Thursday, June 16, 2011

Another pianist with a religious habit



Yesterday I pointed out that Norman Lebrecht was wrong in saying that French pianist Jean-Rodolphe Kars had entered a monastery in 1981 and had not been heard of since. But in a fascinating twist reader Leo Carey, who sparked my recent Hans Schmidt Isserstedt post, has reminded me of another French pianist who did indeed disappear into a Benedictine monastery.

Thierry de Brunhoff was born in 1933. His father was the writer and illustrator Jean de Brunhoff (1899-1937) who was famous for creating the Babar the Elephant books. When he was nine years old Thierry de Brunhoff became a pupil of Alfred Cortot at l'Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. Brunhoff's father had died when he was just three and he was encouraged as a pianist by his mother who had also been a pupil of Cortot's. He was a favourite pupil of Cortot and his career developed in the early 1960s to include acclaimed recitals and records, notably of Schumann. Some of his recordings from this period remain available and, as seen above, YouTube offers several extracts. In the mid-1960s Brunhoff was involved in a serious car accident and, although he returned to the recording studio, his performing career was curtailed and he turned to teaching.

After a career spanning 30 years Thierry de Brunhoff entered the Benedictine monastery of En Calcat near Toulouse in 1974 as Frère Thierry-Jean. At that point the trail goes cold, other than confirmation in Feb 2011 that Brunhoff was still a member of the religious community at En Calcat. I make no claim to be an authority on Thierry de Brunhoff and the profile above is drawn from my own limited knowledge and desk research. As ever, corrections and additions from readers are very welcome.

* There is a useful article about music in the service of vocations to the priesthood which features both Jean Rodolphe Kars and Thierry de Brunhoff. The Italian original is here, an English machine translation is here.

* John Cage and a Catholic monastery may seem an unlikely combination. But I linked them in a 2009 post titled The joyful power of music.

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