Youth Music Movements under Vichy
After the fall of France in 1940, tensions began to arise between the Vichy government and various organisations in French society. This was particularly the case with youth organisations, as Vichy considered itself responsible for raising young people in accordance with the state’s vision in order to preserve social harmony. Several youth groups were explicitly focused on music, such as Les Petits Chanteurs à la Croix du Bois (The Little Singers of the Wooden Cross) for young singers, Jeunesse Musicales de France (Musical Youth of France), which provided concerts for high-school students, and Jeune France (Young France), which trained composers. Others included music as part of an all-around youth experience, such as Compagnons de la Musique (Musical Companions) and Chantiers de Jeunesse (Youth Camps). Religious youth movements such as Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (Young Christian workers) encountered particular difficulties because of the simultaneous control of Church and state. All of these groups were supported by Radio-Jeunesse (Youth Radio), founded in August 1940 with the motto ‘la jeunesse a le droit a chanter’ (the young have the right to sing). Their efforts are a testament to the vibrant singing traditions that existed all over southern France and to the important role accorded to songs in both collaboration and resistance efforts.
Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (Young Christian Workers)
After France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, church and state had a somewhat fractious relationship. From 1889 they were separated, with a law establishing state secularism officially passed in 1905. With the division of France in 1940, however, the church and Vichy found common ground, as both shared a common disdain for the era that had just ended: the Third Republic. Pétain and Vichy saw the Third Republic as responsible for the defeat of France, and considered religion to be necessary for a stable society. The church, for its part, blamed this period of history for several decades of secularised society. So the Catholic Church sided with Vichy to support Pétain’s desire for a state free from internal divisions, anarchy, civil war and the taint of sin. The church and Vichy agreed on social issues: they were anti-divorce, anti-atheism, in favour of religious education and regretted what they saw as the country’s moral decline. The church did not initially object to anti-Jewish legislation, because it disliked the fact that Jewish resistance to assimilation destroyed any hope of a homogeneous religious culture. On 19 December 1940, Cardinal Gerlier, one of the spokesmen for the Roman Catholic Church in France, formalised the relationship with the statement ‘Pétain is France, France today is Pétain’.
This truce resulted in the creation of a significant body of music. In 1938-39, the organisation Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (JOC), which had existed since the 1920s, experienced increasing difficulties in keeping children in education until the age of 16. In response, it organised a pre-joining ‘préJOCiste’ service for children under 16 to encourage them to stay in school. With the creation of the Vichy state, Pétain actively encouraged this movement and he became its figurehead. Singing was believed to help boost morale and foster team spirit, so was an integral part of the programme.
Demain que sera l'existence?
Que nous reserve l'avenir
Peine chagrin revers souffrance
Maux donc il faut prémunir
Préjocistes levons la tete
Car la JOC suit nos pas
Et sa phalange encore est prete
A nous seconder de ses bras
Demain, conquerons nos usines
Unis dans la fraternité
A nos voisins, a nos voisines
Glissons la doux mot charité
Portons le Christ a ceux qui permettent
Qui, comme nous, gagnent leur pain
Que nos gais refrains les entrainent
Vers la Vrai, la Paix et le Bien
Pour etre un Apotre sincere
Il faut un coeur de conquerant
Que notre conduite exemplaire
Touche surtout l'indifferent
Gagnons les enfants de votre age
A la préjoc, bercait joyeux
Fils de la ville et du village
Serrons nos rangs victorieux!
What will be there tomorrow?
We are setting aside the future
Scarcely suffering setbacks
So we must guard against evils
Préjocistes [teenage young Christian workers], lift up your heads
Because the Young Christian Workers follow in our footsteps
And the military formation is ready again
To support us with their arms
Tomorrow, let us conquer the factories
United in brotherhood
To all our neighbours
Let us spread the word sweet charity
Carrying Jesus to those who allow us
Who, like us, earn their bread
That our joyful choruses lead them
Towards the Truth, Peace and the Good
To be a true Apostle
It takes the heart of a conquerer
Our perfect behaviour
Mainly affects those who are politically indifferent
Winning over children of your age
To the pre-Young Christian Workers, rocking happily
Son of the town and the village
Let us close our ranks victorious!
