In the shadow of Chopin

The music police are already telling us how we will be celebrating the Chopin bicentennial this year. So, never one for musical correctness, my header photo honours another giant of the piano, in status if not in stature, who is buried literally in the shadow of Frédéric Chopin. Michel Petrucciani, compositeur - pianiste de jazz, died in 1999 aged just 36. He is buried alongside birthday boy Chopin in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris and his pianistic genius has featured several times On An Overgrown Path. Père Lachaise has more musicians per acre than any other burial ground, and they include Georges Bizet whose headstone is seen below. Bizet's grave is surprisingly understated for France's most famous musician and the dates on it are a sobering reminder that he was the same age as Michel Petrucciani when he died.

Adjacent to Bizet is the more contemporary resting place of Georges Enescu who died in 1955. Enescu (Enesco in France) taught Yehudi Menuhin, Arthur Grumiaux, Ida Haendel and many others and was the dedicatee of Ysaÿe's Solo Violin Sonata No. 3.

Elsewhere in Père Lachaise lies Francis Poulenc, who shares the elaborate mausoleum seen below with his niece Brigitte Manceaux. She inherited the composer's estate, only to die months after him. Does religion, nationality, or simply chance explain why Benjamin Britten lies alongside his partner, the tenor Peter Pears (1910-1986), in Aldeburgh churchyard while Poulenc's partner, the baritone Pierre Bernac (1899-1979), is not buried in Père Lachaise?

Yes, I know my next Père Lachaise resident was not a musician. But the French artist Arman, famous for his "accumulations" and destruction and recomposition of familiar objects, often incorporated musical instruments into his creations.

A deconstructed cello is a prominent feature of Arman's burial site, and the playful unfinished graphics, which contrast sharply with Poulenc's po-faced mausoleum, are confirmation that 'work in progress' is going to be the next big thing. 'Enfin Seul' translates as 'Alone at last'.

Below is one of the most visited graves of any musician anywhere in the world. The Doors vocalist Jim Morrison was buried in Père Lachaise after dying in his bath in Paris in 1971. The Greek inscription on the headstone has various translations, the most favoured seems to be 'True to his own spirit'. Which makes the bottle of Jack Daniel's left by a fan quite appropriate.

But I really don't want to be issued with a thinking ticket by the music police. So below is a photo of Chopin's grave with Michel Petrucciani's in its shadow beyond the tree in the centre of the frame. This may be the first picture on a music blog in 2010 of Chopin's final resting place, but I am quite sure it will not be the last. And just wait until the Mahler double anniversary bandwagon starts rolling. That's a no-brainer for the record companies whose back catalogue is stuffed with Mahler symphonies, it's a no brainer for the orchestras whose repertoire is stuffed with the same, and it's a no-brainer for loquacious journalists and radio presenters whose Mahler spiel will go on for longer than the symphonies. Don't get me wrong: Mahler is a truly great composer. Which is precisely why we do not need to be force-fed his music for the next two years like geese being fattened to make foie gras.

Poulenc's masterpiece Dialogue of the Carmelites is here and exclusive photos of another bicentenary composer are here.

All photos were taken by me in November 2009 on my trusty but battle-scarred Casio EX-Z120 and are (c) On An Overgrown Path. Sorry there is no photo of Rossini's grave. He is also buried somewhere in Père Lachaise, but despite spending some time looking using a map we could not find his grave. Pity because his culinary memorial would have made a nice link to my foie gras reference. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Mess Noone said…
Arman was, of course, married to composer Eliane Radigue, still vastly underrated outside specialist circles:
Robert Evans said…
A very evocative post on Père Lachaise. I just finished a bio entitled Chopin in Paris.

I once tried to make a list of my top 100 favorite pieces of music of all time, including The Beatles, Monk, Bill Evans, Stravinsky, Eno, Zappa, Yes, etc. When I stopped and looked back over the list, the top ten pieces were all Chopin.
HedgehoginPS said…
Having just finished a painting of Chopin's tomb, I was checking some details of Chopin's life online and found your blog. Very interesting. We last visited Pere Lachaise a few years back. Didn't notice Petrucciani's grave...actually had never heard of Petrucciani at that point. He leapt into our consciousness when we saw a wonderful documentary film on him at the Palm Springs Int'l FilmFest last January. Many more people should know about his work--and interesting life. Thank you.
Oh, the painting from a series of photos taken on that last visit is at:
Unknown said…
Poulenc and Bernac were never lovers. They were musical partners only, and referred to each other by "Vous" always.

Recent popular posts

All aboard the Martinu bandwagon

Will this attract young audiences? - discuss

Whatever happened to the long tail of composers?

Who are the real classical role models?

Mahler that dares to be different

Great music has no independent existence

The Berlin Philharmonic's darkest hour

A year of stories that had to be told

Master musician who experienced the pain of genius

Hitler's court composer was Harvard alumnus