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Henry Barraud, French composer, discusses his musical compositions

BROADCAST: May. 5, 1960 | DURATION: 00:32:16


While visiting Paris, France Studs talks with Henry Barraud. Monsieur Barraud speaks of writing three different types of Opera: Grand Opera, Opera Comique, and Opera Bouffe. Monsier Barraud and Studs discusses a bit of each piece. They end their time discussing the other forms of music that he writes and his work with Paris Radio.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel We're seated in the office of Monsieur Henry Barraud, where a street, it's known as 16 [French], I

Henry Barraud [French]

Studs Terkel [French] A word about Monsieur Barraud, a distinguished French composer, who incidentally is the director of the French cultural network of Radiodiffusion Française, of this more later. First, we should know of Monsieur Barraud himself and the works. We know that [conductor], not too long ago conducted your third symphony.

Henry Barraud Yes, he created the work which was written in, for him. He was the creator.

Studs Terkel Would you mind explaining that? You were the creator?

Henry Barraud Yes, of--well, perhaps you don't understand what it means, create assumes means French when [your? a?] work is given for the first time, the first

Studs Terkel A-ha.

Henry Barraud We call [this? these?] creations.

Studs Terkel So that's the creation.

Henry Barraud So when she gave the first performance, [unintelligible] as you say, the first performance was a work in Boston when I was there two years ago.

Studs Terkel Oh, you were in Boston two years ago?

Henry Barraud Yes. In Chicago, too.

Studs Terkel Were you in Chicago?

Henry Barraud Yes,

Studs Terkel It is through Alexander Tcherepnin,

Henry Barraud Yes, yes. Very good friend of mine. Very old. [chuckles]

Studs Terkel In touch with you, monsieur Barraud. You apparently work in so many forms; you have written serious opera, opera bouffe--something you describe as opera comique--you have written a Te Deum. Would you mind, perhaps, outlining some of the--something [typewriter in background]--some of the works you've done and the various librettists you've worked with, too, have been most distinguished.

Henry Barraud Yes. Well, the principal works you know I wrote, I should say it is perhaps my great opera, my great opera which is performed here in Paris in the Opera. And I write very, I like to write for the stage, you know, so that this great opera is one of the works of mine which is closest to my heart.

Studs Terkel Which is,

Henry Barraud This is "Numance", yes. Numance: N,u,m,a,n,c,e. This is an opera written about the work of Cervantes and the work was adapted for the opera in the form of an opera by my very old and good friend, Salvador de Madariaga, whom you know certainly.

Studs Terkel You have worked with Madariaga?

Henry Barraud Yes. We, for this work, we worked together and the work was given its first performance in the Opera in Paris. This is perhaps, I don't say that it is the best work I have written, but for many people it is the most important of my works. But aside of this I have written another, two other works for the stage, a little opera comique about a play, an old play of the 15th century which is called, as a joke, [French], the butler, this is--

Studs Terkel Monsieur Barraud?

Henry Barraud Yeah?

Studs Terkel Pardon me a moment, before we speak of the Opera Comique work you did, "Numance"--

Henry Barraud "Numance".

Studs Terkel It intrigues me very much.

Henry Barraud Yes.

Studs Terkel You and senor Madariaga, de Madariaga got together.

Henry Barraud Yes.

Studs Terkel This is a work of Cervantes?

Henry Barraud Cervantes.

Studs Terkel What of this work? Why did--would you mind telling us a bit of the basis of this and why you chose it?

Henry Barraud Why I choose this work? Well, you know, it's a work which is, the subject of the work is very impressive, impressed me very much when I saw it played two years before the war.

Studs Terkel This was the play itself? The

Henry Barraud Yes. The play of Cervantes. The play of Cervantes was performed in Paris by my [French] and friend, [Jean Lefebvre?]. You know [John Le Bauer?]?

Studs Terkel Indeed.

