The moment you are reading this post, I am in Paris. The moment I am writing this post, I am in Luxembourg. I had been looking forward to the trip. I love Paris, and even if I go there for professional reasons, it will feel good to see new faces, to hear a different language, to immerse myself into another mentality. am looking forward to ride the metro in the early morning, watching people, what they do, what they wear, what they read. I like people. People make me curious. If I could I would make myself invisible just to observe them and see what makes them tick.
We have met de Alexis de Castillon before, haven’t we? A French composer, a nobleman who devoted himself to composing since he had the financial means to do so and who did his patriotic duty as a soldier in the war against Prussia in 1870/71. After demobilization and before his precocious death in 1873 he wrote his op. 15, a work he called “Esquisses symphoniques” (Symphonic Sketches). It has been recorded by the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra under Georges Prêtre. And it a lovely piece to accompany a stay in Paris. Or to stimulate the anticipation of a trip to Paris.
Castillon was ahead of his time. He had studied with César Franck and Camille de Saint-Saëns, but he had developed his own musical language. “The music of a lunatic”, people said according to the musician and writer Hugues Imbert, who published a portrait of Castillon in 1897. And an ignorant bassoonist apparently said it didn’t matter that he had got the notes wrong since “with this kind of music it’s always wrong.” How can that be? Not that it mattered much. Castillon was a man of principles and he has a clear idea of his destiny. When the war broke out, he could not be dissuaded from stepping forward to fight. “Les gens comme nous marchent jusqu’à ce qu’ils tombent.” People like us march until they fall.
Castillon had studied with great interest and dedication the works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Wagner, the masters of Baroque, the Vienna classics and the Romanticists. And if you listen to op. 15 today, there is nothing wrong with the music. Nothing that would strike you as bizarre or lacking of harmony. Actually, Castillon’s “Symphonic Sketches” show that the composer was very gifted in terms of melody. The piece reminded me a little of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s music – the emphasis of beautiful melodies may be the common element.
Resilience. Castillon was as resilient as Tchaikovsky when it came to the opinion of music critics or the general audience. Sure, Tchaikovsky was much more affected by a negative echo than Castillon, but just like the French composer he kept going. Both knew that what they were doing was right. Resilience – a rare virtue today. Whether I look at politicians, at some of my colleagues of work, at the young people we hire – they tend to give up early. They are not spoiled, it’s just that nobody ever told them that a large part of life is overcoming obstacles. That is how we learn, how we become creative. Tchaikovsky knew. Castillon knew. History proved them right.
© Charles Thibo