Paris-Manchester 1918
Conservatoires in time of war

Fernand Halphen, “killed in action”

Fernand Gustave Halphen

18 February 1872 (Paris) – 16 May 1917 (killed in action)

Born into an upper-middle-class Jewish family, Fernand Halphen was the son of Georges Halphen, a banker, and Henriette Antonia Stern, daughter of the banker Antoine Jacob Stern. A violinist, he studied composition under Gabriel Fauré in 1888 before entering the Paris Conservatoire, where he would be taught by Jules Massenet. Awarded a first certificate of merit for counterpoint and fugue in 1895, Halphen won second place in the grand prix de Rome the following year.[1]

Fernand Halphen did his military service during his studies between November 1893 and September 1894 in the 4th Infantry Regiment at Fontainebleau, and left with the rank of corporal. He was promoted to second lieutenant in 1899 and lieutenant in 1907. His rise through the ranks was probably not unrelated to his family background. A cousin of his father was a graduate of the École Polytechnique military academy, and Halphen could also count on the prestigious reputation of his brother-in-law Captain Roger Levylier (1857-1928), a graduate of the Saint-Cyr military academy and recipient of the Legion of Honour in 1899.

Recalled to duty on 1 August 1914, Halphen was assigned to the 13th territorial infantry regiment commanded by Colonel Le Moyne. Although territorial regiments did not have their own bands, Le Moyne instructed Halphen to organise one in the first few days of the war. The Colonel intended this band to provide an accompaniment for official ceremonies in the rear, maintain civilian morale and entertain the wounded.

Assisted by the flautist Louis Fleury (1878-1926), who premièred Debussy’s Syrinx in 1913, and Marcel Tournier (1879-1951), a harp teacher at the Conservatoire from 1912, Halphen recruited about 50 musicians,[2] who had mostly been amateur players in municipal bands before the war. The regimental band would play numerous concerts from August 1914 to May 1917, when it was permanently disbanded. After contracting diphtheria at the start of 1917, Fernand Halphen was transferred back to Paris on 1 May 1917 and died two weeks later.


Schnapper, Laure (2014) “Fernand Halphen (1872-1917), un musicien au service de la France”, in Doé de Maindreville, Florence and Etcharry Stéphan (eds.), La Grande Guerre en musique. Vie et création musicales en France pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, Brussels: éd. Peter Lang, p. 121-138.

Schnapper, Laure (ed.) (2017) Du salon au front. Fernand Halphen (1872-1917), Paris: Hermann.

[1]Pierre Constant, 1900: Le Conservatoire national de musique et de déclamation : documents historiques et administratifs, Paris: Imprimerie nationale, p. 772.

[2]The band was soon reduced to about 30 musicians.