JACQUES CASTÉRÈDE (1926 - 2014)
Jacques Castérède was born in Paris in 1926, and while his life and career would remain centred in the capital, his family in fact originally came from Barbaste in south west France, and Occitan was his mother tongue as a boy. The family was lower middle-class—the composer’s father ran a barber shop after the First World War—but that was no barrier to Jacques’s childhood interest in music. The piano had played a prominent role in the domestic lives of the Parisian ‘petit bourgeoisie’ for many decades, and Jacques was accordingly sent for piano lessons to one Miss Lafarge for over a decade until he entered the Conservatoire. His early music education was largely restricted to the Romantic repertoire—with mounds of music by minor masters, advancing with time to Chopin and Liszt, while the symphonic repertoire was learnt by playing the orchestral works of Mozart and Beethoven in piano duet form. Castérède’s subsequent years studying the piano and composition at the Conservatoire were by all accounts a brilliant success, culminating in numerous Premiers Prix in subjects ranging from piano to harmony to chamber music. Towards the end of his studies, he spent a year in Messiaen’s analysis class, which made a huge impression on him. His studies were crowned by winning the Prix de Rome in 1953, at the second attempt—though it was almost taken away from him because he had meanwhile married his girlfriend, and the rules stipulated that only bachelors were eligible. He lobbied, won the argument, the rules were changed, and he spent the next four years in Rome, writing his music, getting commissions, and enjoying ever more prominent performances at home and abroad. Within months of his return to Paris he was appointed to the staff of the Conservatoire where he remained until his retirement, successively teaching solfeggio, analysis and composition; he also taught composition at the École Normale de Musique in the 1980s. Castérède’s oeuvre covers just about every genre, from stage works to choral music to small-scale chamber pieces, and he enjoyed numerous prestigious commissions and premieres—thus his ballet Basketball was first given at the Paris Opéra in 1963, his First Symphony won a Grand Prix National du Disque in 1968, and in 1986 he was commissioned to compose a large-scale work for wind orchestra to commemorate the centenary of the Statue of Liberty in New York. He also toured as a pianist, and gave composing masterclasses in Brazil and China.
For all these career successes, Castérède the composer never allowed himself to be constricted by any single stylistic path, and was magpie-like in absorbing outside influences. Thus his oeuvre includes numerous works inspired by jazz, Latin American music, pop and even rock (such as his Homage to Pink Floyd for guitar solo, a competition piece written for the Conservatoire in 1973).