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Jolivet’s search for a new French voice: spiritual 'otherness' in Mana (1935).

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/ProceedingsChapter (peer-reviewed)


  • Deborah Mawer
Publication date05/2008
Host publicationFrench Music, Culture and National Identity, 1870-1939
EditorsBarbara L Kelly
Place of publicationRochester NY
PublisherUniversity of Rochester Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)978-1580462723
Original languageEnglish


The early compositional identity of the significant, yet canonically ignored, André Jolivet (1905-74) may be represented by Mana, a Polynesian concept meaning ‘life force’. Jolivet’s emergent practice is viewed within a continuum of non-Western inspired output from Debussy to Messiaen, also connecting with the primitivism of Stravinsky and Varèse. But while sharing a quest for spirituality and expressivity, Jolivet arguably moved ahead of Messiaen in reaping compositional benefits. His originality lay in his engagement with French philosophy (through d’Olivet, Fourier, Bergson, and Chardin) and in the anthropological seriousness with which he pursued his non-Western inquiries. Discussion of Jolivet’s personal library and writings precede analyses of movements from Mana, especially ‘La Princesse de Bali’, which are in turn related to aspects of Polynesian and Balinese culture. In conclusion: Jolivet was a crucial member of La Jeune France who influenced Messiaen; his new French identity was forged partly through the ‘foreign’ and the ‘old’; and his non-Western vision was universal, as a social ideal, and yet precise, revealing parallels and instinctive insights into the cultural milieu of Polynesia and Bali. Perhaps in this unsustainably materialistic twenty-first century, a stark reassessment of values may enable Jolivet’s ‘anti-materialist’ voice to be better heard.