And Then Came Peace

Peace came, and with it the moment of tragic evaluations; the traumatized, exhausted poilus returned to a world that was not the one they left, one that could even be hostile.At work, their position had been taken by someone younger, less battered, more useful to the country, or by women. How many must have felt that their time had passed! Lucien, too, must have experienced this feeling. Finally free to resume his life, he faced a number of challenges and choices. Should he try to become the violinist he was in 1914? And, did he want to? He could regain his technique with work, but he was a different person—not only older but scarred by the wartime experience. What use would a great violinist be to a Europe that lay wounded, in ruins, its peoples still filled with hatred?

He was fortunate; he had time to decide. Demobilized in February of 1919, he and his mother left almost immediately for vacation in Brittany. While practicing violin, he had the freedom to turn to his other dream, composing. He’d had good training, he had continued with counterpoint exercises under Caplet’s tutelage during the war, and he had the existential experience of war—intellectually his compositional style was already formed.

His first work, Cinq Aquarelles,[8] a cycle of delicate tone poems for violin and piano was completed in February 1920, almost exactly one year after his demobilization. By October of 1920, he had finished his string quartet in f minor, with a symphonic fantasy, Jouvence, to follow in March of 1921. With three major works completed by 1921, his composing career was progressing well.

At the same time, he was considering a career as violinist, but in a more settled way than his previous solo career, maybe in an orchestra, in the United States, where so many French musicians went to replace the Germans in the great orchestras. His mother’s ill health and finally a fractured hip ended all those dreams—he could not leave her nor could she accompany him.. So, he would continue composing—transforming into tangible works all that music built up in his imagination during those nights of solitude.

Parisian life, so frivolous, so superficial, where talent must pass under the burning humiliation of social conformity, no longer held any interest for him. Why remain in Vincennes? Why not look for new lodgings, a comfortable place with a pleasant climate? Why not explore the beautiful country of France, the country that they had so ardently defended through four years of war?

And so they went exploring despite the considerable difficulties caused by Louise’s infirmities. But Lucien had been through worse, and he didn’t hesitate. The travel began immediately, in search of a place where they could settle into a new home. A calm, quiet place whose agreeable climate would sustain the disabled woman who suffered also from rheumatism. They covered the map of France’s most accommodating sites, even considering the benefits of thermal spas. In each of these successive locales, they stayed several months, not simply to try the quality of life there, but to find time to compose. At last, it was a tiny corner of the Landes that seduced Lucien: Bélus,[9] a village on high ground, from which one can see spread out the superb chain of the Pyrenees.

[8] Five Watercolors
[9] Southwest France

The house in Bélus

The decision to live in the country was essential to Lucien’s need to construct a future for himself. His solitude was enriched by his mother’s companionship, by the proximity to nature (essential for the artist), and by the friendship of a few village residents.

They bought the house in Bélus in 1926; the restoration (directed by the village curate who had become a friend) took several months. They moved in at the start of 1927. The village was charming, if perhaps a bit antiquated. The property, known as Les Chênes, was set off by a white stone wall topped with rusting grillwork. From the second floor windows one could see the Pyrenees. The large yard was the place to plant an orchard. It was the only house within miles with a bathroom and electricity. Lucien installed his library in a small room to which he could retreat for composing. He faced with serenity the years to come with a single sustaining wish: to work in silence, far from the world.

He must have spent hours and hours in his library because his musical production grew rapidly. The ten years, between 1927 and 1937 were a time of intense creative activity, during which he composed his most mature works. He described his composing during this time as “work, but also something like a game, and a joy. The essential is not the composing but the vision.”

Lucien never showed any desire to have his music published. Was Louise kept informed of his progress, she who had always been passionately devoted to everything touching her son and had so frequently urged, instructed him to compose during the war? She must have been for she certainly could not contain her curiosity, and her clear judgment had to have wanted to evaluate the work for herself. Louise fell ill and died in 1934. Lucien composed his Berceuse for flute and piano which he himself described as “funereal.”

With Louise gone an entire phase of Lucien’s life came to an end. He had never lived without her; she was his alter ego through all his concert touring before the war, and through all the daily letters during the conflict. And now she was no longer there. Yet there was another project dear to Lucien’s heart, long dreamed of, but one that he had not realized: to start a family. At age 57, maybe it was too late. For others perhaps, but not for him. Everything he had lived through paradoxically gave him confidence for this new step. He met Hortense, a lovely young woman, born in the village and from a highly-respected family. They married the following year; a son, Luc, was born in 1936, then a daughter, Solange, in 1937. He finally had his family, the beloved family he had not dared dream of. This could be happiness; but it was a troubled happiness, filled with the agonizing noises of war.

The sound of boots

Another war? Yes, and this one, which did not see him a soldier, would be very different. Germany, the enemy, was ever present. Life was a bit easier in the country than in cities; there was food. But for the composer, there was no music paper.

One strange consolation awaited him: as long as the German forces occupied his home, transforming the upper level of the house into an infirmary, he would not let himself be known as a musician. Lucien told his son Luc that he would never play for the German troops, a matter of honor. Everything musical had to be kept out of sight! He knew well how much the Germans appreciated music and that they would have demanded the services of the violinist and composer, especially since he spoke their language perfectly. Absolute silence, therefore, about music. And no word about his knowledge of German. Silence, too, about the clandestine presence of Mauricette and André, the two Jewish children sent by French Security just before the estate began to house the enemy.

Yes, peace returned, but the accompanying poverty was such that Lucien was obliged to give up what was most precious to him, his beautiful concert violin. His Guarnerius was sold, a sale that brought in little for the violinist.[10] The last years of Lucien Durosoir’s life were a time of poverty and illness. During these last years he composed six short works, often commanded by circumstances, as in the case of the Trois préludes for keyboard, composed  after the death of Rolland, organist in Rouen, his wartime companion; the Prière à Marie, a gift to his children for their first communion; and his final work, the Chant élégiaque, in memory of the violinist Ginette Neveu.[11] He did not complete the song A ma mère and night closed in on his life five years after the Chant élégiaque, his last work.

Lucien Durosoir died in his home in Bélus on his seventy-seventh birthday, December 5, 1955.

Georgie Durosoir
Bélus, 2019

[10] The violin ended up in New York. It was not identified in the shipment, either an oversight or to save on customs; either is possible. The result is that there is no trace of it.
[11] The airplane crash that killed Ginette Neveu (1919-1949), a very talented young violinist, is still spoken of among French classical music lovers.

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