In 1956 the Dutch electronics conglomerate Phillips asked Le Corbusier if he would be interested in designing their pavilion for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.
Le Corbusier was.
Albeit, “je ne ferai pas de pavillon; je ferai un Poème électronique avec la bouteille qui contiendra“, “I will not create a pavilion; I will create a Poème électronique with the bottle to contain it.”1
And a pavilion/bottle/Poème électronique which offers an apposite starting point to approaching a differentiated image, a differentiated composition?, of Le Corbusier…….2
Born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, on October 6th 1887 the, then, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris initially trained as an engraver of watch cases at the town’s Ecole d’Art, before in 1905 joining the school’s newly established Cours Supériuer d’art et décoration where his focus switched to architecture; whereby, architecture as understood by the, then, Ecole d’Art and its, then, director Charles L’Eplattenier was much more decoration and ornamentation than construction, was more formal than structural. If a visual understanding of architecture which didn’t impede the development of the young Charles-Édouard, and during his time at the Ecole d’Art he realised not only his first architectural projects, but also his first furniture designs. And in Charles L’Eplattenier found a mentor who was to be instrumental, pun intended, in his early development.
Following the completion of his formal studies Charles-Édouard embarked upon numerous extended study tours through Europe and Anatolia, regularly undertaking work placements in local architectural practices as he travelled; travels which came to an end in 1917 when he settled in Paris. Where in 1920 Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris became Le Corbusier. And ultimately the famed international architect Le Corbusier.
Whereby, it could all have been so very, very different.
For, as Peter Bienz neatly describes3, Charles-Édouard’s mother, Marie Charlotte Amélie Jeanneret-Perret, was a pianist, a piano teacher and clearly wanted that at least one of her children follow a musical career; a charge/duty that befell Charles-Édouard’s elder brother Albert. Had it not been for Albert, Charles-Édouard, one can safely presume, as his parents only other child, would have found himself on that musical path; but there was Albert, and so the young Charles-Édouard could concentrate on painting, drawing, the decorative arts and the path to Le Corbusier.
Not that music played no role in Charles-Édouard/Le Corbusier’s life and work, it very much did, both directly and indirectly, something that can perhaps be most elegantly understood via a quick, prestissimo?, musical tour through some of those associations. Starting, if one so will, at the end of the narrative, with the coda, and the Philips Pavilion…….
The 1958 Brussels World’s Fair, the first World’s Fair following the cessation of the Second World War, stood not only in context of the ongoing global economic recovery, nor only in context of the escalating Cold War, but also in context of the technical and scientific developments of the period; and for all in context of the hopes inherent in the transfer of those developments to the service of society, be that at the industrial/commercial or at the consumer level, and the new freedoms and opportunities the developing technology and science would bring us all. A brave new future neatly embodied in the Atomium.
And a brave new future Philips sought to place themselves at the core of with a Brussels pavilion which rather than presenting Philips products per se was intended to accentuate their competencies in contemporary, developing, electronic technologies via “a synthesis of illumination and sound in a completely novel and modem form”4, “a spectacular demonstration of a synthesis of light, music, space and colour; all this using the most advanced technical means”.5
To this end Philips planned to engage the English composer Benjamin Britten for the music, the Belarusian-French sculptor Ossip Zadkine for “a monument more or less abstract” which would symbolise “the genealogical tree of Philips with its products”6, and Le Corbusier for the design of the pavilion. The decision for Le Corbusier, who at the time of the commission was 69 and unquestionably one the Grand Doyens of architecture, was largely based not on his longer oeuvre, or even his reputation, but on his very recent Notre-Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, a chapel whose interior Philips’ Art Director Louis Kalff, felt “include[s] elements that would also be applicable in our pavilion”7
And while Le Corbusier was keen to accept the commission, only on his terms: only if he was in charge of the complete presentation, allowed, if one so will, to develop the pavilion as a Le Corbusier Gesamtkünstwerk; and only if Edgard Varèse was commissioned to write the music. Conditions Philips, after much deliberation and debate, finally consented to.8
Born in 1883 Edgard Varèse studied music in Paris and Berlin and was without question one of the more important figures in the development of what is referred to as New Music, in the development of new approaches to and understandings of tonality, of composition, of instrumentation, of rhythm, of musical forms, of musical aesthetics, in the first half of the 20th century; albeit without a public acclaim to match the critical one he enjoyed, and who thus in the course of the 1940s and 1950s slipped ever more into a popular obscurity.
A popular obscurity which poses the question why Le Corbusier’s insistence on Edgard Varèse?
A question Le Corbusier alone knows the answer to. And one he not only never conclusively answered, but, or at least as far as we can ascertain, one whose answer can’t be deduced from clues in Le Corbusier’s biography, a biography in which Edgard Varèse barely exists. Certainly not conclusively. Thus one is left with presumptions. Of which there are a great many.