Henry Barraud Who is an actor, yes, and he played this work and it impressed me very much because it is a terrible play of course because it is a story of an old town, a little town of old Spain, which was surrounded by the German troops and for 10 years against [CPM?] Roman generals. And then at last they were dying by starvation. They had nothing to eat. And as they didn't want to surrender they choose to die. And so they made a sort of collective suicide, they burned their town and when the Romans got into the town there were, there was not one man alive and not one woman, they were all dead. And this is a very heroic story and Cervantes wrote a very beautiful drama about it. That is the drama. I saw it played by [Jean Lefebvre?] in Paris and I said at once well it is exactly what I should like to make because I was dreaming of an opera which would be a sort of terrible and great conflict between the folk and men, you see, the collective opera. I wanted to write a collective opera, something as what did Mussorgsky with "Boris Gudanov", you know, which the first, the first character of the piece of the play is Russian folk. And there is in this work it is the folk of "Numance". Then--

Studs Terkel So a folk opera, in a sense?

Henry Barraud Folk, yes, in the sort of folk, sort of collective drama. And so I wanted to write this and then the war came. And during the war I was always dreaming about this opera but we were just living the same situation. And so that it was very difficult for me to translate into an artistic language something that which were, something which we were just going on, which--

Studs Terkel

Henry Barraud Living We were living, actually. So I waited. And I didn't try the opera during the war. And I waited until the war was finished and then I wanted to make the opera but I had only the work in bad French, it wasn't good, and I don't know the Spanish language and that's why I asked de Madariaga who was a friend of mine to make me an adopted text for--

Studs Terkel You mean libretto?

Henry Barraud Yes. And he wrote me this work. This is the story of "Numance".

Studs Terkel How did you induce Madariaga to participate in this?

Henry Barraud Oh, well, he was very enthusiastic at once when I told him about this he said "well it's very curious because I have written in English a text about a translation, a very free translation of 'Numance' just six months ago for the BBC." And he brought me his work in English and I started to work with the English, with the English version, with the English text. And

Studs Terkel the Performance.

Henry Barraud Was made with the English and after that he made me a French

Studs Terkel Oh, first it was done in English. Then you saw in "Numance", one of the reasons you chose it, you saw parallels with our time? [crosstalk]

Henry Barraud Yes, I saw parallels with our time and I saw also an occasion for me to put on the paper a certain conception of the opera which was mine and in which I, I said always the opera must be something very simple in which there is no, no occasion to speak so much but in which we must find very simple and dramatic situations, and always great conflicts, very elementary conflicts between a man and a great folk. And that was given exactly to me by that

Studs Terkel That play. Now this--

Henry Barraud In which I have the man who is [gene sui?] a chef, a conductor of the town and who takes great decisions and all the fault, you see. And there is also a sort of [unintelligible] between him and the folk.

Studs Terkel Individual versus the

Henry Barraud Individual--you see, that's

Studs Terkel This was performed at the--

Henry Barraud In Opera.

Studs Terkel At the Opéra Comique.

Henry Barraud No, no, at the Great--

Studs Terkel At the Great Opera. Yes.

Henry Barraud At

Studs Terkel At the Great opera.

Henry Barraud There were 300 people on the stage.

Studs Terkel Oh, it was tremendously--this has never

Henry Barraud Yes, very great.

Studs Terkel Is there a chance of this being performed in America?

Henry Barraud Well, I have never tried to have this, I don't know whether in America there are so many stages in which such an important work can be--

Studs Terkel So great a work, you mean? With

Henry Barraud With many chorus--

Studs Terkel In size, I see. In size.

Henry Barraud Yes,

Studs Terkel Well, this is one form, the serious opera.

Henry Barraud Yes.

Studs Terkel Now you've delved into other forms of opera.

Henry Barraud Yes. Well, I have, I made a little in 1938. I made a very small opera comique, a play about, with a play of the fifteenth century. A very well, a very celebrated play which is called "La Farce de maître Pathelin" and--

Studs Terkel "La

Henry Barraud The [mental?] butler, ment-it is a lawyer, it's a lawyer who makes many, many very wrong

Studs Terkel things-- I

Henry Barraud And at last he falls into his own combinations.

Studs Terkel Ah, he's caught, hoisted by his own petard, is a phrase we use.

Henry Barraud That's right. And this has been performed in the Opéra Comique. And now the last thing I made was an opéra bouffe, very light opéra bouffe which I wrote with a friend, my friend who's a very celebrated author, Felicien

Studs Terkel I think we should point out that Felicien Marceau, the French playwright, is the one whose work was recently adapted in America by Garson Kanin and called "The Good Soup"

Henry Barraud "Good Soup", yes.

Studs Terkel It failed in America.

Henry Barraud It failed in America, I know

Studs Terkel It was

Henry Barraud a A very great success here, yes.

Studs Terkel So from Madariaga to Felicien Marceau?

Henry Barraud Yes. [chuckles]

Studs Terkel The contrast.

Henry Barraud Yes, great contrast. Felicien Marceau is exactly the man, the best I could find to write me what I wanted to [place?], something quite clear, simple and amusing. I wanted to get [unintelligible] for a certain time with all the dramatic works I had written all these years before, you see. And even when I wrote symphonic works I wrote music in which there was a great tension, dramatic tension, and I wanted to get rid of it and I chose to go as far as possible in the other way and to write, and first I said I want to write an [opérette?]. But I didn't try an [opérette?]. But I wrote an opéra bouffe. Very light. Rather amusing.

Studs Terkel A question arises in my mind--how does opéra comique differ from an opera bouffe?

Henry Barraud Well, opéra comique, you know, in France we call opéra comique works which are not comique at all. For instance, "Carmen" is opéra

Studs Terkel Ah-ha.

Henry Barraud "[French work]" is opéra comique, "[French work]"

Studs Terkel In contrast to grand opera?

Henry Barraud In contrast to--

Studs Terkel And "Numance" would be grand opera?

Henry Barraud "Numance" is a grand opera and so opéra comique, it's very large, the conception of opéra comique is very large.

Studs Terkel An opéra comique could be tragic?

Henry Barraud It's not comic at

Studs Terkel No.

Henry Barraud But it may be tragic. ["French work"] is not tragic but it is written musically in a way which is not the way in which I wrote my opéra bouffe because, for instance, the orchestra is very symphonic and singers are playing in a sort of recitative such as the, as in the dramas, contemporary--

Studs Terkel Contemporary dramas today, you're

Henry Barraud And in my opéra bouffe, "Lavinia", which I wrote with Felicien

Studs Terkel "Lavinia" is the name of

Henry Barraud Oui, is the name of it. There you'll find a different conception. There is music from the beginning to the end but it is divided into, into really, very singing pieces which you could separate from one another, you see? It is--

Studs Terkel Sort of like arias?

Henry Barraud Yes, arias, many arias, and even, even real songs.

Studs Terkel Mmhmm. But there's, there's talking, too?

Henry Barraud Talk? No, no talking. No

Studs Terkel No? Oh, recitative?

Henry Barraud Yes, recitative.

Studs Terkel Recitative. Yes. Ah-ha.

Henry Barraud Yes, but--

Studs Terkel Musical [unintelligible].

Henry Barraud But in "La Farce de maître Pathelin" there is always the recitative and in the "Lavinia" there are very short pieces of recitative and arias. But the arias are not written, of course, as the arias of Mozart in which the action is stopped; the action is never stopped because in a contemporary opéra bouffe opera it is impossible to have an action which stops always, you--it must go, it must go on.

Studs Terkel You mean it--

Henry Barraud It never, it never stops. But it is written in a very melodic conception.

Studs Terkel The singer does not come down stage and sing an aria and everything stops--

Henry Barraud No, no.

Studs Terkel It continues throughout. Yes.

Henry Barraud Yes. It continues. Yes.

Studs Terkel What is the story of "Lavinia"? Would you mind? I'm very curious.

Henry Barraud [laughs] It's a very amusing story. I shall try to explain it but my English is not good enough to--

Studs Terkel It's good, indeed.

Henry Barraud It is in Napoli, you know?

Studs Terkel In Naples?

