- Frédéric Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35, III. Marche funebre
Even though Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof (the subject of a previous Classical Corner feature) may claim the largest number of classical composers interred within its hallowed precincts, Paris also has an illustrious burial ground that holds the mortal remains of many of music’s greats. Indeed, the most famous cemetery in Paris and one of the most visited in the world is Père Lachaise Cemetery, known officially as the Cimetière de l'Est, or "East Cemetery." (Other cemeteries established in Paris in the 19th century included the Cimetière de Montmartre in the north of the city, and the Cimetière du Montparnasse in the south.) Named after Père François de la Chaise, the Jesuit confessor to Louis XIV, Père Lachaise was founded in 1804 under Napoleon Bonaparte's edict to establish cemeteries within the boundaries of Paris, where burials had previously been banned for health reasons. The over-crowded churchyards which had been in a state of decay for centuries were replaced by something brand new in urban design: a well-maintained public burial ground that would also serve as a memorial park. The founders of Père Lachaise envisioned it as place to honor France's great contributors to culture, and banked on it as a fabulous investment opportunity. From the start, the cemetery was planned to house the mortal remains of the nation's notables, but plots were difficult to fill in the early years.
Pierre Abélard (1079-1142) and Héloïse d'Argenteuil (1101-1164)
In an attempt to attract publicity and wealthy patrons, the reputed remains of the 12th century lovers Abélard and Héloïse were moved to Père Lachaise in 1817. In addition to being an important medieval philosopher and a sharp debater, Abélard is noted for writing a number of sacred chants which are comparable to hymns by his contemporary, Hildegard of Bingen. Having the bones of Abélard and Héloïse entombed at Père Lachaise made it a fashionable tourist spot, especially for young couples, and the number of burials increased within a few years from dozens to thousands.
Ensemble für Fruhe Musik Augsburg - Abélard: Dolorum Solatium
Ensemble für Fruhe Musik Augsburg - Abélard: O Quanta Qualia
Marie Louis Charles Zénobi Salvador Cherubini (1760-1842)
Italian by birth, Luigi Cherubini was a major composer of operas in France, and he was esteemed by no less a master than Ludwig van Beethoven. He was the most significant figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic periods in France, and as director of the Paris Conservatoire, he embodied tradition rather than revolutionary change. Composed in 1836, Cherubini's Requiem in D minor was performed at his funeral, as he requested.
Igor Markevitch, cond. - Cherubini: Requiem in D minor
Frédéric François Chopin (1810-1849)
No grave of a classical musician is more familiar to Père Lachaise's visitors than the tomb of Frédéric Chopin, one of the most lavishly festooned with flowers all year round. The great pianist and composer was a fervent Polish nationalist who lived in France during the Russian occupation of his country, yet expressed his revolutionary feelings in his music. Robert Schumann colorfully described Chopin's works as "cannons buried in flowers." But Chopin's long struggle with pulmonary tuberculosis prevented a return to his homeland, and he died in Paris. Chopin's corpse was buried in Père Lachaise, but according to his wishes, his heart was removed, preserved in brandy, and sealed up in a pillar in Holy Cross Church in Warsaw, Poland. (Apart from his patriotic sentiments, Chopin feared premature burial.)
Martha Argerich, piano - Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor - III. Marche funebre
Daniel François Esprit Auber (1782-1871)
For almost four decades, Daniel Auber and his librettist Eugène Scribe dominated the field of French comic opera, and though Auber was often discounted for his light music, he won praise from his peers and became the director of the Paris Conservatoire. The severe lack of food and other deprivations of the Franco-Prussian War were hard on the elderly Auber, and his death in May, 1871 nearly coincided with the disastrous collapse of the Paris Commune.
Jean-Pierre Marty, cond. - Auber: Le Cheval de bronze - Act 2, O torments du veuvage!
Georges Alexandre César Léopold Bizet (1838-1875)
The composer of Carmen, Les Pêcheurs de perles, and La jolie fille de Perth, Georges Bizet was a phenomenal talent, admired for his many memorable melodies and regarded by the virtuoso Franz Liszt as "one of the three finest pianists in Europe" (no doubt including himself at the head of that triumvirate). Bizet died prematurely of a heart attack at the age of 36, brought on by quinsy, a streptococcal infection of the tonsils. Briefly, there was suspicion of murder or possible suicide, because the perforated lesion on Bizet's neck resembled a gunshot wound. At the time of his death, Carmen was a critical failure in France, mostly because its story was condemned as immoral, but in five years it was hailed as a masterpiece on the strength of Bizet's unforgettable music.
