Son of the composer Dynam-Victor Fumet (1867-1949), brother of the
writer Stanislas Fumet and father of the flautist Gabriel Fumet, Raphael Fumet showed
his exceptional gifts as a pianist and improviser at a very early age. Parallel
to his studies with Vincent d'Indy at the Schola Cantorum, he worked at a
number of Paris cinemas, where he was
able to improvise directly on the organ to accompany the silent films of the
period. His charisma as a musician won him the friendship of many artists,
mainly in Montparnasse. He was associated in
particular with painters and sculptors still unknown, such as Soutine, Jeanne
Hebuterre, Modigliani, Juan Gris, Joseph Bernard and others.
By nature very independent and with little interest in the bitter
divisions occasioned by the aesthetic quarrels of his day, Raphael Fumet
withdrew first to the country, to the famous College de Juilly in
seine-et-Marne, where he stayed for ten years as director of music. After the
disaster of 1940, he left Juilly with his family and settled at Angers, where he taught piano
and harmony at the Conservatoire and served as organist at the Church of St Joseph, continuing there the
tradition of his father in almost total isolation.
Persuaded that his compositions had little chance of being understood by
official institutions, Fumet made practically no attempt to promote his music. "I
no longer believe in the success of serious music", he wrote to a friend, "modern
man wants to enjoy in music something completely alien to harmony, in the
universal sense of the word: he wants the sensual or the "scientific"
but never love that is like the trees and flowers, which seem to him out of
fashion and of no interest."
If the time in which we live seems to be one of total freedom of
artistic expression, some will probably be surprised that music of a quality as
impressive as that of Raphael Fumet has up to now always been systematically excluded
by various reading committees or other channels giving access to wider
diffusion. It is true that his work is difficult to classify in what is now generally
called the historical evolution of contemporary music, a fact that seems to
allow him greater strength and originality.
Although condemned to write music in silence until his death in Angers
in 1979, without ever hearing an echo of what he composed or ever having anything
published, Fumet has left us, in spite of inevitable discouragement, a certain
number of works that are significant in their diversity and which bear witness
to the anti-conformist freedom of their composer in his search, against all
odds, for musical beauty. These include several symphonic works, particularly
the great Symphonie de l'ame (Symphony of the Soul), twice performed by
the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Pays de Loire, organ and piano pieces, a
string quartet, first performed by the Via Nova Quartet and then by the
Budapest Quartet, a wind quintet, broadcast by members of the French Orchestre
National, and various chamber works.
Ten years after his death and thanks to the support of the Fondation
Paribas, a compact disc by Jean-Paul Imbert was dedicated to the organ works of
Raphael Fumet, coupled with those of his father. Paradoxically, above all if
one accepts the pessimistic views of the composer on the understanding of his music
by official institutions, this recording won considerable international critical
success, both in Europe and in the United States.
Apart from the Cantate biblique, written for a film, Raphael
Fumet's flute compositions were written at the request of his son, the flautist
Gabriel Fumet. The Cantate biblique, for four flutes and cello, was
written for a film showing pictures of Israel under the title Entre ciel et terre
(Between Heaven and Earth). In this musical fresco, an evocation of the holy
places, the composer's inspiration was drawn from what he himself called
"interior horizons", which doubtless explains his more traditional
musical language, although clothed in a perfectly original form, as much in the
very unusual instrumentation as in the unexpected choice of means of expression
that recall the form of the cantata. The great success of this music, originally
intended as an interior commentary on biblical scenes, encouraged the composer
to make of it a separate work in itself.
The Trio for flutes was written in 1935 for Fumet's chamber-music
class at the Angers Conservatoire. The work demonstrates exceptional richness
of texture with the means employed.
In 1958 the Baroque renaissance began to take off, thanks to recordings.
Fumet was aware of this and in his Diptyque baroque shows an interest in
the blending of two timbres rarely heard together, that of the flute and of the
viola, making use of the spirit of the Baroque, while keeping a surprising
originality in a style already so familiar.
At the limit of total consciousness, Interpolaire, with its
unusual title, attempts to resolve difficult relationships of tonality and a
completely free melodic range. Here tonal attraction remains, even if the
melody tries to escape to reach again its own sphere, a feature that explains
the title Interpolaire, between the poles of attraction of tonality .
Fumet's Quatuor pour flutes (Quartet for flutes) was written at
the same period as the Cantate biblique. It reflects a new poetry, full
of freshness and invention, in a musical language more contemporary in its
clashes of stress, although always part of natural life.
Lacrymosa was originally written for viola and piano, with the present version
for flute and piano, by Fumet, slightly different. A faultless melody, simple
and serious, is set against extraordinary harmonies that, in spite of their apparent
simplicity, bear witness to the composer's powers of aural perception.
The Ode concertante, for flute and string orchestra, is
characterized by the astonishing dimension of the role allotted for the first
time to the flute. At a time when this instrument was enjoying particular
success, it was important to write a work that was completely different in
which it could rival the violin or the voice, as much by the depth of the
musical content entrusted to it as by the range, which explores all
possibilities. The composer himself wrote as follows:
"The Ode concertante came about, in the first place, as the
result of long reflection on the difficult relationship between the techniques
of strict harmony and a melody freed from tonal restrictions and rhythmic
symmetry. Atonalism too has so often become a troublesome discipline! And yet!
What is more atonal and more exemplary than the song of birds, so free, rising
above the rooted forms, such as trees, to discover new horizons? ... Shall I
take this image, this ideal example, to translate into words what I have tried
to do in terms of sound? My purpose as a composer has nothing literary about
it! But the form of my Ode is not traditional, therefore it escapes,
perhaps, from the traditional rules of musical analysis."