One of the songs distributed in pamphlet form by the JOC was entitled 'Chant Préjocistes' (Song of the Younger Workers). The song was aimed at children under the age of 16 and was intended to initiate them into the beliefs of the JOC.
Over 400 songs were published in easily distributable pamphlets, many of them revivals of old songs such as ‘La Route Enchantée’ (The Enchanted Road), popularised by Trenet in the 1930s and extolling the the joys of life. But many others praised Pétain and Vichy, such as ‘Vers la Grandeur’ (To Greatness), from 1942. However, this political support gradually weakened the alliance of the JOC with the church. As the JOC realised that Vichy’s visions were moving further and further away from the JOC’s own morals, it began to distance itself, rebelling against the Service Travail Obligatoire (Forced Labour Service, STO) set up by the Nazis in collaboration with Vichy, refusing to be assimilated into Vichy’s plan for a single youth organisation and ignoring pressure from the church to support Pétain. This behaviour unnerved not just Vichy but the Nazis, and in 1940 the JOC became the first of the major youth music organisations to be banned after members infiltrated STO camps and spread anti-German sentiments.
Chantiers de Jeunesse (Youth Camps)
Another organisation, the Chantiers de Jeunesse (Youth Camps), suffered a similar fate to the JOC. Created in 1940 as an alternative to the compulsory military service in occupied France, it encouraged physical activity, closeness to nature and helping the community. The chantiers’ values of hierarchy and old-fashioned morals suited Pétain’s new motto, ‘Travail, Famille, Patrie’ (Work, Family, Nation). In an attempt to help France recover from defeat, the government placed an emphasis on communal singing, which it saw as a unifying force and a healthy physical activity. In 1942 and 1943, musicologist Patrice Coirault and composer Joseph Cantaloube organised the publication by the publishers Chiron of two editions of military songs. Cantaloube also spread these songs through conferences, radio and school teaching. Songs composed after 1942 increasingly encouraged collaboration, but they had little impact. Instead, as with the JOC, the Nazis became suspicious of the group, and when they occupied southern France, 16,000 members were sent to forced labour camps in Germany. The group disbanded in 1944.
Compagnons de la Musique
Another youth organisation in which music played a fundamental role was the Compagnons de la Musique, set up by Louis Liébard in 1942. This was an offshoot of the first youth movement to emerge after France’s defeat, the Compagnons de France (French Companions), and was created to regroup, feed and house teenagers lost on the road during the exode (the period from May-June 1940 when the French population fled south to escape the Nazis). It placed a strong emphasis on drama, mime and singing, to create unity: ‘La Marseillaise’ (The Song of Marseille) and ‘Maréchal, Nous Voilà!’ (General, Here We Are!) were frequently sung. The group rediscovered old folk songs and learned the rudiments of music theory. Living together in free France, its members also did maintenance work and farm labour, but used false identities to escape enlistment to the STO camps. Liébard persuaded Vichy to invest in the project and organised concerts for family entertainment. The group travelled to Paris in 1944, where it met Edith Piaf, and after the end of the war joined forces with her under the new name Compagnons de la Chanson (Companions of Song) to record the song ‘Les Trois Cloches’ (The Three Bells).
