Renegotiating French Identity: Musical Culture and Creativity in France during Vichy and the German Occupation.
Scholarship from various fields-including history, Vichy studies, sociology, and musicology-have concentrated on dissecting myths surrounding the occupation of France (1940-44), which fall into two generalities of
total collaboration or total resistance. The reality of the situation lies somewhere in the middle, as many individuals participated in resistance or collaboration in a variety of ways. Jane Fulcher's Renegotiating French Identity: Musical Culture and Creativity in France during Vichy and German Occupation expands on this conversation by closely examining the activity of several of the most prominent French musicians of the period. Focusing on the first two years of the occupation and trajectory of Vichy France into further collaboration, Fulcher analyzes how musicians reacted to the cultural policies of the Vichy regime and how they participated in the creation of a new national identity. Her aim is to demonstrate how musicians subjectively interpreted the policies and constraints of the regime to define their own identity and symbolically define the future of France.
Fulcher divides the text into six chapters, beginning with an incredibly thorough and necessary historical background of Vichy's cultural policies and the developing relationship with Nazi Germany. One particularly helpful contribution she makes to Vichy studies is the term ultracollaborationist to describe particular actors within the Vichy regime (p. 31). Wary of creating a direct binary, scholars have been cautious in prescribing the terms collaborator or resistant to explain the activities of the French. Philippe Burrin posits that for the most part this binary was more of a continuum that people traversed across. By labeling some individuals as "ultracollaborationist," then, Fulcher delineates the very extreme of the collaboration side of this continuum, in which the person's political ideologies line up with that of fascist Nazi Germany. Outside of this, "collaboration" may apply to a variety of scenarios, from working within Vichy cultural institutions to actively supporting and furthering the mission of the new regime. With this in mind, Fulcher explores these degrees of collaboration in how the musicians and composers Roger Desormiere, Pierre Schaeffer, Arthur Honegger, Francis Poulenc, and Olivier Messiaen (chaps. 2-6, respectively) reacted and worked around Vichy's cultural policies.
The breadth of Fulcher's research into all of these subjects is impressive, especially in how she links policies of the Vichy regime and its changing power dynamics in relation to Nazi Germany to the activity of the musicians in her study. This was particularly fascinating in the case of Schaeffer, whose musical activity during the occupation is only just now being explored by music scholars such as Karine Le Bail and Alexander Stalarow. Schaeffer, like many other French Catholics, originally supported the Vichy regime because of Philippe Petain's commitment to the religious institution and his emphasis on traditional French values. As it became clearer, however, that Schaeffer's artistic vision could not match the propaganda that he was asked to espouse, and as Vichy's collaboration increasingly supported Germany, Schaeffer could not neglect the path toward resistance any longer.
By focusing on reactions to Vichy's policies, Fulcher does a great service to music scholarship by parsing common narratives about certain composers, especially Honegger and Poulenc. For a long time after the liberation, Honegger was lauded as a resistance figure as evidenced from his composition Chant de liberation (1942), when in reality he actively promoted Vichy and German propaganda, and the composition itself was rebranded as a resistance piece only in April 1944 (p. 234). Although Poulenc did join the resistance organization Front national des musiciens, Fulcher questions whether his famous ballet Les animaux modeles (1940-42) was as resistant as has long been believed, or if such symbolism was placed upon it afterwards.
Instead of placing blame on these actions, Fulcher instead exposes the various motivations and incentives these musicians held that encouraged them to work within existing cultural institutions. The subjects of this study confronted difficult choices concerning their personal musical identities and challenges as they attempted to withstand occupation, especially in a political context that was constantly changing it goals and visions for France. While I appreciate Fulcher's new perspective on exploring the cultural ramifications of the occupation, I wish she had chosen to highlight lesser-discussed musicians instead of these twentieth-century monoliths. There were many musicians greatly affected by the cultural policies imposed on them. Though she does mention some of these other composers, such as Claude Arrieu and Claude Delvincourt, it is within the context of her main subjects.
That being said, by homing in on these particular subjects Fulcher touches upon an important and relevant theme throughout her study: privilege. All five of her main subjects were fortunate in that they were well respected in French musical circles before the occupation, which set them up for success in its duration. Their music was performed, they were offered ideal travel opportunities, and, because they were not subject to the Statut des Juifs (the policies that identified Jews as individuals having at least three Jewish grandparents, thus subjecting them to deportation if they fit that criterion) they enjoyed some stability in the trajectory of the occupation. This was profoundly apparent in Fulcher's discussion of Messiaen, who left for vacation during the roundup of Jews at the Velodrome d'hiver in July 1942. Although 27,361 Jews were to be arrested in Paris and subsequently deported to concentration camps (and in most cases, directly to the gas chambers), half of them were able to evade capture with the help of friends, colleagues, and well-meaning people. It may seem naive, but it is hard to comprehend that anyone would have the potential to go on vacation during such a dark time.
These composers used their privilege to different degrees. Desormiere, Schaeffer, and Poulenc were all members of the resistance and actively worked to undermine Vichy and Germany's policies while maintaining their positions within cultural institutions. Even before formally joining the resistance, Schaeffer worked to aid Jewish friends, particularly Arrieu, whom he hid in his own home. As such, the questions at the heart of this analysis are: What is the responsibility of the artist in times of oppression? Is it at all possible to remain apolitical? The subjects of this study demonstrate that this is not possible. Schaeffer attempted for the first two years of occupation to create art outside of politics, and Honegger would similarly not commit to an ideological position. Both individuais, however, benefited from furthering the propaganda of Vichy, and as a result these composers had to answer for these actions after the liberation. Even though Messiaen never joined a resistance organization, he at least positioned himself well outside the Vichy regime and attempted to demonstrate this in the music he created.
Such historic narratives should give us pause, especially in the politically charged times in which we currently live. Privilege comes with responsibility, and the way privilege is used can greatly affect the lives of those around us. In this respect, Fulcher's text is a great contribution to the existing body of scholarship on the Vichy regime and musicological studies on the occupation of France, especially as we confront the evils of racial hatred today.
University of Pit tsburgh
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2019|
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