Biography of Jean Catoire by Catherine Catoire

Catherine Catoire | Malcom Bruno

Jean Catoire (Paris, 1923-2005) composer (Continued)

   This event, although fully intelligible to him, arrived independently of his will not being something that he had been expecting or even imagining, led him to take the decision to study music theory and then composition. This was because he believed that what had been shown him, and which he believed he needed to realise in sounds, was music, just like that which, as a child, he had been obliged to play on the piano.

   He then had the joy of meeting Vladimir de Bützov who was teaching at the Rachmaninoff Conservatoire and who, thanks to his genius of investigation into the works of other composers as much as in his own works, made him glimpse, if not fully realise, the problem of the transcription of ante-sound into sound. It was, then, he said, that he learnt “to think music”. At the same time, still at the Rachmaninoff Conservatoire, he also gained much from Paul Kovalev, his conducting and piano teacher.

   In 1948 he received a scholarship to Tanglewood for a master-class with Olivier Messiaen. That meeting and the invitation to take Messiaen’s courses in analysis at the National Conservatoire of Paris were extremely precious to him. It was in passing this teaching through the sieve of his own personal aspirations, in passing his own trials and errors through the sieve of the contents of the compositions, the writings and of all Messiaen’s teaching, that he started to see more clearly through the problems which presented themselves to him.

   The work of writing sound, achieved over the three years spent under Olivier Messiaen’s teaching, and the period that followed where he saw that he could not learn anything more from him, made him understand still more clearly that what he was looking to write and the way he was seeking to write moved away appreciably from the way others around him were composing. He discovered in this way that what he was seeing and trying to write as music, did not belong to what was called “music” in the West and the East, but must be realised in a different expression of sound, a tributary of a different discipline... “In truth, all my life I have searched for a transcriptive device susceptible of giving the ante-sound that was appearing in my global vision out of time and space...from where time and structural elements are always identical, but which have no connection with repetitive music...”

   In this way Jean Catoire, in his investigation of sound, differentiates two sorts of composers: those from whose works he learns and those from whose works he does not learn. The first case can include the composers whose aesthetics, ideas and convictions are opposed to his own as in the case of Olivier Messiaen, but where he acknowledged his immense gift, capable of bringing about in his works a veritable musical prophecy, something that by the time Messiaen was writing in the 20th century no longer existed: a personal perception of sound.

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