

The museum has a fascinating collection of historic instruments, its rarer specimens including an oliphant (a horn made from a carved elephant tusk), an eighteenth-century clavecin brisé (literally, “broken keyboard,” a sort of portable harpsichord that breaks into three pieces, folded), a sixteenth-century régale-bible (a tiny portable organ that combines with a Bible and folds into a book for instant church), a medieval tromba marina (having nothing to do with trombones or the sea; it has only one string — two meters long — and 20 sympathetic strings that vibrate on the inside), and a seventeenth-century tortoise-shell guitar (with head and feet still attached!).


You might want to run and get your tortoise-shell eyeglasses so that you can view this guitar properly.



 Speaking of guitars, one can see the specimen that Django Reinhardt played, along with the violin that Stéphane Grappelli used when they were members of the Quintette du Hot Club de France. 

There are also hurdy-gurdies of every variety, viols (of the sort Marin Marais would have played), a baryton (the kind Prince Esterhazy played and for whom Papa Haydn composed), musettes (bagpipes, French variety), serpents with fanciful, carved snake-heads, Renaissance lutes and theorbos, early saxophones invented by Adolphe Sax, and even pochettes (“pocket fiddles,” perfect for carrying around in one’s back pocket).



Offering a practical perspective on the history of music, there are models of stages and concert halls, a Guidonian hand (used for teaching musical concepts) carved in marble from the sixteenth century, and paintings, including the A.J. Aved portrait of Jean-Philippe Rameau playing his violin like a guitar, perhaps suspecting that one day Serge Gainsbourg would be an even bigger superstar.



 As might be expected of the Franks — codifiers of chant repertoire through the Middle Ages — everything in this museum is superbly organized.

On the way out, we stopped at the gift shop, which is operated by Harmonia Mundi, the French music conglomerate.  They have a superb collection of books and recordings for sale, along with didactic materials for children.  Of course, who can resist cute items with musical themes for kids? 

We wandered around the outside of the building, which has an interesting, neo-eclectic style, and were amused by some sculptures (behind glass), funny, colorful, plastic things evoking music. As our concert would be in the museum’s concert hall, we decided to find something to eat on the busy avenue Jean-Jaurès, which borders the Parc de la Villette.

We gravitated to “Istamboul,” featuring Turkish cuisine, and one of many interesting choices in this ethnically diverse neighborhood.  The agneau, hommous, taboulé, and baba-ghannouj hit the spot.

After dinner we strolled down the avenue in the fresh, evening air.  With a little time left before the concert, we stepped into the Conservatoire building, across a small square from the museum.  It was a bee hive of activity at this hour, with students draped over chairs/talking/reading/scurrying about, and instrumental sounds emanating from one hundred different points in the building and mixing into a sort of sound sauce that coats everything, evoking my own days as a music student.

Although the building itself is relatively new for the Conservatoire, I was awed at the thought of the number of illustrious former teachers and students at this historic institution:  not only our Hector Berlioz, whose Mémoires we dipped into earlier, but also Georges Bizet, Nadia Boulanger, Pierre Boulez, Claude Debussy, Paul Dukas, Georges Enescu, César Franck, Arthur Honegger, Jacques Ibert, Édouard Lalo, Olivier Messiaen, Darius Milhaud, Pierre Monteux, Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saëns and Germaine Tailleferre were students there, while Luigi Cherubini, Gabriel Fauré, Charles Gounod, Vincent d'Indy, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Adolphe Sax, and Charles-Marie Widor were their demanding teachers.

As we talked with just about anybody and read posted flyers just to pass time, I suddenly noticed that it was five minutes until eight — our concert was about to start!



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.

Other Threads in This Blog: