Prelude: Before the War

Before the outbreak of the war, Lucien Durosoir was a celebrated violin soloist who, for over ten years, had given concerts all over Europe. No one, certainly not Lucien, knew that the Great War would last fifty-five months and would change Europe, and him, forever.

Lucien was born on December 5, 1878, to Louise Marie Durosoir and Léon Durosoir. Louise was the daughter of successful vegetable growers and merchants living in St. Mandé and Vincennes, suburbs on the eastern edge of Paris. An only child, she received the customary education for girls of that era—language, including some English, music, art, arithmetic in addition to household skills (sewing, cooking, etc.).. Her husband, Léon Durosoir, lived in Boulogne, on the opposite side of the city. Léon too was an only child, born into a distinguished family that included many military officers, including one who served under Napoleon. Léon chose not to pursue a military career but, instead, worked in business. After their marriage, the Durosoirs lived in Boulogne. In 1890, Léon died tragically of pneumonia after saving the lives of two children from drowning in an icy lake in the Bois de Boulogne. Louise and young Lucien were left dependent on Léon’s wealthy stepfather.

A lover of music and art herself, Louise took pains to introduce her son to the cultural opportunities available in Paris. Lucien was about five years old when his mother took him to a recital by the famous violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, after which the young boy declared, “I will be a violinist.” Three years later Lucien began to study violin.

In 1896, at the age of 16, Lucien was accepted to the Conservatoire Supérieur in Paris, where he studied violin with Henri Berthelier.[1] After just six months, he was expelled for insolence toward its director, Ambroise Thomas.[2] Lucien continued to study violin privately with Berthelier and harmony and counterpoint with the famous organist, Charles Tournemire.[3] According to Louise’s records, Lucien took one or two lessons per week with Tournemire from 24 November 1896 to 28 February 1899.

Lucien began his career in 1898 as first chair violin in the Orchestre Colonne.[4] Family records show that in 1899 he bought his Guarnerius violin for 6,000 francs.[5] Lucien and Louise moved to Germany and for the next two years they lived in Frankfurt, where Lucien studied violin with Hugo Heerman and received coaching from the famous violinist Joseph Joachim. When they returned to France a year and a half later, Lucien had become a Germanophile; his personal library included a small collection of German literature by Schiller and Goethe.

Over the next fourteen years, until the outbreak of the war, Lucien played concerts throughout France and Europe—including appearances in Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, Munich, Leipzig, Budapest, Dresden, Geneva, and Prague. His repertoire for these concerts was a mix of French and German/Austrian music, ranging from Baroque to contemporary works.

In his innovative programming Lucien introduced audiences to a number of masterworks by foreign composers. In 1901, he gave the first performance in Paris of Richard Strauss’s Violin Concerto in d minor and, in 1903, of Johannes Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D major. In 1910, Lucien introduced the Viennese public to Gabriel Fauré’s Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano.

Lucien Durosoir cut an imposing figure on the stage. He was a robust man who, contrary to French tastes of his day, preferred to cultivate a large, warm tone on the violin. The responses to his playing included comments such as: “a marvelous violinist, elegant technique—he weeps and speaks on his violin.”[6] About his performance of Bach, specifically the Sonata in a minor for solo violin, BWV 1003, one reviewer wrote:

He is not only a virtuoso of phenomenal ability but also an accomplished musician. In his playing of Bach’s Sonata, whose grandiose difficulties seem to disappear under his bow, Mr. Durosoir presents himself as a serious musician who, with his noble, spirited playing, relays the beauty of Bach’s music to the listeners.[7]

Louise played a huge role in her son’s career. Around 1902, she assumed the role of his concert manager and accompanied him on his tours. Louise kept a list of agents and local organizers; corresponded with the theaters and hotels to arrange for accommodations; saw to the printing of concert programs; contacted all of the newspapers wherever Lucien was to play, arranged all the publicity, and assured that his concerts would be reviewed in the newspapers. Louise retained his reviews in the French and foreign press, and she kept immaculate, detailed financial records.