Jeunesses Musicales de France
Other groups focused on classical music. The still-extant Jeunesses Musicales de France (JMF) was established in 1939 by René Nicoly, head of publishers Durand Editions, when he was asked to prepare concerts for Paris secondary school students undergoing military training. He proposed weekly hour-long concerts with music by Mozart, Schubert and Haydn as well as French composers such as Fauré, Debussy and Honegger, in order to counter the weakness of musical education elsewhere. Similar initiatives at the time included Darius Milhaud and Paul Arma’s Loisirs Musicaux de la Jeunesse (Youth Musical Entertainment), the Evolution Musicale de la Jeunesse (Youth Musical Evolution), and the Movement Musical des Jeunes (Youth Musical Movement). The JMF was an immediate success. It spread to other towns, attracting a total of 20,000 young people to its concerts, and reaching many more through its Radio Paris broadcasts. The Nazis approved the initiative because it helped to maintain order in the capital by providing one hour of controlled activity on Thursdays between 6 and 7pm and also reduced unemployment among musicians. In 1942 it officially became part of the Comité National de Propagande Pour Musique (National Committee for Musical Propaganda), from which point on, the state helped to finance it. It also participated in the cultural project of Vichy by programming concerts of sanctioned composers and encouraging a greater emphasis on music in education as proposed by Alfred Cortot. However, the JMF refused to be assimilated into one of the young Pétainist or collaborationist groups and maintained a certain independence under Nicoly’s leadership. To avoid the taint of Nazi support, the group was relaunched in 1944 as an international federation with the aim that it ‘would actively work against the causes of international conflict through the universal language of music’. Today the annual audience of live concerts sponsored by the JMF is believed to be in excess of one million listeners and it is the world’s largest youth music network.
Jeune France (Youth France)
Similar to the JMF in its focus on classical music was the movement Jeune France (Young France), organised by the composer and broadcaster Pierre Schaeffer. Named after the group of composers founded by Messiaen, Jolivet, Baudrier, Daniel-Lesur and Schaeffer himself in 1940, it had as its goal the cultural renewal of France through youth-oriented cultural and artistic events. It was chaired by Cortot, and initially seemed highly compatible with Vichy initiatives.
Sous le cloches de fete
Nous sommes nés
Sous le glas des défaites
Nos vingt ans ont sonné
Debout Jeunes de France
levez le front
En nous lui 'espérance
Des années qui viendront
Si la France est meurtrié
Ses gars vaillants
Et ses filles jolies
Lui feront ce serment
Nous te releverons
Under the bells of the celebrations [of the end of WWI]
We were born
Under the tolling of defeats
Our twenty years have sounded
Standing Youth of France
Lift the front
In the youth we place our hope
For the years that will come
If France is wounded
His valiant boys
And pretty girls
Will make this oath to the country
We will raise France up again.
However, the organisation attracted increasing suspicion and in 1942, after a hymn evoking the tragedies of war was distributed with music composed by Schaeffer himself, it was put under threat and quickly disbanded. This was just one of Schaeffer’s fallings out with Vichy as his Club d’Essai (Experiment Group) became involved with the French Resistance in 1942. This hymn was written by Pierre Schaeffer in response to Maréchal Pétain's message to all young people on 20 October 1940. Using Radio-Jeunesse (the youth radio station), Pétain tried to incite the youth of France to support the Armistice with Germany. Schaeffer encouraged them to stand up for the country instead.
Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois (The Little Singers of the Wooden Cross)
Finally, some youth organisations did not allow themselves to be controlled by any political party, such as the Petits chanteurs à la Croix de Bois. Set up in Paris in 1907 as a choir school, and unique in not being linked to any one institution, it moved to Lyon in 1940 before returning to Paris in 1943. The group’s performances included a visit to Vichy during the Occupation. Repertoire included the works of French composers such as Vincent d'Indy, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Jacques Ibert and Claude Delvincourt, and the group was sometimes accompanied by Maurice Duruflé. During the war it toured to Switzerland, where director Abbot Maillet had the idea of performing to French prisoners, to raise morale. In 1942, after two-and-a-half years of refusals from the Nazis, the Petits Chanteurs were finally granted the right to travel to the prison camps, where they offered messages of hope through their singing. So powerful were their visits that little choirs sprang up in their wake and in their image. After the liberation, Father Maillet founded the International Federation of Little Singers to encourage these movements.
By Daisy Fancourt
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