Chapter 11: Münch
and Cluytens (1938–60),
Internally, the first post-war crisis may be said to have begun in March 1946, when an Assemblée Générale extraordinaire was called in response to a circulated petition of some of the musicians to the effect that a malaise exists at the heart of the society” which demanded immediate correction. It was alleged that the orchestra had separated into clans, that the secretary-general, Savoye, was behaving like a dictator in hiring and firing, that the standoff with the Radio was unnecessary, and, finally, that relations with the government and other societies had reached a nadir.
At the meeting on 28 March 1946 Savoye read a long, imperial response to the petition, noting particularly how his amour-propre was wounded by overhearing the names he was being called behind his back and even to his face. (The most common of these was salaud, bastard.) He had not in fact fired sociétaires who wanted to work for Radio Paris, even though both Lamoureux and Pasdeloup had done precisely that, and even though the Radio had forbidden some of his sociétaires to travel to England the previous November. While it was true that in 1939 he had fired the bass-clarinettist Loterie for a lack of talent prejudicial to the interests of the Société des Concerts” and the oboist Boudard for deafness (about which Bruno Walter had complained), otherwise every single member of the Société des Concerts had kept his place during the war. Any problems with extramural relations he attributed to jealousy: an institution on the move makes enemies.” As far as the government was concerned, weve been on good terms with them and weve been on bad, but we never get anything out of them anyway.”
At the conclusion of his remarks there was not the customary round of polite applause, but rather, the minutes indicate, a silence absolue.” Questioners moved quickly to the matter of the unwelcome dictatorship that had emerged during the war. It was suggested that Savoye had edged the popular personnel officer Georges Guérin out of office. They had lost a valued contract with the Comédie Française, in effect 194344, owing to Savoyes manner of behavior. Lucien Thévet, the hornist who with the trumpeter Geneste appears to have led the opposition, noted (rightly) that The society doesnt really exist at all anymore. The committee doesnt run it. Only M. Savoye is in charge.” A partisan of Savoye called out: But Thévet never goes to the committee meetings. If all the committee members were like he is, Savoye really would be governing alone.”
Robert Benedetti suggested, in written remarks, that the source of the malaise was simple: the camarades stagiaires, on whom they were more reliant than ever, had little if any security of employment. In one of the wiser contributions to that days gathering he urged calm, a return to government by the statutes, morality, discipline, and a steadfast belief in the talent of the young people. A vote of confidence in the committee (and thus in Savoyes stewardship) yielded results of 32 in favor, 14 opposed, and 4 abstentions. The bloc of nay-sayers was, nevertheless, alarmingly large.
A few weeks later, at the year-end assembly of 30 June 1946, Münch took the chair and cited the friction with Savoye as an excuse for his own release. He began by noting that the confidence which must exist between a conductor and an administrator was no longer there, and that under those circumstances he could not continue to conduct their concerts and take responsibility for the results. All that said, i its obvious that you must choose between M. Savoye and me. If you name another secretary-general, Ill stay as your president-conductor and do the next season. If you choose to keep M. Savoye, I would need to ask you, for now, to give me a years leave. My decision is irreversible, and it would be useless to ask me to go back on what Ive just said.”
During the discussion that followed his prepared remarks, Münch held his ground: Savoye has his good points, and I like him fine. But he does what he wants. Im sorry, messieurs, but I cant go on. I cant. Im no longer young. Give me a leave of absence. You did it for others, for Gaubert.” Cries of Never!” rang out in the hall.
Dont deny me that,” he replied. I want you to know how happy I would be to conduct an orchestra like that of the society, where there are so many fine artists. But now let me leave: you choose, vote, decide. Let me know the outcome.” He made ready to go but was dissuaded by Benedettis observation that in order to make any progress, the members needed to hear both sides of the story.
Savoye, said Münch, considered him merely a commodity: he talked quite openly in those terms, and Münch resented it. Savoye revealed that their differences had come to a head only a few weeks earlier, as they were planning for the triumphant return to Paris of Zino Francescatti in late spring 1946. Münch had insisted on programming Messiaens Offrandes oubliées and the first performance of a new Suite for Violin by Milhaud, and in addition had wedged Pierre Bernac and the St.-Eustache singers onto the program in excerpts from Monteverdis Orfeo. Savoye, thinking the program too elevated for the public, had put the Beethoven Violin Concerto at the front of the program without consulting Münch. Then Münch had rearranged the dates, with the result that Francescatti appeared (on 2 June 1946) back to back with another legendary violinist, Szigeti (on 12 June).
For the forthcoming trip to Nancy and Strasbourg (July 1947) he was insisting on a program with Beethovens Eighth Symphony and Roussels Bacchus and Ariadnecertain, thought Savoye, to lose money. Furthermore Münch was now in the habit of summoning him to his country house instead of coming to committee meetings: Savoye said he was made to feel like a groundskeeper or butler.
Münch now turned to his discontent with the favors routinely being accorded André Cluytens, so obviously being groomed to succeed him. He had voiced his disapproval as early as the first engagement of Cluytens in 1942, which Delvincourt had solved by taking everyone to dinner.” Jean Gitton tried to inject some compassion into the debate: Everybody in the orchestra knows that M. Münch is irreplaceable” (Pas du tout,” interjected Münch. No one is irreplaceable.” ) M. Münch knows very well,” continued Gitton, that the orchestra loves him. But we all know, too, how hard Savoye works to make the administrative and artistic areas function. For those of us who have to making a living, who have to support families, this [making of a choice between Savoye and Münch] is an impossible situation, a terrible blow, one that strikes at the renown of the Société. All the effort of the last six or seven years will be lost.”
Merci, my dear Gitton,” replied Münch. What you say is very sweet. But ...”
As courage to confront Münch began to gather, Elissalde asked him whether he would conduct all the Sunday concerts if he stayed on. Not all,” he replied. But he would engage first-rate conductors to replace him while he was in Boston.
Were forced to ask,” said Benedetti, if during these last years youve given the Société des Concerts as much as youve taken from it.”
Ive always put it in first place,” he answered.
You had us gather at the Café de Madrid to tell us how deeply you loved the Société and that you would never abandon it. Today you change your mind. Its a difficult situation. Nobody wants to see you go; the entire committee would resign if it would make you stay. But you have your own ideas. You want your particular programs. Imagine if we did exclusively what you wanted: the programs would interest the public less, and the receipts would fall.”
Münch replied: Have you had anything to complain about monetarily since Ive been at the head?”
Now André Huot, a partisan of Cluytens and so far Savoyes trusted collaborator, suggested that Münchs out-of-town engagements left him in unpredictable humor. He had come back to Paris for the 194546 concerts from an engagement in Prague, for instance, transformed and fresh. But in the spring he went to Egypt and on his return things were altogether different, culminating in the disagreements over the Francescatti concert.
Im always fine,” Münch replied, when I dont have to see M. Savoye and yourself.” Yet Huot was routinely summoned to join Savoye on the missions to visit Münch at his country house. Im in the bathtub with them,” he noted: if Savoye were to lose his mandate, he himself would have to resign, too.
Keep Savoye,” Münch shouted, Im leaving.”
You arent allowed to,” cried Huot.
Alors, Im going anyway. Send the police after me. Ill be back on the 6th. Make of it what you will.” Here the stenographer gave up trying to transcribe the conversation, writing simply brouhaha.” Huot tried to make progress on the matter of who would conduct in 194647, since the candidates Münch had proposedamong others Pierre Sancan and Franz Andréwere not of sufficient stature. Huot now asked Münch point-blank, Would you accept Cluytens?”
To which came the terse reply Non! Take Martinon.”
Münchs favorite protégé had played two seasons as a violin aspirant toward the end of the war and had served as unofficial 2e chefhe was never made a sociétairefrom 1945. The committee agreed that Martinon had considerable talent, but he did not sell out the house, while Cluytens did. Martinon was also a composer of not inconsiderable ambition, which always frightened the membership. The orchestras poll on the question of what amounted to the designation for 194647 of a principal guest conductor showed Cluytens with 40 votes and no more than five for anyone else.
There matters stood. There was no swaying Münch from either his opposition to Cluytens or his intent to go to Boston. The musicians thought the latter a flagrant breach of contract. In a single meeting the very structure of the Société des Concerts, suggested the violinist Fontalirand, had unraveled. In truth it had been unraveling for some time, largely through the routine ignoring of the statutes that wartime had engendered, and the resultant transfer of administrative and artistic power from the musicians to the conductor and general manager. Münch had no intention of recognizing a contractual obligation to the Société des Concerts. (His second five-year mandate would have been in effect through 194748.) Get a lawyer,” he shouted to the committee as the society retreated for the summer vacation.
But the next day, 1 July 1946, the committee met and officially refused him his leave of absence.