Music In The Dark Years

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20110104

Stephen Johnson explores how Paris's vibrant musical scene survived - and flourished - through the 'dark years' of Nazi Occupation.

On 14th June 1940, Germans tanks rolled into a humbled and deserted Paris.

The Nazi war machine had abruptly plunged the celebrated "City of Light" into darkness, condemning the city to four long years of Occupation.

Yet these 'dark years' were not to be ones of silence.

Within weeks, musical life in the French capital - previously perhaps Europe's most vibrant and eclectic cultural hub - had resumed.

Opera houses, jazz clubs, cabaret theatres, concert halls - before long, all were playing again to packed houses of German soldiers and French music-lovers alike.

As the continent tore itself apart, Paris's unique and strange renaissance suited both occupier and occupied.

The Nazis were happy to provide cultural distractions for the subjugated French - not to mention their own battle-weary soldiers - whilst the French proudly showed off that whatever happened, their musical spirit had not been defeated.

From Maurice Chevalier to Francis Poulenc, Django Reinhardt to Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet to Alfred Cortot - the city rang once more to the sound of some of Europe's most brilliant musical figures.

But was this cultural co-habitation appropriate at a time of war? What exactly were the moral duties of France's great composers and musical celebrities? And were musicians 'saving' or 'betraying' France by performing and creating new work?

Broadcaster and music journalist Stephen Johnson travels to Paris some seven decades after the city's fall, to untangle the mythology of "la France resistante musicale" - telling the story of this brief firework of brilliant - and controversial - period of frenetic musical activity.and its bitter aftermath.

In the first of two programmes, Stephen investigates how the Occupation affected France's proud tradition of classical music and music hall: from defiant songs by Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf, to the remarkable story of Conservatoire director Claude Delvincourt, a disillusioned former fascist who shielded his students from being seized by the secret police.

Stephen also explores what constitutes 'resistance' and 'collaboration' in music - and how even the most ardent anti-fascist couldn't resist the vibrant (and artfully stage-managed) performances of the touring Herbert von Karajan and the iconic Berlin Philharmonic.

Interviewees Jewish violinist Devy Erlih, who was a teenage prodigy at the famous Paris Conservatoire at the time of Occupation.

He also speaks to Alan Riding, author of a new cultural history of the Occupation, and radio presenter and cultural historian Karine Le Bail.

How Paris's musical scene flourished during the 'dark years' of German Occupation.

20110111

Stephen Johnson explores how Paris's vibrant musical scene survived - and flourished - through the 'dark years' of Nazi Occupation.

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On 14th June 1940, Germans tanks rolled into a humbled and deserted Paris.

The Nazi war machine had abruptly plunged the celebrated "City of Light" into darkness, condemning the city to four long years of Occupation.

Yet these 'dark years' were not to be ones of silence.

Within weeks, musical life in the French capital - previously perhaps Europe's most vibrant and eclectic cultural hub - had resumed.

Opera houses, jazz clubs, cabaret theatres, concert halls - before long, all were playing again to packed houses of German soldiers and French music-lovers alike.

As the continent tore itself apart, Paris's unique and strange renaissance suited both occupier and occupied.

The Nazis were happy to provide cultural distractions for the subjugated French - not to mention their own battle-weary soldiers - whilst the French proudly showed off that whatever happened, their musical spirit had not been defeated.

From Maurice Chevalier to Francis Poulenc, Django Reinhardt to Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet to Alfred Cortot - the city rang once more to the sound of some of Europe's most brilliant musical figures.

But was this cultural co-habitation appropriate at a time of war? What exactly were the moral duties of France's great composers and musical celebrities? And were musicians 'saving' or 'betraying' France by performing and creating new work?

Broadcaster and music journalist Stephen Johnson travels to Paris some seven decades after the city's fall, to untangle the mythology of "la France resistante musicale" - telling the story of this brief firework of brilliant - and controversial - period of frenetic musical activity.and its bitter aftermath.

In the second and final programme, Stephen explores the world of French popular music and jazz - and how French icons like Maurice Chevalier, Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet juggled pressure to stand up and celebrate their unique Francophone culture with accusations of collaboration and kowtowing to the Nazi enemy.

He also looks at how the popular songs of the period reflected the mood of a vanquished nation - from sad chansons about departed lovers and a lost golden age to ditties that exhorted all good Frenchmen to work with the Vichy government and co-exist with their enemy.

Stephen also visits the famous bar "Le Chope Des Puces" in North-West Paris for some live jazz and a celebration of the life of the extraordinary gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who despite being 'undesirable' to the Nazi regime - and having only three fingers on one hand - became one of the most famous and revered musical celebrities in all of France.

He also investigates the remarkable cultural phenomenon of the "Zazous" - disaffected, jazz-loving youths with attitude that infuriated German officials (not to mention their own parents) with their flagrant lack of conformity.

Contributors include the French popular music and chanson expert Philip Sweeney, jazz writers Anne Legrand and Michael Dregni and author and cultural historian Alan Riding.

How Paris's musical scene flourished during the 'dark years' of German Occupation.