Henry Barraud In Naples, in Naples. You say Naples in Italy.

Studs Terkel Naples.

Henry Barraud And so it's little streets, streets just close to the harbor, you know? And all these, these little people, very popular, you see, many people like this, and in the street, in the little street of Naples, there is a man who sells vegetables in the street. All the vegetables are in the street and near him there is another one who is selling pieces for cooking, you know, casseroles.

Studs Terkel Casseroles?

Henry Barraud Casseroles, and then this man, the man who sells vegetables, has a daughter, a very fine daughter, which is loved by a young journalist. This journalist is making what we call a chronique mondaine in the paper of Naples. He writes about the great marriages, the great feasts.

Studs Terkel A society column.

Henry Barraud Society, yes. And then this merchant of vegetables has his wife who is waiting for a new child; he has four children, she is waiting for a new one. Then the child comes and all the people in the streets are very joyful and they propose many names for the child. And at last the child is a little girl and at last the father choose the name of Lavinia. And then all the people in the streets decide to give many gifts to the young girl. And the young journalist, who wants to be on good terms with the father of his beloved, as he has no money he says, "Well, my gift will be that I shall announce the birth of, the birthday of this young girl in the paper." And this makes a formidable effect in the street because to have his name in the paper, for the father, is his most wonderful thing he could imagine in his existence.

Studs Terkel He's a social climber.

Henry Barraud And so you see that when the name, when it comes up in the paper, he is quite mad and he sings, he has became a very great personage, you see. And the announcement in the paper is written like this: We announce the birth of the child and they say they have given her the name of the wife of Anais: Lavinia. Anais, is [unintelligible] [French] And they see this in the paper, they are quite foolish with all this, and the father is so, so full of his new importance that he refuses to give the hand of his, of his daughter to the young journalist because he thinks that now he is a too great man.

Studs Terkel He's a big shot.

Henry Barraud Yes. And so the people in the streets are very shocked by this new attitude of the man and where the man has gone, they look in the paper and a woman says, "What's this? The wife of Anais .. who is this Anais? What, what is this, Anais?" And [they? she?] begins to speak about this Anais and it goes on in all the streets and at last the thing he believes, that Anais, is the lover of the wife of the man and that the girl, the young girl, Lavinia, is the daughter of Anais, and not of the vegetable seller, you see. And so it makes a terrible scandal in all the streets. And there are many scenes--I must say very shortly, you know--it is very amusing all these people quite shocked by this scandal and the man who doesn't understand why all these people are speaking about him. And at last they tell him that he is, he is what we

Studs Terkel call Cuckold?

Henry Barraud He has [unintelligible] He has

Studs Terkel Cuckold.

Henry Barraud And so he's quite furious. He wants to beat his wife and he has explanations with the journalist and the journalist explains who was Anais and he was a very, a man of [antiquity?] but nobody wants to believe it. And at last it is so [fiercely?] tendu--the situation that--

Studs Terkel Tense.

Henry Barraud At last all the women accuse the wife to be a prostitute and it ends with a terrible battle in which all the vegetables go--

Studs Terkel [Laughs] Flying vegetables all over the

Henry Barraud And the situation is terrible as the man can't remain in that street because he will never have any clients for his vegetables. And all is arranged because the young journalist has found a new shop in another street and he will marry the girl and all the--

Studs Terkel It all works out happily.

Henry Barraud Yes.

Studs Terkel It has the twist of a Gilbert and Sullivan plot, you know? You know Gilbert

Henry Barraud Yeah,

Studs Terkel It has all these twists.

Henry Barraud Twists, oh yes.

Studs Terkel This is the nature of opéra bouffe, isn't it?

Henry Barraud Yes, yes, quite.

Studs Terkel Have all these people, wild scenes.

Henry Barraud Yes, si.

Studs Terkel Thus far, monsieur Barraud, we have three forms of opera you've written: the grand opera, opera comique, and opéra bouffe. And now we come to other forms of writing, some of your religious works

Henry Barraud Religious works. Yes, I wrote two, two religious works. One is a Te Deum, where it is a liturgic text, you know, in Latin which I have showed in, I made a little talk in Chicago in DePaul University--

Studs Terkel At DePaul University.

Henry Barraud And I played this work with a tape I had with me, so it has been heard in Chicago already. And then a very important work, a long work, which is called "The Mystery of Holy Innocence". This was written about a great poem of a very celebrated French poet and writer who is called, who was called Charles Péguy. Péguy. He was killed in the war of 1914.

Studs Terkel First World War.

Henry Barraud The First World War. And then-- Is

Studs Terkel Is this an oratorio?

Henry Barraud This is an oratorio, an important oratorio, which had been performed very often in Europe and the first performance in America was given about nineteen fifty, something like this, in Boston by Koussevitzky and it was the last work which was, the last contemporary work

Studs Terkel His last contemporary work. This is interesting to me, monsieur Barraud, the number of librettists, if I may use that word, you've worked with: Madariaga, satirical playwright Felicien Marceau, a poet, a separate poet, who before World War One, Charles Péguy.

Henry Barraud Péguy.

Studs Terkel Then you're interested in François Villon, too, as a collaborationist

Henry Barraud François Villon, François Villon wrote a rather important [content?] about what we call his testimony, testimonial, it is a last will. It is the last will of François

Studs Terkel You used his poetry?

Henry Barraud Yes, I used his poetry and it is a sort of poetry in which he--I don't know the name in English--when you give, after your death, you give something of--

Studs Terkel Posthumous [poetry?].

Henry Barraud To a certain person, you see.

Studs Terkel Oh, a [unintelligible]

Henry Barraud So he distributes all what he's supposed to have but he had nothing practically but he gives a poem or he gives anything to one people, to another one. And all this is written in octosyllabe--in décasyllabe--verses and, [well? while?], the text is going on and there comes here a ballad. And another ballad a little further on, you see. And so all the text of the last will is made of a certain text and [stromentatos?] and ballads.

Studs Terkel So the

Henry Barraud The [stromentatos?] are sang in my work by a singer with a harpsichord and the ballads are sung by a chorus of 12 persons a capella.

Studs Terkel So the ballads in [unintelligible] a capella chorus

Henry Barraud A cappella, and the--

Studs Terkel And the in-between, the continuity--

Henry Barraud By a singer with a harpsichord.

Studs Terkel Is by a singer with a harpsichord. So how many forms--[telephone rings] whoops--we can, you may answer the phone if you wish. That's alright. [pause in recording] Monsieur Barraud, I'm thinking of all of these forms in which you work. Is there any other one you contemplate?

Henry Barraud Ah, well, I wrote a good deal, I wrote three symphonies, of course.

Studs Terkel Three symphonies.

Henry Barraud Three symphonies and some, several orchestra works, and also chamber music, quartet, three or four strings, three or four winds, and many things like this.

Studs Terkel I was about to ask where you, how you work out the day, where you get the time because I'm about to ask you about your daily job, that is your--this is creative, too--you are director of what may be, perhaps, the cultural network of French radio.

Henry Barraud Yes, it's implies a terrible, how shall I say, terrible volonté--will.

Studs Terkel Will?

Henry Barraud Well, you know--

Studs Terkel Discipline.

Henry Barraud Discipline, yes, discipline because I must during five days I must go on with the work here, with the work of the radio which is enormous work and I have no possibility of thinking of anything else than the work for the radio. And then on Friday night I go back to my home and Saturday and Sunday I don't accept anything else than to write music.

Studs Terkel So it's weekends during which you create, really?

Henry Barraud Yes, during my weekends but everything can happen, nothing will compel me to accept anything else

Studs Terkel The phone is shut off.

Henry Barraud Yes.

Studs Terkel Now, what of--I'm sure that there are many more works that are inside you that will be forthcoming, monsieur Barraud, but I'm thinking now of Radiodiffusion Française and we at WFMT in Chicago cooperate, WF--they do with us--we play a lot of their recordings, the music. What is the trend? What is the taste? Do you sense a certain trend in audience taste in French classical music today, in classical music in France today?

