Paris-Manchester 1918
Conservatoires in time of war

Plans for after the war

Born in 1895, Marcel Reynal studied at the Paris Conservatoire, where he won first prize for violin in 1914 (Prof. Rémy’s class)[1]. After being drafted in 1915, he spent 30 months in an infantry regiment. Awarded the Croix de guerre, he successfully applied to join the Air Service and qualified as a pilot at the Châteauroux school. After the war, he pursued an important career as a virtuoso violinist. He went on to become a violin teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, where he trained a generation of leading French violinists.

Before truly answering the question “What are your plans for after the war?”, Reynal attacks the “shirkers”, those who had been given comfortable jobs after being called up. We may note that Reynal himself might have seemed a “shirker” to other soldiers at the end of the war, for he succeeded in getting out of the trenches and into a different branch of the military, the Air Service, where he had the privilege of being in training for several months. In Reynal’s mind however, his shirking doubtless seemed acceptable after the length of time he had spent at the front.

[1]Guillaume Antoine Roemy, known as Rémy, born en 1865, violin teacher at the Paris Conservatoire from 1894 to 1929.

Friday, 29 November 1918

Dear Classmate,

I was very happy to receive your long letter, and I would like to thank you most sincerely for your kind wishes. Before answering your questions, I would like to ask you something – you’ll say it is always the same thing, but it has been on my mind more than ever since the war ended.

What I would like to ask is, will the Committee[1] remember the people who went off to war? Will it make a distinction between those who were in the trenches and those big, fat fellows who spent their war in the auxiliary service – or were declared unfit for service under I don’t know what law – and strutted round at home, daring to give concerts, even in the hospitals for the wounded, and are now fortunate enough to have gone back to the same jobs that they were doing before? I would like to know that, because those people are the ones with the good jobs . . . . . . . .

What are my plans and what do I want to do?

My plan, after leaving this great school, was always to join the Conservatoire Concert Society,[2] which I admire so much, and then find a position as a teacher in a conservatoire in one of the big cities. Why? Because my ambition is to stand out from the crowd and work to reach the level of the great masters.

I am not one of those people who believe that winning the first prize is enough to be an artist. No, after that there are still years of work to do, and I thought that a few solitary years would allow me to do enough work to be able to appear before the public with the maximum chance of success. And now the task is going to be doubly difficult. What are we going to do while waiting for the recruitment exams for all these positions? There are musicians everywhere, and people have been able to get along just fine without us. Well, I believe – I know – that you, my dear classmate, will understand us and do your best to help us, so I would like to offer you thanks in advance and my very best wishes.

Yours with sincere friendship

Marcel Reynal

Pilot, Châteauroux (Indre) School

Please find attached a little form with all the information requested.

[1]The Franco-American Committee, publisher of the Gazette des classes du Conservatoire.

[2]Forerunner of the Orchestre de Paris, established in 1828.

Marcel Reynal (29 November 1918) Letter to Nadia Boulanger, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Music Department, Rés Vm Dos 88 (5), folio 192.

Document description: autograph letter.

Catalogue :

Audoin-Rouzeau, Stéphane and Prochasson, Christophe (2008) Sortir de la Grande Guerre. Le monde et l’après-1918, Paris: Tallandier.

Ridel, Charles, 2016: “L’embusquage : endurer ou refuser ? “, in Beaupré, Nicolas, Jones, Heather and Rasmussen, Anne (eds.) (2015) Dans la guerre 1914-1918. Accepter, endurer, refuser, Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

Tison, Stéphane(2011) Comment sortir de la guerre ? Deuil, mémoire et traumatisme (1870-1940), Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes.