Polyphonie (Paris, 1947-1950, 1956)


(Paris, 1947-1950, 1956)

Prepared by Doris Pyee
Online only (2018)

Polyphonie, revue musicale trimestrielle [POL] was published in Paris by Richard-Masse Éditeurs as six single issues and two double issues from 1947 to 1950, and one additional double issue in 1956. As the title indicates, the original intention was a quarterly publication, but the successive issues were produced irregularly. The director of the enterprise was the Belgian composer and scholar André Souris (1899-19), with the assistance of Albert Richard as editor in chief. The entire publication comprises a total of 1,056 numbered pages, and additional unnumbered pages of advertisements and publication information at the beginnings and conclusions of the issues. The texts of the musicological and theoretical articles are printed in single column format. Several articles containing reviews of publications, variously titled as a “Livres et revues,” “ Notes,” “Notes et bibliographies,” etc. are given in two-column format at the conclusions of issues.

POL is a unique source of information for the theoretical aspects of the music of the post Second World War period. The contributors, all internationally renowned scholars in their respective fields, insure a high level of scholarship. Each issue has a thematic title and is given over to articles on topics emanating from the central theme of the titled issue.

In the first issue (1947-48), entitled “Le theatre musical,” André Schaeffner examines early Italian operas as discussed in Romain Rolland’s Histoire de l’opera, while Boris de Schloezer deals with the opposition between drama and music in opera, and Óscar Esplá writes about the Italian stile recitativo. Gustave Cohen discusses the medieval drama and Bronislaw Horowicz explains the meaning of the theatrical term “mise en scène.” Under the title “Le Théâtre lyrique en U.R.S.S.” [The lyric theatre in the USSR]. Vladimir Fedorov undertakes a description of the epic dimensions of Prokofiev’s opera War and Peace. René Leibowitz considers Schoenberg as a visionary composer in his monodrama Erwartung.

The title of the second issue (1948) “Le Rythme musical” reveals the many definitions of rhythm, the evolution and relationships of rhythm and tempo and tempo rubato. An important contribution is Pierre Boulez’ studies of rhythm featuring Stravinsky’s "Danse sacrale" from Le Sacre du printemps and Boulez’ own Piano Sonata and Visage Nuptial. Vladimir Fedorov discusses Russian rhythm and speech in operas by Dargomyzhsky and Musorgsky. A biographical sketch, portrait and the score of a song of Swiss composer Frank Martin are included.

Ancient music and the importance of musicology in dealing with early music are the central topics of the third issue (1949). Fedorov writes about medieval music and the application musicological methods in these studies. Armand Machabey considers vocal polyphony. Suzanne Clercx examines the revival of the madrigal with musical examples by Monteverdi and Heinrich Schütz.

The fourth issue (1949) is entirely devoted to discussion of dodecaphony (the so-called twelve-tone system) and reproduces papers delivered at the First International Conference on Twelve-Tone Music in Milan (May 1949). As well there is a French translation of Arnold Schoenberg’s paper in which he explained the methods of dodecaphony at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1939. Contemporary attitudes toward dodecaphony are given by practitioners René Leibowitz, Ernst Křenek and Frank Martin.

“Le Concert,” the theme of the fifth issue (December, 1949) deals with concert life, music and the audience with contributions by Gisèle Brelet on the pleasure of music, François Lesure on the origins of the Parisian concert, and José Bernhart on the technical aspects of music halls (acoustics), the latter drawing on the opinions of both technicians and musicians. A comprehensive study deals with the life and works of composer André Jolivet (b. 1905). The numerous amateur ensembles including the orphéons and the major French symphonic associations add to a broad and comprehensive presentation of French musical life.

Recorded music, “La musique mécanisée,” is dealt with in the sixth issue (1950). Music and radio, the influence of the microphone on music, film music, musique concrète, electro-acoustic research and recordings as well as the legal aspects of recorded music (copyright) are considered. All these topics are written by experts in this field including Jean-Wilfrid Garrett, Pierre Schaeffer and Arthur Hoérée. The life and work of composer Jean Françaix (b. 1912) is studied.

The double issue VII-VIII (May 1950), is entitled “La musique et les problèmes de l’homme” [Music and the problems of man], considers not only the psychological and subconscious links between human beings and music, but also the importance of music in human activities and music’s role in medicine. An enquiry by the National Industrial Conference Board shows workers favourable to music at work and stresses its beneficial aspects. An extensive bibliography on the overall subject is included.

The second double issue IX-X (August 1950) is entitled “Inventaire des techniques rédactionnelles” [Inventory of compositional skills] reviews and establishes the various contemporary compositional means available to composers: counterpoint, polyphony, rhythm and development, dodecaphony, diatonicism, rhythm in melody. Different concepts of ultrachromatism (quarter tone music) as defined by Aloïs Hába, Olivier Messiaen and Charles Ives are explained by Ivan Wischnegradsky.

The final issue, Cahier XI-XII (1956) is entitled “Introduction à la métatonalité, vers une solution tonale et polymodale du système atonal” [Introduction to metatonality, toward a tonal and polymodal solution for the atonal system] comprises a monograph by aesthetician Claude Bailly, who compares extensively five types of music: modal, polymodal, tonal, polytonal and atonal, their structures, implications and limitations, and gives a parallel study of modality and tonality with numerous musical examples to highlight the debate.