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9 juin 2011 4 09 /06 /juin /2011 08:51

Yes, you have read the title of this post.

What joy ! But it is entirely false. Unfortunately, Charles Bordes is not famous. He is sometimes known as a teacher, and rarely, if ever, as a composer.

Nevertheless, we thought that our readers who know English would like to read the following lines. They were written by Jamie Farris, a journalist who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and dated June 14, 2006.

Some English has been corrected to make it understandable. Note that the sentence "When the symphony was first performed, it was labeled a junior." was left as it is. We don't know what it means exactly.

We have added a few notes, where our disagreement was too strong. They can be found at the end, after the article.

Should you want to read something more trustworthy about Charles Bordes, can we refer you to the Grove dictionary In French, find the chapter on Charles Bordes in Octave Séré, Musiciens français d'aujourd'hui (Paris, Mercure de France, 1915).


Charles Bordes was born May 12, 1863 in La Roche-Corbon (1), France. Bordes was a French music teacher and composer. Although teaching was said to have been his passion, composition was the direction he wanted to go with his life (2). 
Bordes studied pianoforte (3) with Antoine François Marmontel, who was a renowned French pianist and teacher. Marmontel's other students included Georges Bizet, Vincent d'Indy, Emile Paladhile, Louis Diémer, Francis Planté and, one of his more famous students, Claude Debussy (4). Bordes was pleased to be allowed to study with the man he considered a master. He is counted among Marmontel’s most celebrated (5) students. Bordes also studied composition with César Franck, another renowned teacher and composer. Bordes is said to have been greatly influenced by Franck’s instruction. This was an important beginning for Bordes because he would later reunite with some of these same men and create one of the most powerful revivals in music of all time (6). 
Bordes was an organist and maître de chapelle at Nogent-sur-Marne for four years beginning in 1887. It was here that his musical direction really took off and he saw what he considered to be his mission. In 1890 he became maître de chapelle at the église Saint-Gervais in Paris, which he made the center of the study and practice of 15th-17th century vocal music. This study became his passion. Bordes saw a decline in what he considered one of the greatest forms of music of all time, choir music. He spent a great deal of his life (7) trying to revive it and succeeded to some degree. 

Bordes first symphony (8), the Symphony in C Major, was written at the Paris Conservatory when he was only seventeen years old. It is said that it began as an assignment. When the symphony was first performed, it was labeled a junior. An astounding piece for a seventeen-year-old boy, the symphony is said to bear an amazing stylistic resemblance to the music of Franz Schubert, a pianist whose work went undiscovered for a long time and then was hailed as groundbreaking.

It was in Paris that Bordes created the Saint-Gervais singers choir. The choir became known throughout the world and in 1892 organized the Saint-Gervais holy weeks. Bordes created a program where mass was accompanied by French or Italian renaissance music. This practice still remains in some European churches today as well as some in the United States (9). Many believe that the act of involving music within church services began  (10) with Bordes. Today most organized churches have a musical program. 
In 1897 Bordes published Archives de la tradition basque, an ethnomusicological study. The study was commissioned by the French minister of public education (11) and also continues in use today throughout French schools (12). Bordes wanted to create a musical study that addressed the many aspects of ethnomusicological study and when he did so it was so widely accepted so quickly that many of the masters also took part in familiarizing themselves with his ideals. 
Bordes founded the Schola Cantorum, a society for sacred music, with Vincent d'Indy and Alexandre Guilmant, two other musicians with whom he had studied at the Paris Conservatory (13). On October 15, 1896 the Schola Cantorum was inaugurated and a piece of music history was born. The Schola Cantorum was responsible for reviving interest in plainsong (14) and the music of Palestrina, Josquin des Prez, Victoria and others who many had thought long forgotten (15). Many other music scholars and renowned pianists took part in Schola Cantorum over the years. These societies were so important to the music world of the time that Bordes went on to begin another one in Avignon and another in Montpellier. It had been his desire to see branches of the society throughout the world. 
Bordes died on November 8, 1909 in Toulon. He is credited today for being a choirmaster and musicologist who helped in reviving Renaissance polyphonic choral music.


Jamie Farris





1. There is no such place. There is a village called Rochecorbon, and it is true that some lands belonging to La Bellangerie (where Charles Bordes was born) are situated in Rochecorbon, but it is situated in Vouvray, the village upstream on the Loire valley. His father, Frédéric Bordes, was mayor of Vouvray.

2. True. Charles Bordes was a frustrated composer. Until the end he worked on his opera Les trois vagues, but left it unfinished. The article does not say a word about his mélodies, they are few (about 36) but constitute a highly personal and original production.

3. Did he ? He studied the piano

4. True.

5. Who ? Charles Bordes ? Please !

6. By now the reader is aware that exaggeration is the characteristic of this post.

7. His whole life : Charles Bordes died young, aged 46. Musical pedagogy was all his life. He sacrificed his personal creation to it ; a few pieces survive, they are all the more precious.

8. The whole paragraph is wrong. To our knowledge, Charles Bordes first instrumental piece is the Suite basque (his op. 6), first published by S. Bornemann in 1887. It is for flute and quartet and was later transcribed for piano four hands by Ernest Chausson. He never wrote a symphony.

9. How wonderful !

10. Church music existed before Charles Bordes. The paragraph repeats received ideas about Charles Bordes. Besides liturgical music, Bordes was interested in profane music : Basque folklore and also baroque composers. Charles Bordes directed in Montpellier Jean-Philippe Rameau's Castor et Pollux. He had a keen interest in Lulli's Atys. Before he died he was never without the score of that opera (cf the testimony by Paul Dukas in La revue musicale, 1er Août 1924).

11. We suppose the author means "ministry". The name of this institution was "Ministère de l'Instruction publique et des Beaux-Arts". Charles Bordes work was commissioned by the "Beaux-Arts" section. Today, the two fields are separated and France has a "Ministère de l'éducation nationale" which deals with education, and a "Ministère de la culture" which deals with art.

12. Not at all.

13. Vincent d'Indy studied at the Paris Conservatoire under Marmontel and Franck, but he was not Bordes's contemporary there. As for Alexandre Guilmant, he was 25 years older than Charles Bordes, and anyway did not study music in Paris.

14. Charles Bordes and his students of the Schola Cantorum made frequent journeys to Solesmes Abbey where Gregorian chant had been revived in the 1830s by Dom Guéranger.

15. Were they really forgotten?

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