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3 - Charles Koechlin: The Figure of the Expert

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 July 2019

Philippe Cathé
Affiliation:
Professor of Musicology at Paris-Sorbonne University and also teaches at New York University-Paris.
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Summary

For both financial and artistic reasons, the composer Charles Koechlin (1867– 1950) devoted himself to writing numerous and often highly developed press articles after the end of the First World War. The financial necessity resulted from his large family, whose lifestyle required substantial inflows of money. Married in 1903, Charles and Suzanne Koechlin had three children, aged three to ten, when the war broke out. In 1916 and 1922, two more were born. Generally comfortable until 1914, the composer received a maternal inheritance in 1917, which proved ‘quite insufficient to provide him with the comfort of a well-off life. Without savings or a pension, and despite owning real estate, Koechlin was obliged to earn his living on a day-to-day basis’. With the start of the global conflict in 1914, which put an end to many lucrative musical activities (especially concerts), the composer's earnings decreased considerably. The galloping inflation of the war years reduced the value of the franc nearly four-fold, further eroding the value of his financial assets. Within the music sphere, even after the war, Koechlin was sometimes thought to be wealthy, even though he would never be financially comfortable for the rest of his life. Though he occasionally mentioned this misapprehension in his correspondence, he also alluded to it, with more modesty and discretion, in the course of a 1923 article: ‘I would not wish to be indiscreet on a topic concerning some of my contemporaries: too often, financial resources are attributed to those who in no way possess them.’

More artistic motivations for engaging in music criticism emerged directly from his writings. Koechlin wanted to make his voice heard in the aesthetic discussions of his time, in order to explain and defend certain new compositional practices. The activity of writing treatises that were designed to teach young composers their craft quickly gave a personal twist to a portion of his writings, including articles. Although he wrote retrospectively that he was ‘not very satisfied with [the treatises] that existed at the time’, we see him searching, from the early years, to fill in those gaps with a series of highly technical articles, which were then collected into a volume entitled Étude sur les notes de passage.

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Music Criticism in France, 1918–1939
Authority, Advocacy, Legacy
, pp. 63 - 90
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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