André Jolivet began the piano at the age of four with his mother. However the theatre was his first great passion and he started going to the Comédie-Française at the age of 12. In order to support himself and study, though, he needed to learn a profession. He trained at the teachers' college in Auteuil and in 1927 took up a teaching job with the City of Paris. That same year, he met Paul Le Flem through the painter Georges Valmier. This decisive meeting shifted the focus of his interest to music. He began working on musical composition with Le Flem, who introduced him to the 16th century polyphonists, along with Bartok, Berg and Schoenberg. In 1929, he met Edgar Varèse at the first performance of Amériques. This, too, proved decisive for his career, since he later studied orchestration with Varèse.
The 1930s were a very productive period for André Jolivet. In 1931, his visit to the Exposition Coloniale made a marked impression on him, with a discernible influence in the Cinq incantations pour flûte seule (composed in 1936). Two years later, his circle of acquaintances expanded to include Pierre-Octave Ferroud, Olivier Messiaen, Georges Migot, Jean Rivier, Florent Schmitt and Albert Roussel. In 1935, he founded a society named La Spirale to champion contemporary chamber music. He was very open to innovation and was one of the first composers to write for a new musical instrument called the Ondes Martenot. His Trois Poèmes were first performed on French national radio by Maurice Martenot. During the same period, he met Honegger and Milhaud. The following year, with Yves Baudrier, Daniel-Lesur and Olivier Messiaen, he founded the "Jeune France" group. The group's manifesto advocated a "living music in the same movement of sincerity, generosity and artistic awareness" (first concert on 3 June 1936 in the Salle Gaveau). Jolivet was mobilised in 1940. His war experience was the inspiration for his Trois complaintes du soldat.
At the end of the war, in 1945, André Jolivet was appointed Musical Director at the Comédie-Française. Contrary to all expectations, instead of composing original music for Molière's plays, he re-orchestrated works by Lully. In the 1950s and '60s, he travelled extensively all over the world, invited to conduct concerts of his works and those of his contemporaries, and give lectures. In 1959, he was appointed technical adviser to André Malraux in the government department in charge of the arts and literature. He was also involved in establishing the French Centre for Musical Humanism in Aix-en-Provence. He taught composition and lectured there until 1963. From 1962 to 1968, he was chairman of the Association des Concerts Lamoureux. In 1966, he took over the composition students of Darius Milhaud and Jean Rivier at the Paris conservatory.
Six landmark dates in the life of André Jolivet
- 1927 met Paul Le Flem
- 1929 met Edgar Varèse
- 1936 founded the Jeune France group
- 1945 appointed Musical Director at the Comédie-Française
- 1959 technical adviser to André Malraux at the General Directorate of Arts and Letters
- 1966 composition teacher at the Paris conservatory
Six key works by André Jolivet
- 1935 Mana, suite for piano
- 1941 La Tentation dernière (Joan of Arc), cantata premiered at the RTF (the French radio and television studio)
- 1945 1st Sonata, for piano, in memory of Bela Bartok
- 1950 Equatoriales, piano concerto, commissioned by the RTF
- 1952 Harp Concerto, premiered by Lily Laskine at the Donaueschingen Festival
- 1964 3rd Symphony, for orchestra
Biography compiled from Radio France Documentation.