Une basse française d'exception : MARCEL JOURNET

vol 1 (314 p.), vol 2 (445 p.) by Jean-Pierre Mouchon    


Published 2015
ISBN : 9782332892485 (vol 1) ISBN : 9782332892515 (Vol 2)    (170 cm x 240 cm)
Price vol 1 €54,00 (paper) ; €32,40 (pdf) ; vol 2   €71,00 (paper) ; €42,60 € (pdf.), plus postage for the paper version. 

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Marcel Journet (1868-1933) can be considered the foremost French bass of the twentieth century, one whose career was almost evenly divided between Europe (France, Belgium, Italy, Hungary…) and America, North and South.As is often the case, his North American career is rather better documented internationally than his European achievements, though there has been as yet no full-length biography. Long known to record collectors for his contribution to concerted pieces by Caruso, Farrar and other stars of the Met, he is generally thought of as a serviceable, reliable, but not particularly interesting singer. This may be partly justified by the time it took for his career to take off and the fact that his best years were probably spent mainly in Europe, out of the international spotlight.  His latter years in France, however, made its mark on a generation of opera-goers, for whom Journet was the ultimate reference, a figure of unreserved admiration.

The work with Caruso is only a small though significant part of a very active recording career, since Journet has left us one of the richest recorded legacies of any bass of his generation, the depth of which was revealed by the 1998 Marston CD Marcel Journet, The complete solo Gramophone recordings 1909-1933.   The liner notes to this reissue, by Victor Girard, were one of the first attempts to account for the career of this remarkable singer, followed by the issue 47/1 of The Record Collector (2002), by Jean-Pierre Mouchon. Today, a definitive biography of the singer exists, thanks to the tireless efforts of this same author. The result is impressive indeed : some 750 pages in two separate volumes, the first devoted to Journet’s career, the second to a chronology of his appearances.

Click here to listen to Journet singing the national Serbian hymn, a recordijg not included in the Marston issue

The biography alone occupies almost 250 pages, and is based on what must be a nearly exhaustive search through many different archives, extracts of which are reproduced in the text: photos, many of them to be seen for the first time, of the singer and his colleagues, programmes, newspaper commentaries, letters and similar documents.  In addition, many sources are quoted at length in the text, in particular reviews of the performances.  Visits to the recording studios on both sides of the Atlantic are also carefully documented: a discography and index of names and an index of illustrations complete the first volume.

The second volume, the chronology of performances, gives complete cast lists, as well as occasional reviews and illustrations. It is also accompanied by an index of names as well as a surprisingly voluminous bibliography, including, most usefully, links to electronic resources and indications of other as yet unscanned but consultable material.  All this evidence produced pleads for itself : Journet was indeed an exceptional singer whose achievements deserve to be better known.

Click here to listen to Journet in another 'national' song : le père, la victoire (Louis Ganne) with a verse dedicated to general Joffre

The two volumes are written in French, but the many reviews are quoted in the original language, so there is much material in English as well.  

With such a wealth of hitherto inaccessible material, it would be churlish to find fault and indeed there is very little in these two volumes which is open to criticism. The only reserve the present reader has concerns the layout, which is sometimes confusing, with occasional breaks in chronology for some illustrations.  In spite of the price, this is a highly recommended contribution to the history of singing.

John Humbley, April 2016