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Conductor and composer (1878-1925)

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Born in Le Havre in 1878, André Caplet studied the piano, thus forming the basis of his training as a musician. He then studied writing and composing at the music school in the same town, and then at the "Conservatoire de Paris" where he went in 1896. Once there, he studied harmony under Xavier Leroux, composing under Charles Leneveu and accompaniment under Paul Vidal.

He was awarded the "Prix de Rome" in 1901 with the Mirrha cantata for choir and orchestra. He remained in Rome and made several trips to Germany to increase his knowledge of "répertoire". Very early on he took an interest in orchestral music which would play a dominant role in his life and his works. He learned how to conduct an orchestra whilst working with several Parisian orchestras. In 1907, he met Debussy to whom he would always vow great admiration. In time he would assist the master when he would look after the orchestration for him of the Martyre de Saint Sébastien. The musicologist Denise Launay wrote: " What would have become of the Martyre if Debussy hadn’t called upon Caplet to assist him in the delicate work of orchestration … ? ". Following on in this vein, he would also handle the orchestration of Debussy’s Children’s Corner, La boîte à joujoux and two Ariettes oubliées.

From 1910, we see his first compositions appear in Parisian concerts. His principal musicians were Claire Croiza, Jane Bathori, Philippe Gaubert, Gaston Poulet, Maurice Maréchal, etc. During the four years spent as part of the management team of the Boston Opera orchestra (1910-1914), he worked hard to promote French music. He returned to France in the spring of 1914 and war broke out in August. He was posted to the Le Havre garrison and it was in the rank of Sergeant that he arrived at the Front in September 1915. In May 1916, Général Mangin asked him to compose the 5th Division’s Marche héroïque. He was an active member of the quartet founded by Lucien Durosoir, and that is where he met Maurice Maréchal, fifteen years his junior.

At the end of the war, he spent a short time in the United States as a conductor and whilst there published extracts from his " Essais " covering conductors’ techniques. Upon his return to Europe, he returned to the Parisian artistic circle. As his weakened state of health rendered conducting too tiring, he preferred composing and turned down the position of orchestral conductor at the Paris opera. However, from time to time he went on to direct various orchestras (Lamoureux, Pasdeloup). Nevertheless it was during the seven remaining years of his life after the end of the war that he composed his finest works. Little by little, as he moved away from the influence of Debussy, and heavily influenced by mysticism, his last works reveal great originality and certain esoteric tendencies [1].

[1(cf. Arthur Hoéré, Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians).
(Notes drafted from Denis Huneau’s thesis)
"André Caplet et l’orchestre"
François Rabelais University, Tours, 2001)

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