Reception of Claudel’s Work by Composers

If Claudel owes much to music, composers in return have been inspired on a regular basis by the writings of Claudel.

Incidental Music

In the same vein as the collaborations with Darius Milhaud, Paul Collaer, Louise Vetch (Maria Scibor) and Arthur Honegger, many other composers have been asked to write incidental music for the performance or radio broadcast of one or another of Claudel’s works. Of the most prominent examples, we might note the names of Maurice Jarre, composer of incidental music for the very first production of La Ville (by Villar) in 1955; André Boucourechliev, who wrote incidental music for Le Repos du septième jour ; and Georges Aperghis and Stéphane Leach, respectively, who composed new incidental music for Le Soulier de satin on the occasion of the staging of the complete works by Vitez in 1985–86 and by Py in 2003 and 2009. We should also note that François-Bernard Mâche composed music for Alain Cuny’s film version of L’Annonce faite à Mariein 1991, and that Yves Prin wrote incidental music for this same work when it was staged by Christian Schiaretti in 2005. That Boulez should have entitled one of his compositions Dialogue de l’ombre double is simply a nod in the direction of one of the scenes in the Soulier de satin.

Operas and Oratorios

As early as 1909, Florent Schmitt had approached Claudel with a request for an opera based on Tête d’Or, as did the young composer Jacques Benoist-Méchin for La Ville,at the beginning of the 1920s. Although neither of these projects came to fruition, the German composer Walter Braunfels did indeed compose (between 1933 and 1935) an opera based on the German translation of L’Annonce faite à Marie and entitled Verkündigung. This translation was from a text adapted from the original by the composer himself and was staged for the first time in 1948. In 1970 the Opéra Comique put on Renzo Rossellini’s opera based on the same play, L’Annonce. In 1996 it also inspired Olivier Kaspar to compose an opera which is as yet unpublished. Henry Barraud in turn composed an opera based on Tête d’Or,which was staged in a concert version in1985.

Of the oratorios, we must not overlook a little-known work by Paul Hindemith: Ite angeli veloces. This was conceived in collaboration with Claudel, although completed and performed for the first time after the writer’s death. However, it is without doubt Le Chemin de la croix that has most frequently inspired musicians, who have set it to music in many different forms. Antoine d’Ormesson made of it a veritable oratorio, which was performed for the first time in 1999 in the Church of St Eustache.

Poetical Works

To this day, it is Claudel’s poetic writings above all that have most often inspired composers. It may be a question of mélodies for voice and piano in the tradition of Milhaud’s Sept Poèmes de la Connaissance de l’Est (1912–13), though the number of musicians and instruments involved can also be considerably greater. Of the works composed after the death of Paul Claudel, we might mention Cent Phrases pour éventailsby Michel Decoust and L’Esprit et l’eau by Thierry Lancino.

Pascal Lécroart


Paul Claudel, Correspondance musicale, réunie, présentée et annoté par Pascal Lécroart, Genève, Editions Papillon, 2007.