The first biography of the composer, “Henri Tomasi, un ideal méditerranéen”, by Michel Solis, was published in 2008: (Albiana, Editor) – The author won the literary prize of the region of Corsica. The great actor and stage director, Daniel Mesguich who was the narrator of “Returning to Tipasa”, a text by Albert Camus set to music by Tomasi, wrote the following postface to this biography:
A music which listens
“Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.” According to certain pundits well-versed in Hebrew, in translation the biblical commandment falls short of its true meaning. The Hebrew verb would actually convey, “To thy father and thy mother thou shalt give their full weight,” meaning, “Thou shalt not consider them in terms of a simple maternal or paternal function, but truly as a man and a woman, with their qualities and their faults, their shortcomings; their successes and their failures, their genius and their artlessness; their desires, and so on; as two living beings who weigh, or have weighed, upon the earth with all of their weight of living beings.”
It is, for the child, the most difficult of undertakings.
This is the task to which Claude Tomasi has devoted himself. He offers here a “life” of Henri Tomasi which restores all of the weight of the great composer, all too rarely honored, who was his father. To this great composer.
Doubtless, the act is primarily to be taken as the movement of a genealogy in reverse: today it is the son who brings the father (back) to life, as if to repay – if such a thing were possible – the infinite debt: “You have given me life; I give back… that you have lived.”
But how does one write a life?
And in barely a hundred pages besides? Precisely: it is not that there is little to be said about Henri Tomasi, this is understood. It is rather that the brevity of this biography should be directly understood as a first sign of delicacy. This book, this life of Henri Tomasi, says before all that a book can not be a life. That if Claude, herein, evokes, convokes or even provokes Henri; if he calls him, recalls him, reminds us of him or remembers himself, Henri is not in the book, he’s not caught inside it. That as much is said in the spaces between words as in the written lines – those gentle, loving and extremely attentive lines – and that this is how Claude Tomasi would have us grasp Henri Tomasi, and that Henri has weighed upon the earth with all of the weight of the living. That here, “graphy” is less than “bio”, and that the son can never completely repay everything that the father has given.
The book continually seems to tell us that there is another biography of Henri Tomasi, doubtless more “accurate” than this one, and that this is Henri Tomasi’s music. And that it is like when we see the light of a star which disappeared very long ago that we should hear the music of this man who no longer exists: this music is what was written of his life.
And yet, a voice makes itself heard in this book, an enchanting voice indeed… Is it Claude Tomasi, in this book, who has heard Henri Tomasi and has made music of his life, or is it the music which, for Henri Tomasi, was already the evanescence of a life – his life? In any case, one listens to the book more than one reads it. Which is as it should be: the music which was created by the man who was this voice is, and always has been, a music which listens. Yes: because Henri Tomasi was a man engrossed in the world, a veritable messenger of humanity, and within him ethics and music are constantly being translated in each other’s language, his open and proficient music makes us hear that all music is, above all, made of listening to someone or something else. It does not appear as abundance, or massiveness, or authority – sublime though they may be – but as the harmonious resonance that our own future listening would make, our listening to something other than it, other than ourselves. It is a music which restores the origins.
Having been the narrator of Tipasa, with text by Albert Camus, I can speak of the emotion I felt upon hearing Philippe Bender’s orchestra play Tomasi for the first time: rain before the rain, a sea before the sea, a mountain before the mountain were all there, within earshot. And it didn’t illustrate Camus – it listened to him, to his text and his ideas. Henri Tomasi was someone who conveyed, and his music is a translation, a translation into a language before languages of that which we had always assumed was silence, was hushed.
The music of Henri Tomasi is still unheard-of.
Perhaps it was written on the staff of his destiny that his musical oeuvre would not be recognized, even today, as it should be. But thanks to this small, grand book, we can already perceive – in the distance, through the doubts, anger, and loves of the human being – his genius. This also has been written.