One of which can be traced back to the December 1954 Paris première of Varèse’s Déserts, a work for wind instruments, percussion and tape recorded sounds, and which caused an old-fashioned concert hall scandal; a separation of the crowd into booing rejectors and cheering supporters of the type on which so much music (hi)story is based. Certainly in Paris. And a scandal which brought Varèse back into public light and which, just possibly, inspired Le Corbusier to insist on Varèse for the Philips Pavilion; or as Jan de Heer & Kees Tazelaar suggest, Le Corbusier may have been “hoping for another such dust-up during the World’s Fair in Brussels”.9
And while we’d in no way rule out Le Corbusier being very much aware of the PR value of controversy, he had been trying, unsuccessfully, to engage Varèse in numerous projects since 1951, since the days of Varèse’s popular obscurity, and so, one presumes, there must have been a musical basis for his interest. And in which context we note a letter from Le Corbusier to Kalff in September 1956 in which he writes, “I would only want, in any case, that this musical score have a radical “noisy” allure. I am convinced that between Mr. Varèse and myself there is a unity not only of generation but of experience in two different domains”.10 Edgard Varèse was, without question, a composer who had proven himself over the previous three decades as more than capable of delivering something alluringly “noisy”; his 1920s breakthrough work, Amériques, with its cacophony of percussion and repeating sirens being case enough in point. Plus, as Bienz notes Varèse was a composer who could supply a work employing contemporary electronic technology rather than the traditional orchestral instruments a, for example, Benjamin Britten would employ; and there is, we’d all agree, an undeniable logic in the use of electronic music to promote an electronics conglomerate, a logic which, reading between the lines, appears to have escaped Philips who, amongst other stipulations, insisted in their contract with Le Corbusier that the music must contain symphonic elements. A state of affairs which causes Bienz to opine that it is “astonishing” that Le Corbusier appears to have “revered electronic achievements more than Philips”.11 But he, apparently, did. And that of an alluring noisy type. And in the early 1950s there were numerous musicians who could supply radical electronic noise of the type Le Corbusier clearly envisaged, not least those associated with Pierre Schaeffer’s musique concrète in Paris or those associated with the Westdeutscher Rundfunk’s Studio für elektronische Musik in Cologne.
Why the 73 year old Edgard Varèse?
One clue could lie in “there is a unity not only of generation”, one of several similar inferences Le Corbusier makes to their similar ages, and which could, in context of Le Corbusier’s general vanity, self-promotion and egotism, lead one to the idea that he didn’t fancy being upstaged by a younger musician; preferred to demonstrate that the new in the pavilion was something that came from his generation, was a development of which he was very much an intrinsic part, not something which left him and his work in the distant past. And, and as we shall see, he had such a younger musician very close at hand. One he didn’t take kindly to being upstaged by.
Yet regardless of the why, after much dispute with Philips about the direction the music was taking – Philips, we feel it fair to say, began to increasingly regret the commission the closer the 1958 Word’s Fair approached – Edgard Varèse realised an eight minute composition which opens with a peal of bells which rather than leading into an Angus Young guitar riff leads into what de Heer & Tazelaar describe as “pure electronic sounds from oscillators … punctuated by short percussive pulses, both produced electronically and microphone-recorded, and rapsy metallic sounds”, and which continues in a similar vein, possibly including an elephant and a mouse having an argument, until the middle is announced via a short silence, before moving on to its coda, in which “the listener is treated to a tremendous excess of simultaneous sounds – a résumé of all that has come before and then at a deafening volume”.12 If we’d argue a volume not quite as “deafening” as that at the end of Amériques.
And an eight minute composition which accompanied the, as Karen Michels describes it, “eight minute spectacle of images, colour and rhythm”13 that Le Corbusier had developed; a “spectacle” comprising a film crafted from black and white photographs arranged by the French cameraman Philippe Agostini which, as Marc Treib elegantly phrases it, illustrated “the course of human civilization and the threats to its prolongation”14 and which was accompanied by a series of abstract shapes projected onto the film, coloured lighting by way of altering the atmosphere in the pavilion and three dimensional forms suspended high above the viewers; a “spectacle” which for Le Corbusier elucidates “how our civilization breaks out of frightening disorder to conquer modern times “.15 And thus very succintly, very poetically, encapsulated the myriad disparate contexts of economic upsurge, Cold War and hopes for the future in which the 1958 World’s Fair stood. Arguably encapsulating such more neatly than the Atomium.
A “spectacle” which although it suffered teething problems and was never realised exactly as Le Corbusier had envisaged, can be considered the scenario “created out of relationships; light, plasticity, design and music”16 Le Corbusier had described to Varèse when inviting him to contribute, and also the “synthesis of illumination and sound in a completely novel and modem form” Philips had envisaged, if somewhat differently. And which, arguably, and there is room for argument, but as de Heer & Tazelaar opine, had it run as Le Corbusier had envisaged “would have been the ultimate expression of Le Corbusier’s synthèse des arts“17, that understanding, theoretical basis, of his work that so defines his later years and in which, as Andreas Vowinckel & Thomas Kesseler argue, he no longer sought “formal harmonization, but rather the tension of opposing structures, which he no longer standardised, but instead gave them a sculptural form that was as independent and pronounced as possible”18, a striving undertaken across, in collaboration between, all artistic genres, including paying close attention to the integration of light, shade, sound and silence. And an attempt to synthesise all artistic genres for the benefit of the both individual and of society which although at the core of later years Le Corbusier, runs through Le Corbusier’s career in ever evolving and developing positions and understandings.
And a “spectacle” which for its day was, relatively, revolutionary, was a, relatively, novel immersive, multi-medial presentation, one which unquestionably would have provided an unknown audio-visual sensory stimulus and adventure for the vast majority of the million or so visitors who experienced it. And one which, as Ryan Bishop comments19, both reminds of Erwin Piscator and Walter Gropius’s Totaltheater concept from the mid-1920s, while also pointing towards the immersive multi-medial presentations of Charles and Ray Eames, for all Glimpses of the U.S.A from 1959 and, and perhaps most famously and pertinently, Think presented in the IBM pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, an immersive multi-media spectacle in service of an electronics conglomerate. And we know Charles and Ray were at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair because they made a film about it for Herman Miller, who used the opportunity afforded by the World’s Fair to introduce the Eames’ designs to Europe. And one presumes Charles and Ray would have found their way to the Philips Pavilion, not least to witness the architectural solution of Le Corbusier.
It is a universal truth that the work of any big name architect or designer is rarely their’s alone, certainly not after they have reached the status of running an office with permanent staff and irregular freelancers; but, rather any project is always dependent to a greater or lesser extent on the contribution of the office’s employees/collaborators. The office of Le Corbusier was no different from any other in that respect.
And the Philips Pavilion wasn’t a work by Le Corbusier, but by Iannis Xenakis, with input from Le Corbusier.
Born in 1922 Iannis Xenakis spent his childhood in Romania and Greece before studying engineering in Athens, graduating, after a Second World War enforced hiatus, in 1946. A hiatus during which Xenakis served as an active member of the antifascist resistance, a War-time involvement which brought him increasing problems with the post-War right wing Greek government; problems which ultimately saw Xenakis flee to Paris in 1947. And where he spent twelve years in Le Corbusier’s employ; initially as an engineer, subsequently as an architect, and in which contexts he contributed to projects such as, and amongst others, the Sainte-Marie de La Tourette monastery in Éveux, the new city of Chandigarh in northern India, and, and as his very first project, l’Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, a project based on, designed with the aid of, Le Corbusier’s standardised Modulor system.
Developed over many decades and first published in 1948, Modulor is based on the dimensions of a standardised human understood in context of the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio, and is intended to be used in the design of buildings, indeed all items of human use, as a tool to ensure harmonic proportions that are in tune, pun intended, with the human body, a, if so one, will, attempt to achieve the “formal harmonization” Le Corbusier later moved on from in synthèse des arts; but importantly only as a tool, not as a replacement for human creative subjectivity. And as a system Modulor has music very much at the core of its understanding of itself: “sound is a continuous process that flows from low to high without interruption” writes Le Corbusier in Modulor, before going on to discuss how this natural phenomenon came to be written down, came to be presented in a visual form, the role of Pythagoras, of mathematics, in that development and the understanding that “this continuous natural phenomenon cannot be transmitted through script unless it is first subdivided and measured“.20 The translation of sound into transmittable, rationalised, systematised, scales and notation as the necessary basis of the development of music since the days of antiquity.
“If a linear or optical measuring tool, similar to musical notation, presented itself, could the nature of building be improved?”21, asks Le Corbusier. Rhetorically. His answer is yes. His answer is Modulor, or the “Scale of Proportions” as it was originally titled.
And a connection between architecture and music that was very much at the heart of Le Corbusier’s understandings; or as he opines in Modulor, “Music is, as with architecture, time and space. Music and architecture depend on measure.”22
The aforementioned l’Unité d’Habitation in Marseille was the first construction realised using Modulor and contains 15 different dimensions, 15 different proportional relationships, as defined by Modulor. L’Unité d’Habitation was, as also aforementioned, the first Le Corbusier project on which Iannis Xenakis worked, his first exposure to the use of Modulor, and as Nouritza Matossian opines, “the simplicity and elegance of the Modulor fired [Xenakis] to broach the question of whether such a set of proportions could also become the basis for musical composition.”23
For although earning his money as an engineer/architect, Iannis Xenakis was, at that time, primarily a struggling musician. And one very much of a New Music persuasion.
And the new insights gained through not only Modulor but also through his work for, and conversations with, Le Corbusier, the fresh reflections on the relationships between mathematics, engineering, architecture and music, and the thereby achieved understandings of architecture as ideas in space and music as ideas in time yet both with similar foundations, was to be fundamental in the development of both Xenakis’s music and his architecture: the former in terms of his compositions, both as structure and notation, the later reflected in, and amongst other works, the Philips Pavilion.
At the time of the Philips commission Le Corbusier was spending a lot of time in India on the Chandigarh project, and thus assigned Xenakis the pavilion; giving him by way of instruction little more than a quick sketch of a possible floor plan, and a few structural parameters relating to the practicalities of its functioning as agreed with Philips and the performance, visualisation, of le poème électronique. The rest was up to Xenakis.
Immediately prior to creating the Philips Pavilion Iannis Xenakis had released his first music work Metastaseis, a composition whose construction is based on Modulor-esque Fibonacci sequences and for which Xenakis developed a graphic system for depicting the glissandi, those “continuous [sound] process that flows from low to high without interruption” which Pythagoras broke down into measurable components, but which can also be understood as a single unity that should, must?, be depicted as such.
And glissandi which form the basis of the Philips Pavilion. Or more accurately, the sketches of the glissandi Xenakis realised in context of Metastaseis informed the hyperbolic paraboloid form of the Philips Pavilion; a form which allows the interior to have asymmetric, aquadratic and alinear surfaces, an inherent irregular plasticity which allowed le poème électronique to function as an immersive, pliable, multi-medial spectacle, and also served as an appropriate acoustic bouteille for the performance of Varèse’s composition.
And for Iannis Xenakis’s composition. Xenakis composing the music which played as the crowds shuffled in and out, music based on a recording of burning charcoal, and which is known today as Concrete Ph.
But given his interest in and practice with New Music, musique concrète, electronic music, etc, why not commission Xenakis to compose the music for le poème électronique?
A question that becomes more pertinent when one considers that Metastaseis both has, we’d argue, the “radical “noisy” allure” Le Corbusier wanted for le poème électronique, and also that its première at the 1955 Donaueschingen Musiktage caused, by all accounts, an old-fashioned scandal, or as Matossian writes, it “was received boisterously by the public which divided like a football crowd into two opposing camps, jeering and applauding through the performance”.24 Thus in Iannis Xenakis Le Corbusier had a musician close at hand who could have composed the required work. However as noted above, one can’t escape the suspicion that having the 73 year old Varèse compose the work rather than the 35 year old Xenakis appealed more to Le Corbusier. A suspicion, we’d argue, confirmed by Le Corbusier’s claiming of the Philips Pavilion as his work, Le Corbusier’s resistance, failure, to publicly acknowledge that the pavilion was the work of Iannis Xenakis, Le Corbusier’s utter inability to let anyone else take the credit for a project realised in his office. A position unquestionably based on Le Corbusier’s vanity and strong desire to control the narrative of his biography; and which led to a split between Iannis Xenakis and Le Corbusier, and thus ended a decade and a bit cooperation which although not always smooth, was unquestionably fruitful for both parties.
And not the first unhappy end of a fruitful relationship in Le Corbusier’s biography…….
Shortly after moving to Paris in 1917 Charles-Édouard, as he then still was, became friendly with the artist Amedeé Ozenfant and in 1920 the pair co-founded the magazine l’Esprit Nouveau, a publication which, according to its first edition from October 1920 was, “the first Revue du monde devoted to the aesthetics of our time, in all its manifestations”25, and certainly from the outset l’Esprit Nouveau covered a wide range of creative genres including, and amongst many others, literature, cinema, the circus, esthétique expérimentale, and fine art. And was a publication which, according to M. Christine Boyer26, was primarily established to help Jeanneret and Ozenfant promote Purism, an artistic understanding, a concept for the development of art, the pair had evolved, freed?, from Cubism and which they described in an article in l’Esprit Nouveau Nr. 4 from January 1921 as a “purification of standard forms”, a, if so one will, de-abstraction of Cubism, a return to primary geometric forms as themselves as the basis of art, a return to order, of harmony, which considered art very in terms of, in relation to, architecture including understanding “painting not as a surface, but as a space“, and an understanding which “strives for an art free of conventions which will utilize plastic constants and addresses itself above all to the universal properties of the senses of the mind”.27 And a concept, understanding of, approach to art which was not only central to much of Le Corbusier’s work at that time, but which, in many regards evolved over the decades to become the synthèse des arts of his later years.28
The first edition of l’Esprit Nouveau from October 1920 is also important as it brought with it the arrival, the birth?, of Le Corbusier: Jeanneret and Ozenfant publishing joint articles under the byline “Le Corbusier-Saugnier”. Or more accurately publishing joint articles on architecture and urbanism as “Le Corbusier-Saugnier”, joint articles on art were, generally, published under the byline “Ozenfant et Jeanneret”; a distinction which tends to imply who was primarily responsible for the various components of their oeuvre. But also that the responsibility, and the oeuvre, was joint. And architectural and urbanism texts published as “Le Corbusier-Saugnier” which include theses on, for example, serial, industrial construction of houses; on the differences between architects and engineers, also in the relevance to contemporary society; or on the importance of geometry and the golden ratio in architecture. And texts by “Le Corbusier-Saugnier” which were re-published in 1923 under the name Le Corbusier alone in the book Vers une architecture, one of the standard works on Le Corbusier’s theories (at least until 1923); and which thus allows one to approach an understanding of the importance of l’Esprit Nouveau, and of Amedeé Ozenfant, for and to the development of Le Corbusier’s architecture. And that at a time, lest we forget, when Le Corbusier’s primary interest was painting and sculpture: between 1917 and 1922 he realised next to no architectural projects29; and when he did reappear as an architect in 1922/23 then with a formal understanding very far removed from the Art Nouveau, the style sapin, of La Chaux-de-Fonds and his pre-Great War architectural oeuvre. A new formal understanding very much more in tune, again pun intended, with the reduced quadratics for which he is popularly known today. An evolution that can be placed not just in context of developments elsewhere in Europe, but very much in context of the years in Paris and the opportunities and insights afforded by l’Esprit Nouveau and the friendship, and very close cooperation, with Amedeé Ozenfant.
That Vers une architecture is published as Le Corbusier alone indicating the split which occurred between Le Corbusier and “Saugnier”; a split which first developed in 1924, became formalised in 1925 and marked the end of seven years of highly fruitful cooperations for both. And, logically, the end of l’Esprit Nouveau.
And Erik Satie? Parade?
The choice of the title “l’Esprit Nouveau” was inspired by, and intended as an homage to, the poet and author Guillaume Apollinaire, an important figure in the French avant-garde of the early 20th century, to whom l’Esprit Nouveau Nr. 26 was entirely devoted, and who had not only held a lecture in November 1917 under the title L’Esprit Nouveau et les poetes in which, as Susan Ball opines, he argued for a new organisation of artistic expression “which corresponded to many beliefs of the Purists”30, but who had also titled his preface to the programme for the 1917 première of the ballet Parade: “Parade et l’Esprit Nouveau“. Parade famously being a collaboration between the author Jean Cocteau, painter Pablo Picasso, choreographer Léonide Massine and composer Erik Satie; an important work in context of the period, and of which Apollinaire opined that while “until now the decorations and the costumes, on the one hand, the choreography, on the other hand, had between them only a factitious link”, with the “new alliance” of Parade he understood “a kind of sur-realism where I see the point of departure of a series of manifestations of this esprit nouveau“.31
L’Esprit Nouveau came first, sur-realism shortly afterwards, and both arising in inter-War Paris. And the synthèse des arts inherent in the “new alliance” of Parade being a continuing theme in Le Corbusier’s oeuvre.
And while music can’t be described as a central component of l’Esprit Nouveau, it was ever present as texts on music theory and practice, and also on practitioners of both global vernacular music and more contemporary understandings; whereby Bienz considers “with regard to a musical aesthetic of “ésprit nouveau”, [Satie] is the most important musical personality, as his compositions reflect most of the criteria which, in the opinion of the editors, are decisive for quality in musical works”.32 Something tended to be underscored by the very favourable portrait of Satie in l’Esprit Nouveau Nr. 2 by Henri Collet which concludes that “no music, at this time, is more stripped of artifice, purer and more emotional, its entirely internal rhythm flows according to its very etymology and becomes capricious only to evoke Marsyas”33, while in l’Esprit Nouveau Nr. 4 Albert Jeanneret, brother of Le Corbusier and who who regularly features in l’Esprit Nouveau as music critic, presents a positive review of Parade by Ballets Russes, which includes the notable passage, “it is the general rhythm which is primary, which is the bearer of the organic reason of the work. Satie lucidly assembles well-defined elements, aware of their effect and their reciprocal reactions. This architecture is so frank, so readable, the line is so revealing of the masses it contains, that a thought occurs to you: a thought of a pre-established work, already elsewhere, on another planet, where the art of building would be innate – and we would witness, be reminded of, the demonstration of a natural fact, of a blessed constructivity.”34 Albert Jeanneret and architecture is however a subject for another day. Albert’s text also includes snippets of the score, including one introduced with the words “polytonie plus brutale“, “more brutal polytony”, which not only reminds of his brother’s famed use of béton brut, but is a phrase we’re planning using at every available opportunity.
Albert’s review of Parade also expresses an appreciation of the avant-garde, New Music, of inter-War Paris with its sirens and revolvers which places Albert Jeanneret in a notably different place musically from were he had been a decade or so earlier…….
Born in La Chaux-de-Fonds on February 7th 1886, Jacques Henri Albert Jeanneret-Gris, as noted above, was schooled from an early age for a musical career, specifically for that of a solo concert violinist. A training which in 1900 took him for two years to the Königliche Hochschule in Berlin, and which was supposed to see him continue his studies at the Geneva Conservatory; however, an arm injury, possibly caused by the hours of practice, and in all probability exasperated by a psychosomatic aggravation of that physical injury on account of the stress of the expectation upon him, saw Albert abandon that career path in 1909. Much to the despair of his parents. If, reading between the lines, very much to the relief of Albert. And a change of plan which allowed him to take up a position with Émile Jaques-Dalcroze.
Born in 1865 Émile Henri Jaques was, primarily, raised in Geneva, at whose Conservatory he studied, before moving over stations in Paris, Vienna, Algiers, and ultimately returning to Geneva where adopted the nom-de-plume Jaques-Dalcroze and began teaching harmonisation theory and solfège at the Conservatory. And where he began to develop that for which he is most popularly known, Dalcroze eurhythmics, a methodology for teaching an appreciation for and understanding of music through movement, a “musical education in which the body itself played the role of intermediary between sound and thought and became the direct instrument of our feelings”35, and that with the intention “to render unto the body its eurhythmia, to make music vibrate within it, to make music an integral part of the organism, to sound this marvellous keyboard that is the muscular and nervous system, to plastically render a measured thought in space as in time”.36
An approach to and understanding of not only music but of the relationships between the human spirit and the myriad environments it inhabits which found many followers amongst the burgeoning reform movement associated with the developing Jugendstil in the early years of the 20th century; and which saw Jaques-Dalcroze invited by Wolf Dohrn, the, then, secretary of the Deutsche Werkbund, to open a school in Hellerau, the new garden city developed on the edge of Dresden by Karl Schmidt alongside the Deutsche Werkstätten furniture factory; a garden city and factory which existed very much in context of contemporary reformist, socially equitable, ideals.
In the autumn of 1910 Albert moved with Jaques-Dalcroze from Geneva to Hellerau, and thus at a period when Charles-Édouard was also in Germany researching what would become his Etude sur le mouvement d’art décoratif en Allemagne; a project which thus afforded him the opportunity to combine his research, Hellerau and the Deutsche Werkstätten were exactly the sort of institutions he was studying, with visits to his brother. Visits which, through his brother, also saw him become acquainted with many of the leading protagonists of the Deutsche Werkbund and associated institutions, and thus opened further doors for him in Germany; and also saw him become acquainted with Heinrich Tessenow who had been commissioned to build Jaques-Dalcroze’s Bildungsanstalt für Musik und Rhythmus, the contemporary Festspielhaus Hellerau. A commission Charles-Édouard was, by his own account, invited to contribute to; an invitation he declined feeling/fearing that he would only be charged with mundane tasks rather than undertaking anything truly interesting, truly instructive. And which may have been an error of judgement on the part of the young Charles-Édouard.
For just as important for the Bildungsanstalt as Jaques-Dalcroze was the stage designer Adolphe Appia who had become acquainted with Dalcroze eurhythmics in 1906 and understood in Jaques-Dalcroze’s theory and methodology an answer to the question he was asking himself at that time concerning the “exteriorization of music”37; an exteriorization Appia, through the cooperation with Jaques-Dalcroze, developed into Espaces rhythmiques “a rigid architectonic harmony and proportion for scenography, contrasting with the subtle movements of the dancing and singing body”, “terrains …which were strictly reserved for him and which corresponded with the space and durations dictated by the music of his role”38. If one so will architecture as ideas in space and time responding to music as ideas in space and time, and which according to Jan de Heer provided the basis for the interior of the Bildungsanstalt.39
A further central feature of the Bildungsanstalt, arguably the central feature, is and was the lighting design, a concept developed by Tessenow in cooperation with the Russian painter Alexander von Salzmann, who had joined the Hellerau team in 1910 and with whom Albert Jeanneret shared a house, and which, as Albert notes in l’Esprit Nouveau, saw the “lighting of the entire room by 60,000 electric candles hidden under a transparent fabric covering the entire surface of the walls; this luminous organ, manoeuvred easily and registrable at will, allows for a nuanced range from shade to full clarity: spectators and extras bathed in the same luminous atmosphere, this in reaction against the usual lighting of the stage, which projects on the actor a raw colouring, isolating them from the audience, which remains plunged in an indifferent shadow”.40 And a lighting system which as Marco De Michelis and Vicki Bilenker opine “was perfectly adapted to the architecture of the hall Tessenow had conceived, with Appia, as a grand parallelepiped absolutely free of fixed installations, in which both the scenery, and the tiers for the public … could assume different configurations, thanks to the use of moveable fixtures. Neither stage nor curtain interrupted the continuity of the space which could open at the end to the great garden standing behind”.41 And which sounds not only like an immersive Gesamtkünstwerk, a synthèse des arts, a reflection of music and architecture as “time and space” but also “a spectacular demonstration of a synthesis of light, music, space and colour; all this using the most advanced technical means”, a space “created out of relationships; light, plasticity, design and music” that Le Corbusier would attempt to create four decades later.
And one Charles-Édouard Jeanneret chose not to work on.
But did visit for the opening in 1913, although he doesn’t appear to have commented on any great length on the internal space, its lighting, its effect(s) on him, or anything to any notable degree. Or at least not that we can find. We may however be looking in the wrong places. Or too casually in the correct places.
What Charles-Édouard did write favourably of was Jaques-Dalcroze, of whose music he opined in a letter to Charles L’Eplattenier “there inside it is that simplicity, that joy, that need for unity and that return to health”40; and to whom he wrote in 1924, “you are one of the personalities who has contributed most to the development of a true esprit nouveau“.43 A not irrelevant turn of phase. And indication of the relevance of Hellerau for Charles-Édouard Jeanneret’s development; and a reminder that it could have been much greater.
In 1914 the arrival of the Great War saw both Jaques-Dalcroze and Albert Jeanneret leave Hellerau; the former returning to Geneva, the later to first La Chaux-de-Fonds and subsequently to Paris where, in addition to writing for l’Esprit Nouveau he took up a position at the Schola Cantorum music academy and also established a school for Dalcroze eurhythmics of which Bienz notes “Le Corbusier attended the courses at his brother’s school for several years”.44 A sentence written with all the casual normality of writing a note for the milkman; yet he’s talking about Le Corbusier doing rhythmic gymnastics. He’s talking about that dour looking man in round glasses dressed in a black leotard moving rhythmically to music. Play with that image for a while. It’s a good one. Le Corbusier doing rhythmic gymnastics. And while doing so consider that unfamiliar, unlikely, as that image is, it is also potentially very important in the what and why of Le Corbusier. It’s Le Corbusier discovering music as time and space, as measure.
Equally unfamiliar, unlikely, yet potentially important, is the image of that dour looking man in round glasses swinging along to the rhythm inside Vienna Opera House………
In November 1907 Charles-Édouard Jeanneret and his friend, the sculptor, Léon Perrin, arrived in Vienna, and that as Allen Brooks notes, “for a very specific purpose – to study contemporary design”45; to study the works of the likes of, and amongst others, Adolf Loos, Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser, but also a Gustav Klimt or Joseph Maria Olbrich.
Charles-Édouard discovered …… opera.
Not just Carmen, a work which Brooks opines was “perhaps his favourite”46, but also works by Puccini and Wagner, the latter of whom the young Charles-Édouard saw a stupendous, almost Wagnerian, number of works by. And all from the standing places, Stehplätze, in Vienna Opera House; the Vienna Opera then, as now, offering every evening cheap standing tickets for all performances.47 And Charles-Édouard Jeanneret appears to have been in the queue for tickets most evenings in the winter 1907/08.
But why the focus on opera rather than architecture and design? Why the focus on Wagner (Richard) rather than the Wagner (Otto) he’d travelled to Vienna to study?
A central reason appears to have been a near instant dislike he took to contemporary Vienna. A dislike which, largely, appears to have been a reaction to the realities of his arrival in Vienna; Jeanneret and Perrin arriving, by all accounts, unprepared for the realities in Vienna, and were, certainly Charles-Édouard was, subsequently put-out by the fact that they were no longer able to enrol in any courses at the local schools or able to find work in local offices. And that their German wasn’t as good as they thought it was. Thus Charles-Édouard took a, one could, must, argue, truculent, sulky, dislike to Vienna and everything in it. It was also November. And, one presumes, cold, grey, inclement.
And a dislike, disinterest, in Vienna, which is interesting not only in the Charles-Édouard biography, but for all in context of the Le Corbusier biography: in the first years of the 20th century Vienna was, without question, one of the principle centres of new thinking in terms of art, architecture, design, literature, music, and Charles-Édouard found nothing, but nothing, there to interest him. Nothing. Vienna 1907/08. Nothing of the interest for the future Le Corbusier. Otto Wagner’s Postsparkasse he considered “unworthy of an architect’s attention”, while much of the rest was denounced as “sanitary architecture”, “toilets” or “Dutch-kitchens”48; whereby we admittedly don’t understand what he had against Dutch-kitchens. That l’Esprit Nouveau published in its second edition a translation of Loos’ Ornament and Crime, a text which arose in, was essentially a response to, Vienna around the time Charles-Édouard Jeanneret was stubbornly ignoring contemporary Vienna, could, but mustn’t necessarily, be seen as a change of heart on Le Corbusier’s part. And as Brooks notes Charles-Édouard did meet Josef Hoffmann in the second week of March 1908, some five months after arriving in Vienna. And the pair appear to have got on; but within a week of the meeting Charles-Édouard was in Paris and Vienna was part of his biography.49
Aside from the architects and artists Charles-Édouard was stubbornly, obdurately, ignoring, a further interesting, and we’d argue not irrelevant, consideration is that he, apparently, didn’t discover Sigmund Freud while in Vienna; and that despite being in Vienna at a period very much alive with Freudian ideas and insights, Freud being very much one of the central protagonists in artistic, creative, developments and evolutions in the Vienna of that period. How would a meeting with Freud have affected the path Charles-Édouard was on?
Considerations on Freud which lead on to thoughts of Freud’s influence in the development of 12 tone music, and which thus leads one to the realisation that while in the early 20th century the likes of Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky or Paul Klee were losing themselves in the works of Bach, were, as reflected on in our Bauhaus Playlist, busy translating Bach’s fuges into art and in doing so laying the foundations for new formal aesthetic understandings, the future Le Corbusier was letting himself get carried away by the orchestration of Wagner, Puccini and Bizet. None of whom you could imagine being even considered for a Bauhaus Abend in Weimar. And while Le Corbusier would later find his way to Erik Satie, whose Musique d’ameublement did feature in a Bauhaus Abend, and Edgard Varèse was influenced by, and a pupil of, Ferruccio Busoni who featured in the 1923 Bauhauswoche concert programme, the differences in musical tastes in the first decades of the 20th century helps underscore the very different places, intellectually and culturally, Le Corbusier and the Bauhauses came from.