Lucien’s last series of prewar recitals took place in March and early April 1914 at the Salle des Agriculteurs in Paris. The highly eclectic programs included music by Bach, Rameau, Leclair, and Veracini, standard repertory of Mozart, Tartini, Viotti, Geminiani, and Mendelssohn, and contemporary French music by Saint-Saëns, Lalo, and Eugène Cools.

By the second decade of the twentieth century, Lucien’s reputation and his fortune were well- established. He owned a house in the fashionable Paris suburb of Vincennes as well as several income-producing properties in the center of Paris and in Boulogne, and he and his mother vacationed regularly in Brittany. By 1914, Lucien no longer felt compelled to give recitals or concerts except for his own pleasure and prestige.

It was an irony of fate that Lucien Durosoir, who had enjoyed such success in Germany and Austria, would find himself fighting against these very nations six months later. In part that explains the personal trauma of World War I, which forced him to take sides against a culture that he considered his musical heritage. While the Durosoirs were on vacation in Plouézec-Port Lazo, preparing for another season of concerts and planning an upcoming tour of Austria, the call to arms came on August 1, 1914. Church bells summoned everyone to the Town Hall where the mobilization notice was posted. Men of fighting age, those who still had military obligations, were ordered to report. Surely the soldiers would be home by Christmas—and Lucien would resume his concert career. Sadly, history proved him wrong.

John Powell
Portland, Maine, February 2022


[1] Henri Berthelier (1856-1918), French violinist and teacher.
[2] Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896), opera composer and director of the Paris Conservatoire from 1871-1896.
[3] Charles Tournemire (1870-1939), French composer and organist.
[4] Orchestre Colonne was founded in 1873 by violinist and conductor Édouard Colonne, is still in existence.
[5] Made in Mantua in 1711 by Petrus Guarnerius of Cremona. Lucien had to sell the violin after the Second World War to provide for his family.
[6] La Dépêche des Ardennes, November 19, 1906, cited in Gérard Streletski, “Entre fatalité et choix: la vie de Lucien Durosoir,” p. 32. In La Châine de Création: Lucien Durosoir-Aitor de Mendizabal, ed. Luc Durosoir (Saint-Juéry, Éditions Fraction, 2019).
[7] Der Morgen Wiener Mondagblatt, 1909-1910, Durosoir family archives.


Chronology

1856                Birth of Louise Marie in St. Mandé
1876                Marriage of Louise with Léon Durosoir
1878                Birth of Lucien Durosoir in Boulogne sur Seine
1890                Accidental death accident of his father, Léon.
1886-1898       Musical training (violin, harmony and counterpoint); short time at the Conservatoire de Paris (1896); studies with A. Tracol, H. Berthelier, Ch. Tournemire.
1898                Member of the orchestra of the Concerts Colonne, 1st violin
1900-1902       Moved to Frankfort in order to study with Hugo Heermann, great German violinist.
1903-1914        International Career (in Europe) as violin soloist
1914                Mobilized to the 129th Infantry Regiment in Le Havre
1914                November: Moved to the front and the trenches
1915                October: Met composer André Caplet who was to be his companion throughout the war; formation of the General’s Quintet
1919                February: Demobilized, return to Vincennes
1919                Composed his first work—Les Cinq Aquarelles for violin and piano
1920-1926       Devoted himself to composition and searched a place to settle down in France
1926                Permanent installation in Bélus (Les Landes, south west France)
1934                Death of Louise
1935                Marriage to Hortense Catcharry
1936                Birth of son Luc
1937                Birth of daughter Solange
1939                Declaration of the Second World War.
1950                Last composition, Élegy for violin and piano, in memory of Ginette Neveu
1955                Died on his 77th birthday
2000                Discovery of letters and scores by Luc Durosoir

MAPS

For most of the war, Durosoir was located in the area shown along the red line.

Northwest Europe, 1914: the Stabilized Front. Major Offensives and Changes, January 1915-December 1916. Source: The History Department of the US Military Academy West Point, Public domain.
Northwest Europe, 1914: Western Front, 1918, Final Allied Offensive, Situation 25 September and Allied Advance to November 11. Source: The History Department of the US Military Academy West Point, Public domain.

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