Notes 57.3 (2001) 608-609
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A Musical Gazetteer
Paris: A Musical Gazetteer. By Nigel Simeone. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. [ix, 299 p. ISBN 0-300-08053-0 (cloth); 0-300-08054-9 (pbk.). $40 (cloth); $18.95 (pbk.).]
Paris offers abundant material for a musical gazetteer. The magnificent centralized institutions, rich concert life, and wealthy patrons of this important musical capital have long attracted not only French musicians but also musicians of other nations. Many of the buildings where composers lived and worked and many of the institutions where they were educated or saw their works performed still survive. A delightful addition to the libraries of both serious Francophiles and more casual music lovers, Nigel Simeone's Paris: A Musical Gazetteer compiles information drawn from numerous biographies and collections of letters, as well as from histories of culture, institutions, and the city itself, to reveal historic musical locations in nineteen of the twenty city districts (arrondissements), readily pinpointed by reference to the standard Michelin map of Paris and the nearest public transit stations.
The introductory section of the book suggests four musical walks in different [End Page 608] parts of the city. The third of these, for example, charts a course through the ninth arrondissement to areas that do not usually figure on tourist itineraries--at first along the boulevards, up the slope behind the Sainte-Trinité church (where Messiaen was organist for many years), and to the Montmartre cemetery, a route that passes by residences of Rossini, Franck, Nadia and Lili Boulanger, Debussy, Berlioz, Bizet, Ravel, Honegger, and Milhaud. Even in a city liberally supplied with historical plaques, these buildings are largely unmarked and would be easy to bypass entirely without this invaluable finding aid. Navigating around the square Berlioz (with its 1886 monument to the composer) involves some backtracking if the visitor takes a natural detour to look at Berlioz's last residence; however, Simeone's directions are generally clear.
The introductory material also suggests ten musical landmarks for the visitor with limited time and hints at Simeone's particular fondness for certain composers (principally Debussy, Fauré, Ravel, and Messiaen). This interest also seems to shape his commentary elsewhere. His discussion of the Prix de Rome (pp. 212-13), for example, focuses largely on the Ravel scandal of 1905, without the balance of positive comments by major Prix de Rome winners; and in the section on churches, Saint-Honoré d'Eylau merits a paragraph, though its sole claim to fame seems to be that Fauré was organist there for just a few weeks in 1871.
A brief, well-organized outline of music in Paris from the seventeenth century to the present concludes this section, but the meat of the text is found in the next 240 pages: musicians' biographies emphasizing their Parisian addresses (the longest section), churches, theaters and concert halls, institutions and orchestras, a selection of music publishers and instrument makers, important libraries and museums, gravesites, and musical street names. To close, there is an index to musical locations by arrondissement, a list of streets mentioned, and a bibliography of useful publications. The text is well illustrated with reproductions of engravings, historic and modern photographs, programs, posters, and title pages.
Simeone's stated aim is to "chart the Parisian activities of some of the great musical personalities who lived in the city" (p. 1). Some occasional visitors (e.g., Rimsky-Korsakov) are mentioned in the text but do not receive an entry. An index of names would have been a helpful addition to the volume, allowing the reader to trace such "guest appearances" and delve into connections among musicians, artists, publishers, theater directors, and other prominent figures.
The selection process inevitably reflects personal preference. Given the few entries for women, however, a notice for Cécile Chaminade, Germaine Tailleferre, or the colorful Augusta Holmès would have been appropriate, especially since lesser figures like Déodat de Séverac and Charles Henri Valentin Alkan (who will be forever remembered for the myth that he was crushed to death by a falling bookcase) rate page-long entries...