And a passion for
Wagner (Otto), Wagner (Richard), Puccini (Giacomo) and Bizet (Georges), that was, potentially, we’d argue, related to the fact that at that period Charles-Édouard was still very much influenced by the Art Nouveauist positions of Charles L’Eplattenier, something reflected in the Villa Jaquemet and Villa Stotzer projects he realised while in Vienna. An Art Nouveau understanding that in the style sapin of Charles L’Eplattenier has an unquestionable romanticism, has an inherent national romantic viewpoint; a simplified, stereotypical, idealised romanticism that although, arguably, not at the forefront of works by Wagner, Puccini, or in Carmen, can be found in aspects of them/it, and certainly, we’d argue, in context of a comparison between Carmen in 1908 and the contemporary music of 1908 Vienna, between the historic of Carmen and the contemporary of Vienna; and which can, but needn’t be, we may be over-stretching, but can be considered an early indication of an understanding of a relationship between musical forms, musical aesthetics and architectural forms, architectural aesthetics which can be followed through Le Corbusier’s career.
If one will from Bizet to Varèse. And where is the difference, except that Bizet didn’t have a siren…….50
The above can by necessity be but the briefest of introductions to the many and varied relationships between Le Corbusier and music and we’d encourage you all to investigate further. We certainly will be………………..
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1. Le Corbusier in a letter to Fernand Ouellette, quoted in Peter Bienz, Le Corbusier und die Musik, Bauwelt Fundamente 120, Vieweg, 1999 There are numerous forms of this quote, all after the fact and which leads us to suspect it may be when not apocryphal as such then certainly based more on recollection than a direct noted quotation
7. Letter from Louis Kalff to R. d’Aboville quoted Jan de Heer & Kees Tazelaar, From Harmony to Chaos. Le Corbusier, Varèse, Xenakis and le poème électronique, Uitgeverij Duizend & Een | 1001 Publishers, Amsterdam, 2017, page 13
8. Le Corbusier also refused to let Gerrit T Rietveld develop the exterior facade of the pavilion. Which is a story for another day, save here to note that the Grand Doyen of Dutch Modernist architecture J.J.P. Oud, who had overall architectural responsibility for the Dutch presence of which the Philips Pavilion was a component, was not impressed with either the decision to engage Le Corbusier, or Le Corbusier’s approach.
15. Le Corbusier, Jean Petit, Poème Electronique, Paris, 1958, quoted in Karen Michels, Le Corbusier: Poème Electronique. Die Synthese der Künste im Philips Pavillon, Weltausstellung Brüssel 1958, in Idea, Jahrbuch der Hamburger Kunsthalle, 1985 pages 147 – 163<
18. Andreas Vowinckel & Thomas Kesseler in , Andreas Vowinckel & Thomas Kesseler [Eds.] Le Corbusier Sythèse des Arts. Aspekte des Spätwerks 1945 – 1965; Badischer Kunstverein Karlsruhe, Wilhelm Ernst & Sohn, Berlin, 1986
25. l’Esprit Nouveau, Nr 1., October 1920 accessible via http://arti.sba.uniroma3.it/esprit/ (accessed 17.04.2021)
26. M. Christine Boyer, A method for the arts of today. Purism, Après le Cubisme, and L’Esprit Nouveau, reprinted in Graham Livesey and Antony Moulis [Eds.] Le Corbusier. Critical concepts in architecture, Volume 1 Formative Years, 1887-1933, Routledge 2018, page 178
27. Ozenfant et Jeanneret, Le Purism, l’Esprit Nouveau, Nr. 4, January 1921, accessible via http://arti.sba.uniroma3.it/esprit/ (accessed 17.04.2021)
28. For a very nice discussion of how Purism (potentially) evolved to Synthèse des Arts, and further reflections on Le Corbusier and music see Christopher Pearson, Le Corbusier and the Acoustical Trope: An Investigation of Its Origins, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 56, Nr. 2, 1997 pages 168-183
29. During the period 1917- 1922 he did work a few unrealised projects, primarily workers housing for company estates, see www.fondationlecorbusier.fr/projects
33. Henri Collet, Erik Satie, l’Esprit Nouveau Nr 2, November 1920, accessible via http://arti.sba.uniroma3.it/esprit/ (accessed 17.04.2021)
34. Albert Jeanneret, Parade, l’Esprit Nouveau, Nr. 4, January 1921, accessible via http://arti.sba.uniroma3.it/esprit/ (accessed 17.04.2021)
35. Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, “Gli studi musicali e l’educazione dell’orecchio (1898)”, quoted in Marco De Michelis & Vicki Bilenker, Modernity and Reform, Heinrich Tessenow and the Institut Dalcroze at Hellerau, Perspecta, Vol. 26, 1990 pages 143-170
40. Albert Jeanneret, La Rythmique, l’Esprit Nouveau Nr 2, November 1920, accessible via http://arti.sba.uniroma3.it/esprit/ (accessed 17.04.2021)
Tagged with: Albert Jeanneret, Brussels, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, design playlist, Edgard Varèse, Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, Erik Satie, Georges Bizet, Hellerau, Iannis Xenakis, l'Esprit Nouveau, Le Corbusier, Paris, Philips, Poème électronique, Radio smow, Vienna