Yan Pascal Tortelier, cond. - Bizet: Carmen - Prelude to Act I
Édouard Victoire Antoine Lalo (1823-1892)
Édouard Lalo is best remembered for his popular Symphonie espagnole, written for the great virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, though he came to be admired late in life for his ballets, orchestral music, and chamber pieces. While his death "during the tumult caused by dynamiters at Paris" received little comment in the press, his funeral at Père Lachaise was well-attended by his musical friends and associates. Jules Massenet gave the eulogy.
Joshua Bell, violin - Lalo: Symphonie espagnole - I. Allegro non troppo
Amédée Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
Inspired by the chromatic style of his teacher, César Franck, and influenced as well by Massenet and Richard Wagner, Ernest Chausson composed richly Romantic works that are best represented by his celebrated composition for violin and orchestra, Poème. A comfortable financial situation allowed Chausson to pursue music, and he was well-placed at the center of Parisian cultural activity. Just as his career appeared to be taking off, Chausson died at the age of 44 from a freak bicycle accident. Losing control on a steep slope, Chausson crashed into a brick wall and died instantly.
Leila Josefowicz, violin - Chausson: Poème for violin and orchestra
Eugène Marie Henri Fouques Duparc (1848-1933)
As the composer of one of the smallest oeuvres in classical music, Henri Duparc is one of the most enigmatic figures of late French Romanticism. He stopped composing at age 36, and he destroyed most of his compositions. This was once thought due to a mental illness, though it was more likely because of a neurasthenic condition called hyperaesthesia. His fame rests on 17 songs, including Chanson triste and L'invitation au voyage.
Barbara Hendricks, soprano - Mélodies Françaises
Duparc: Chanson triste
Duparc: L'invitation au voyage
Paul Dukas (1865-1935)
A composer, critic, and teacher, Paul Dukas was an industrious musician despite being plagued with self-doubt. His best-known work is the tone poem The Sorcerer's Apprentice, thanks to Walt Disney's use of the music in Fantasia. The ballet La Péri and the monumental Piano Sonata in E flat minor have also attracted serious attention, though Dukas, like Duparc, threw away many of his compositions before his death because of his nagging perfectionism.
Leonard Bernstein, cond. - Dukas: The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Jehan Alain (1911-1940)
An innovative composer for the organ, Jehan Alain was killed during an engagement with the enemy in World War II. His posthumous reputation has been fostered by his sister, organist Marie-Claire Alain, who has regularly performed his works in recitals around the world.
Marie-Claire Alain, organ - Alain: Litanies
David Briggs, organ - Alain: Le jardin suspendu
George Enescu (1881-1955)
Famous as a composer and as a violinist, Enescu was best-known for his Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A major, though his output included chamber music, symphonies, and an opera, Oedipe. He suffered a severe stroke in 1954, which led to partial paralysis and eventually death.
Remus Azoitei, violin - Enescu: Andante malinconico
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc (1899-1963)
A member of Les Six, Francis Poulenc was perhaps the most celebrated of the group for his witty, anti-Romantic music and cosmopolitan flair. However, the death of a friend in 1936 caused him to renew his Roman Catholic faith, and this change inspired some of his most serious sacred music and the opera, Dialogues des Carmélites. (Note the sounds of the guillotine in the opera's final scene, sampled below.)
Pierre Dervaux, cond. - Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites - Act II, Scene 4, "Salve Regina, mater misericordiae"
Calliope - Poulenc: Ave Maria (arranged from Dialogues des Carmélites)
Robert Shaw, cond. - Poulenc: Stabat Mater
Some famous musicians were only temporary residents of the cemetery. Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) and Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) were buried in Père Lachaise, but their remains were later sent back to their native Italy. Their empty tombs are kept today as memorials. The ashes of the great opera diva Maria Callas (1923-1977) were also buried here, but after being stolen and relocated, they were scattered in the Aegean Sea and the empty urn was returned to the cemetery.
A tour of Père Lachaise certainly must include other important gravesites, and musicians from the fields of jazz and popular music have been buried here as well. The jazz violinist, Stéphane Grappelli (1908-1997), pianist Michel Petrucciani (1962-1999), chanteuse Édith Piaf (1915-1963), and perhaps most notorious of all, lead singer for The Doors, James Douglas Morrison (1943-1971) are among the dead who attract a steady stream of visitors to the cemetery. However, it is a depressing fact that Morrison's pilgrims are often disruptive of the neighboring graves, spray-painting graffiti and leaving debris around the area. But considering that this cemetery was once the scene of a mass execution in the crushing of the Paris Commune in 1871, and that numerous other graves have been vandalized or subjected to various indignities over the years, including alleged orgies and black masses, Morrison's sometimes messy marker (below) is not especially shocking.