Text Box: COMPOSER autographs


Price: $200.00



A rather scarce two page autographed letter signed by the French composer to his friend, actor, singer and radio executive Serge Flateau regarding his opera “La Maudite” June 9, 1966.  He writes the letter from Villa Maurice Chevalier in the La Bocca district in Cannes where he was a house guest.

Le Flem’s handwriting is beyond appalling, so we do not have a word for word translation.  Here he describes his journey to Cannes which was difficult as he was  released from the Tenon hospital in Paris 12 days earlier.  He describes his feeling after being in Cannes for 48 hours, singing, poems, the sun and that he continues to work,  He then goes on to discuss his work on his opera “La Maudite” and that he has worked on it during his hospital stay  and he will have a partition score for theatre, or for radio and that he work is coming to an end.  No specific mention of his host Chevalier.

Marie “Paul” Achille Auguste le Flem (1881-1984) was a French composer, critic and musicologist and educator from Brittany, a colorist in the mold of Claude Debussy.  His music was well known in his time and the standard of composer revivals 30-40 years after their death holds true, as his music is more performed and recorded today than it has been in a number of years and a in France, a string trio bears his name.

Le Flem was born in Brittany, lost his mother at the age of four and he became entranced with music at an early age through listening to the folks music of the region and attending live performances of opera, concerts and recitals.  In 1899, he went to Paris in 1899, after being rejected by the French Naval College due to his poor eyesight to study philosophy at the Sorbonne and composition at the Paris Conservatoire.  While he graduated from the Sorbonne in 1901 with a philosophy degree, he did not complete his course of study with Albert Lavignac at the Conservatoire finding it pure drudgery. That said by 1899 he had composed and published his first works.  He signed up to go to Russia to teach French in 1902.  Before he left, he attended the world premiere of Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande” and was transfixed with the harmonies which became  an influence in his own works.  While he learned to speak and write Russian whilst there and attended theatrical and musical performances, he was often homesick and returned to France eighteen months later.  He decided to return to music and with the progressive professors of composition at the Schola Cantorum, it made sense and he studied with both Vincent D’Indy and Albert Roussel.  He also became good friends with his classmate Edgard Varèse through their shared interest in the music of the Renaissance. After his graduation, he remained at the Schola Cantorum teaching harmony and counterpoint, where among others, an older Erik Satie had enrolled to fill the gaps in his musical education, namely orchestration, counterpoint and harmony and le Flem was one of his teachers.  When Roussel left in 1914, the composer taught his composition class. Arthur Honneger wrote the same year,  “On the eve of 1914, Paul Le Flem was one of the leading “musicians of tomorrow”. He shortly thereafter was drafted into the French Army during World War I.  The composer began writing music criticism in the daily journal “Comoedia” where he supported and encouraged the current modernist composers in France of the day, Stravinsky, Milhaud, Poulenc and others.  After the War, he returned to teaching at the Schola Cantorum and music criticism.  In 1923 he was finally appointed Professor, officially taking over Albert Roussel’s former position as Professor of Counterpoint in title.  He remained until 1934. Other pupils of importance included, Andre Jolivet, Marcel Mihalovic and Roland-Manuel.  Whilst a Professor at the Schola Cantorum he took on the role of Chorusmaster at the Opera Comique in 1924.

Finally in 1937, Le Flem refocused his energies on composition.  While Le Flem’s works are distinct, the compositions are strongly rooted in the folk music of Brittany and influenced by the colors of the modern harmonies of his Parisian predecessors; Dukas, Massenet, Debussy, Ravel and even an Italian predecessor, Puccini. He was not alone in the use of the folk music in Brittany, as he was joined by 7 others including; Aubert, Botrel, Collin, Cras, Ladmirault, Ropartz and Vuillemin of which he is considered the 2nd after Ropartz. For the most part, the orchestrations are beautiful, rich and melodic, even into the late 1960’s, though in several works he delved into the neo-classical style. In 1951, he was awarded the Grand Prix Musical of the City of Paris, for his work in three areas, composition, writing and scholarship. 

The composer’s works included 6 operas written between 1903 and 1968 including “La Maudite”. 4 symphonies, a Konzertstucke for Violin and Orchestra, a Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra, a Quintette for Piano and String Quartet, a Quintette for Harp and String Quartet, numerous sonatas for solo instrument and piano including the early electronic Ondes Martenot, similar to a theremin, but with a keyboard and more accuracy and functionality, as well as a large amount of solo piano works.  He also wrote two important large scale choral works with Brittany as a theme, “Le Crépuscule d’Armor” and “Morven la Gaëlique”.

“La Maudite” was to be Le Flem’s final masterwork as his eyesight was failing in 1966.  Written mainly from his hospital bed in Le Tenon Hospital in Paris where he recuperated from a serious health issue.  He was invited by his friend Maurice Chevalier to come to Cannes to recuperate at his villa there.  The story of the opera revolves around the legend of the mythical city of Y’s and the Breton wizard and Princess Dahut.  Like Berlioz, he wrote a large scale work in 2 parts, similar in size to “Le Troyens”. He finished the first part in 1966 and the second part in 1968.  He was unable to find a theatre to produce such a large scale work at that time, especially as it would have had to be performed over two nights.  His friend Flateau was the former manager of ORTF, French radio from 1955-1964 and proved useful in a broadcast performance of the first part of the opera in 1967. Until recently it was available to stream on Primephonic.

Le Flem is the great-grandfather of the French actress Eva Green, her paternal grandmother was Paul le Flem’s daughter Jeanne, one of three le Flem children who survived to adulthood.    




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