Yves Daniel-Lesur and le canique des cantiques: nonconformism and humanism in a mid-twentieth-century choral work

  • Chi Suen Cheng

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In 1936, André Jolivet (1905-1974), Yves Baudrier (1906-1988), Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur (1908-2002), and Pierre Schaeffer (1910-1995) founded the group Jeune France. They initiated this group under the influence of politically nonconformist movements in France which had started in the 1920s. The ideology of Jeune France was to revive in music 'true human qualities', free from 'extreme political domination'. At a time when some composers, associated with a revolutionary Left wing, were exploring avant-garde ideas in music that included atonalism, serialism, and other advanced techniques out of the common practice, other composers fell into a nationalistic Right wing, recalling the French Catholic traditions, and promoting an exclusive and true 'French' music. In contrast to these polarizing trends, Jeune France tried to trace back its art to its origins, and the goal of Jeune France was to re-establish music composition as something less 'abstract' than the Left, and more 'human' than the Right. The most powerful sound that can reflect the tenets of humanism in music is probably the human voice, especially multiple voices in a choral setting. Thus unaccompanied choral works, in particular, came to be a hallmark of many major composers of the 20th Century. The prevailing social and political environment of the pre-World War Two era also played an important role in contributing to the revival of unaccompanied choral music as a major genre. To demonstrate how these general social and political forces operated in the particular in France at this time, I have used Daniel-Lesur's Le Cantique des Cantiques (1952) to show how these affected a composer at this time. The goal of this research has been to look in depth at both Daniel-Lesur and his most famous work, about which little has been written in English; and to add to a growing body of literature which explores the rise of unaccompanied choral compositions as an important genre in the early 20th Century, a shift that is tied to political, cultural, and social conditions as well as musical ones. Taking Le Cantique des Cantiques as a token of a type, I show how this work reflects these issues as well as the aesthetics behind Jeune France. Finally, I have tried to show just how the experience of Jeune France influenced Daniel-Lesur as a composer as it did his more famous contemporary, Messiaen.

Date of Award2 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJohnny M L POON (Supervisor)

User-Defined Keywords

  • 20th century
  • canique des cantiques
  • Choral music
  • France
  • History
  • History and criticism
  • Humanism in music
  • Jeune France
  • Lesur, Daniel, 1908-2002
  • Music
  • Politics and culture
  • Politics in art

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