Jean Cocteau and the music of Post-World War I France

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) was a highly creative and artistically diverse individual. His talents were expressed in every field of art, and in each field he was successful. The diversity of his talent defies traditional categorization and makes it difficult to assess the singularity of his aesthetic. In the field of music, this aesthetic had a profound impact on the music of Post-World War I France. Cocteau was not a trained musician. His talent lay in his revolutionary ideas and in his position as a catalyst for these ideas. This position derived from his ability to seize the opportunities of the time: the need to fill the void that was emerging with the waning of German Romanticism and impressionism; the great showcase of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; the talents of young musicians eager to experiment and in search of direction; and a congenial artistic atmosphere. This study examines and evaluates Cocteau•s essential role in the formation and realization of the music of Post-World War I France. The strength of his influence during this period is revealed upon tracing his development from his childhood through his collaborations with Diaghilev, the composers Satie, Stravinsky, and members of Les Six, and an examination of the ideas expressed in his book, Le Coq et l'arlequin.