World Events

Jacques-Louis Monod, Modernist Composer With a Lyrical Touch, Dies at 93

Jacques-Louis Monod, a French composer, conductor and pianist known for his fierce dedication to new music, died on Sept. 21 in Toulouse, France. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by his friend and former student, Harry Bott.

Mr. Monod, who made his career primarily in New York and London, was a champion of the Second Viennese School, the group of 20th-century composers comprising the titan Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and his acolytes. As both pianist and conductor, Mr. Monod helped their work — difficult, complex, often atonal — gain wider currency outside the European continent.

He was known in particular for helping to introduce American audiences to the music of Anton Webern (1883-1945). A disciple of Schoenberg, Webern was among the most ardent adherents to his mentor’s 12-tone, or serial, compositional technique. Under its dictates, a musical work must deploy all 12 notes of the chromatic scale in precisely equal proportion throughout, foregoing the stable tonal center that had underpinned Western music for centuries.

As a composer, Mr. Monod hewed to serialism while retaining, in the view of most critics, a healthy measure of lyricism. He was especially esteemed for his vocal music, much of it performed in collaboration with the American soprano Bethany Beardslee, to whom he was married for a time in the 1950s.

Reviewing a local performance of Mr. Monod’s choral music in The New York Times in 1987, Tim Page wrote:

“Mr. Monod has gone beyond the formal games that have typified so much ‘post-Webernian’ music to create works that have the clarity, delicacy, poetry and economy of means of Webern’s own music; he has, in fact, created music as exquisitely beautiful as any this listener has heard in some time.”

Jacques-Louis Monod was born in Asnières, a suburb of Paris, on Feb. 25, 1927. His was a distinguished family of Swiss origin. His father, Pierre, was a surgeon; his cousins included the Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Jacques Lucien Monod, the Nobel Prize-winning pharmacologist Daniel Bovet and the celebrated film director Jean-Luc Godard.

A musical prodigy, Jacques-Louis was just 6 years old when he enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire. During his years there — he received a doctorate from the conservatory in 1952 — his teachers included the composer Olivier Messiaen and the visiting conductor Herbert von Karajan.

At 17, he began private study with René Leibowitz, a Polish-born composer and conductor who was an adherent of the Second Viennese School. In 1949, the young Mr. Monod made his debut as a pianist in Paris at a concert, conceived by Leibowitz, to honor Schoenberg’s 75th birthday.

In about 1950, Mr. Monod joined Leibowitz on a visit to New York. He remained there, studying at the Juilliard School and at Columbia University, from which he earned a second doctorate in 1975.

In the early 1950s, recruiting players from the New York Philharmonic, Mr. Monod established and led the Camera Concerts. Presented in Town Hall in Manhattan, the series was widely described as the first in the United States to focus on modern music.

Mr. Monod married Ms. Beardslee in 1951, and in the years that followed they toured widely together in recital, performing his music and that of other modernists, including American composers like Milton Babbitt. Babbitt, for whom Ms. Beardslee was a longtime muse, wrote “Du,” a song cycle for soprano and piano, for them.

The couple continued to collaborate musically long after their marriage ended. During much of the 1960s, Mr. Monod worked in London, conducting for the BBC, before returning to New York.

His best-known work as a composer is very likely the cycle of works collectively titled “Cantus Contra Cantum.”

Among the pieces in the cycle, which can be performed singly or in combination, are “Cantus Contra Cantum I,” for soprano and chamber orchestra; the second installment, for violin and cello; and the third, for a cappella chorus.

Several of his works, including “Cantus Contra Cantum I,” have been released by New World Records.

Mr. Monod was a founder of several organizations devoted to contemporary music, including the Guild of Composers and the Association for the Promotion of New Music. Over the years, he taught at Columbia, Harvard, the New England Conservatory and elsewhere.

His second marriage, to Margrit Auhagen, ended in divorce. Mr. Monod is survived by a daughter, Caroline, from his marriage to Ms. Auhagen, and two grandchildren.

As a conductor, Mr. Monod was, by his own account, as forceful a taskmaster as the rigorous works under his baton demanded.

“Roughly speaking,” he told The New York Times in 1985, “my experience has proved that you need at least one hour of rehearsal for every minute of music. Less than that, and you cannot do justice to the piece.”

But for concertgoers who needed to be persuaded of the merits of modern music, Mr. Monod, it appeared, had far less time.

“My job,” he said in the 1985 interview, “is not to deal with the audience. My job is to deal with the piece.”


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