Excerpts from Henri Tomasi’s Correspondence


August 14, 1970, to his best friend, Jean Molinetti

It has been sixty-nine years since I arrived in this century. My childhood emotions all reappear from within the silence of these nearly supernatural nights. I see myself going to the Opéra of Marseille for the first time to hear La Bohème with my beloved mother. While I listened to that music, I had the feeling that my entire youthful being was blossoming in a world that had nothing to do with intelligence. It was the voices of Mimi and Musette, especially, and certain orchestral gusts, that gave me an impression that I was never to find again, even when symphonic music was to transport me to other universes. I believe that that performance of La Bohème was responsible for my musical destiny, for it still moves me in the same way.

On the other hand, the more I think about it the more I wonder if, just as truth has no intrinsic existence, beauty isn’t nonexistent in nature. I believe that it is we ourselves who create this truth, this beauty. Haven’t you noticed how we return to the places we loved, often in vain? If we’re so apt to be disappointed, isn’t it because, when all is said and done, the real world doesn’t exist, and it is we who create it?


August 24, 1970, to J. Molinetti

Now all is well, and my coronarita has disintegrated itself into the melody of La Cucaracha! This morning my doctor, who heard a rerun of Noces de Cendre last night on the radio, came to congratulate me, profoundly moved. And my masseur, who is blind, told me that the music had overwhelmed him… Until now, they probably thought me a composer of popular ditties!… Death will set things straight! From afar, a pitiful little thunderclap is reciting its hoarse solo, and the rain begins anew.

From time to time the chaplain (who knows me by name) tries to engage me in a conversation. I make no attempt to hide my vision of things, and he is incapable of contradicting me… All religious denominations should be stifled, for they are the source of every form of racism.


For the time being, I’m thinking of the Vieux-Port, of you, of the hills, etc…


1964, to his wife, Odette Camp:

The trails are magnificent, the forests thick, dark and humid. The water – dormant, stagnant, disquieting, emitting smells of rotting animal corpses – it all has an unhealthy forest atmosphere reminiscent of Pelléas which is the opposite of my true nature.

A rocky inlet, the sea, an olive tree, a twisted pine, a cypress, the Mediterranean and her light… this, for me, is the stuff that (Saint Francis’) “perfect bliss” is made of.


April 1963, to his son, Claude,

St. Michel de Frigolet, Easter:

I’m sending you (attached) my philosophical considerations, born of twenty days of utter solitude and silence, concerning a subject that touches me deeply and that has tormented me for quite some time. After several rough drafts, I believe that I have now expressed my angst with regard to our era, although I would like to have developed certain passages more completely. Maybe, one day, you’ll smilingly take up where I left off… but if I hadn’t left school at thirteen, I most certainly would have been able to deliver my ‘message’ through other means than music!

The weather is mediocre but mild. Sunday or Monday, at the latest, my ‘kid’ [La chèvre de M. Seguin] will stand on its own  feet – but what a job! If it doesn’t smell of thyme and rosemary, then I’ll have botched it.

Much love to you both.

PS: If I wasn’t so fond of you, I’d stay right where I am and would never again set foot in that Parisian ‘shithole’!




Notes from my hermitage,

At the present moment, we are witnessing not only a complete change of civilization, but also a change of era.

We are at an immensely interesting crossroad in the history of the Earth. The life that has made us what we are – are we justified in wanting to go further with it?

In this intense universal muddle, where will we find the guiding light and the strength to follow it?

Either life continues with no set purpose, and therefore the world is absurd, self-destructive and easily condemned by the first intelligent observer (in which case rebellion is necessary, an obligation even), or Something, or Someone, exists… Born of awareness, the wind of rebellion blows through our spirits. Another wind – that which attracts nearly all of us – blows towards the splendid realization of some Unity  we can only intuitively sense…


Henri Tomasi’s Musical Influences


Memories as told to his son Claude (1958)

If I think about it, it must be Puccini who gave me such a passion for lyrical theater.

I wasn’t yet twelve years old when I won the First Prize for Piano at the Conservatoire de Marseille, my home town. As a reward, my mother took me to the opera for the first time in my life. They were performing Puccini’s La Bohéme. I was dazzled; the ‘tribulations’ of poor Mimi moved me to tears. The final two acts made such an impression on me that, still today, I can’t resist their lyrical and dramatic spell. For me, Puccini represented the “God of Music” and I could only imagine the “artist’s life” as existing through his Bohème.

Much later, Carmen, Pelléas and Boris became my favorite works – all were somehow initiatory on the lyrical level. But Puccini has a special place in my heart, because he is linked with those first tears as a child. How to explain that these musical and poetical tones have been so deeply rooted in me for the past forty years and more? I couldn’t say! A surprising youthfulness flows through his compositions; in just a few notes, the synthesis and atmosphere of the drama have been created. The poetical and dramatic themes of each scene and character are admirably presented, and the melodic curve constantly gives rise to emotion. After so many years, my enthusiasm hasn’t waned; in my opinion Puccini is one of theater’s greatest men, along with Verdi.