Henry Barraud Well, the taste of the public, it is my job to make the taste and not to accept the taste of the public. I must make it, you see. I must force, compel the public to hear good things and I must not listen to the wishes of the public if the wishes for the public are going in the direction of bad music, or of varieties, or things like this. You know there are three networks in the French radio. I have the cultural network. There is another one that work for varieties. Well, in the network for varieties it may give anything they want but in the network I direct I never shall accept anything else which is not very very very good music and a proportion of two-third to classical music and one third for contemporary works going on up to the most audacious works and the most--

Studs Terkel The boldest of modern works.

Henry Barraud Yes,

Studs Terkel There's a point you made--

Henry Barraud And this, I don't mind about when I am asked about what are the tastes of your public, I say the taste of my public is something which I put at the beginning of my work as something which is acquired. And I say I consider as, as granted that my public has a very good taste. [laughs] And so I go on like this and the public, even if he has not a very good taste, well, little by little he gets accustomed to very good works and he listens to them.

Studs Terkel Monsieur Barraud, I'm trying to reach your hand to shake it very fervently right now, and firmly. The point, this is a rare thing these days. Your point is you, you do not play down to what may be described as the commercial popular taste.

Henry Barraud No. Not at all. Not at all. I give only the best quality and I expect that my public will follow me. And the fact is that she follows me. 12, some 15 years ago when I started this work, well, I had letters, many letters in which the public said "What is this music you gave us? You gave us live music." I never took any attention to these letters. Never. I always went in my way and little by little these letters ceased. And other letters came, bravo, go on, this is a good way, and now I am quite sure that this politick has convinced mil--hundred and thousands and millions of people in France to listen to the best music which is written, which has been written, and which is being written now.

Studs Terkel You have, in other words, this is an expression of faith in what might be called the average--I hate to use that word--the listener, faith in his taste if he's given good things he will get to like them.

Henry Barraud And the taste will get better and better. And this is, I'm sure this has happened.

Studs Terkel This is marvelous. [Merveilleux?], is that the word?

Henry Barraud Yeah.

Studs Terkel Is this network equivalent in a way, what you are doing, to the British Third Programme?

Henry Barraud Ah, yes, but the British Third Programme has no, they make a very good work in the British Third Programme, but they have no means as large as ours.

Studs Terkel Yeah, you reach more

Henry Barraud Yes, we reach more people, we, we--they broadcast only three or four hours every day and we broadcast from 7:00 in the morning to midnight. And we have, I have in my hands all the means which they have not because I have three great, great orchestras, I have 120 marvelous singers for the chorus and all, all like this so that I can go on as I want.

Studs Terkel This is literature as well as music?

Henry Barraud Literature also.

Studs Terkel I'm curious to the nature of your audience. Any idea what percentage of the people of Paris listen to this network of yours?

Henry Barraud It's very difficult to say and when I am asked about it because of course all what I've made in this, in this house has been discussed, of course you may understand, and very often I have been told by people why do you make such things? Why do you make such a broadcast? For instance, you have perhaps 500 listeners. Well, I answer, "Well, if I have 500 I have 500. They are the 500 I want to touch and if in another way I have, for another broadcast, I have 100,000 people I am very glad also but I don't think, I don't think it has any importance to know if there are 1,000 or if there are one million. It has no importance. The only thing which has any importance is to know if it is good or not.

Studs Terkel Monsieur Henry Barraud, the point you're making now, to me, I can't think of a more important one perhaps on which to close this interview. I know there's so much more that you have to say and we can't talk about, the matter of maintaining one's own standards no matter what.

Henry Barraud Yes.

Studs Terkel Monsieur Barraud, composer. And I'm sure we will be hearing many more of your works in America, at least I hope so. But also a creative spirit in the work he does daily. There is no separation here. You have a standard in what you write and a standard in what you offer the public.

Henry Barraud That's what I am trying to do.

Studs Terkel Monsieur Henry Barraud. Merci beaucoup. Thank you very