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Today's Date
July 22, 2024

Classical Artist

Eugène Bozza

* Born April 04, 1905 in Nice
* Died September 28, 1991 in Valenciennes
* Period: Modern (1870-)
* Country: France
* Genres: Chamber


The marvelously capable composer Eugène Bozza is one of those countless creatures in the forest of modern music who never made it into the mitten. A prodigious talent coming of artistic age in Paris between the wars, Bozza lived through virtually the entire century, and was a coeval of every musical -ism imaginable (expressionism, futurism, objectivism, serialism, minimalism, maximalism). But none of them stuck to him, and he appears to have been quite fine with that. He composed music with no stories attached, immaculately crafted and attentive to the playing idioms of all instruments. He wrote music primarily for the players, and left the historical mitten largely alone.

Perhaps Bozza's Mediterranean birth-city helped determine his cloudless career: He was lucky enough to be born in Nice. He eventually left the coast for 1920s Paris; no country boy, he played the cosmopolitan game like the best of them, and cleaned up—a high spot at the Conservatory and a decade of premiere prix. Bozza secured a post as conductor of Paris' Opéra-Comique during the nightmarish decade between 1938 and 1948, and moved three years later to Valenciennes, where he directed the Ecole Nationale de Musique until his retirement in 1975.

While it might not tell a grand story of musical innovation, Bozza's work radiates a very precise color and tone, and three of its hallmarks inevitably trace back to the composer's time in Paris. Wit and eclecticism, defining much of Bozza's music, have always illuminated the City of Light, but Paris between the wars made both qualities into doctrines. Jean Cocteau's 1918 manifesto Le Coq et l'Arlequin opened the door with its sharp-tongued lashing of all music romantic or "impressionistic" in character. "We have had enough clouds, waves, aquaria, water-sprites, and nocturnal perfumes," Cocteau swiped. Music better get its drugged Wagnerian senses out of the 19th century and hit the music halls and the circus; let it shimmy with jazz-bands and chatter with machines. Everything must be bright and sharp, sharp and cutting, cutting-edge and au courant; parody and pastiche must give the old espressivo the boot.

That Bozza apprenticed in this environment comes across in virtually all his mature music, and today's Sonatine for brass quintet is no exception. Composed in 1951, the Sonatine emerged into a France painfully alienated from its prewar "harlequin years." But Bozza's pristine score sounds entirely—or almost entirely—unaffected by the preceding catastrophe, as if it had spent the intervening time catching up on its beauty-rest. The result is a work sunlit with facility—its humor as agile as its craftiness, its formidable virtuosity meant to come off sweatlessly dapper.

The opening Allegro is a marvel of articulate lightness; Bozza seems intent on proving how un-metallically buoyant brass instruments can sound. They dance balletically, on-point even. The second movement (Andante, ma non troppo) has funeral-march qualities, but the music unfolds with an expressive moderation less intent on lament than on giving the performers a chance to show off their lyrical side. The Scherzo returns to the spirit of the opening movement, the virtuosity now notched up a bit. Only the opening of the last movement briefly halts this dandying charm, making way for a "Fanfare" composed of two bizarre near-quotations. The first comes from the climax of Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony, one of the composer's most blistering anti-war statements; the other comes from Ravel's Mother Goose Suite. Is Bozza suggesting that the horrors of the recent past are (or ought to be) dissipating into fairy tales? His reply is as inscrutable as it is amiable—a Tarantella, historically branded a kind of "death dance" but played out here with restrained celebration.

—Seth Brodsky
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French composer and conductor Eugène Bozza wrote many large-scale stage works, but he is best known outside of France for more modest woodwind and brass pieces in a highly accessible, elegant, lyrical style. Some have become standard student test works; others, for wind quintet, saxophone quartet, and various unusual instrumental combinations, are favorite faculty recital items. Celebrity soloists rarely play his music, but Bozza is nevertheless widely heard in European and American conservatories.

He studied at the Paris Conservatory with the likes of Büsser and Rabaud; he was a brilliant student, taking first prize in violin, conducting, and composition. In 1934 his lyric fantasy La Légende de Roukmani garnered him the Prix de Rome. After the Italian sojourn that came with that prize, Bozza served as conductor of the Paris Opéra-Comique from 1939 to 1948. In 1951 he moved to Valenciennes to become director of the Ecole Nacionale de Musique, a post he held until his 1975 retirement. In 1956 he became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Among his larger works are a symphony, a violin concerto, a piano concerto, and two Requiems. Perhaps significantly, his stage works -- including the ballets Fêtes romaines and Jeux de plage and the operas Beppo and La Duchesse de Langeais -- were premiered not in Paris but in provincial centers, notably Lille. ~ James Reel, All Music Guide

"Eugène Bozza." Classical Artist Biographies. All Media Guide, 2006. 17 Dec. 2006.