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FastNotes

  • Interested in returning music to “its original, ancient meaning, when it was the magical, incantatory expression of the religious beliefs of human groups,” Jolivet looked to magic and Asian and African culture for inspiration in many works.

  • The Pastorales de Noël were composed in 1943. Each of the four modal miniatures describes a Christmas scene: The star (L’Étoile), The magi (Les Mages), The Virgin and child (La Vierge et L’Enfant), and the dancing shepherds (Entrée et Danse des Bergers).

Jolivet came from an artistic family, but his serious music training came relatively scattered and late; he was in his mid-20s when he studied with Edgard Varèse for several years, that composer’s only European student before Varèse returned to the United States. Interested in returning music to “its original, ancient meaning, when it was the magical, incantatory expression of the religious beliefs of human groups,” Jolivet looked to magic and Asian and African culture for inspiration in many works. He composed in most genres, including three symphonies, 11 concertos, and 14 scores of incidental music he wrote for plays while he was musical director of the Comédie Française.

The Pastorales de Noël were composed in 1943. Jolivet simplified his style greatly during World War II, and these are four modal miniatures, each describing a Christmas scene. The star (L’Étoile) shines in nocturnal moods, with twinkling harp sprinkles. The magi (Les Mages) appear in solemn mystery with the bassoon in its upper register, suggesting the lonely keening of the famous bassoon solo in Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The Virgin and child (La Vierge et L’Enfant) are depicted with a gracefully lilting lullaby, and the boisterous shepherds (Entrée et Danse des Bergers) dance with lively off-kilter peasant stamping.  – John Henken