Cras, Jean


Cras, Jean

Légende pour Violoncelle et Orchestre

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Jean Cras – Légende pour violoncelle et orchestre

(b. Brest, France. 22 May 1879 – d. Brest, France. 14 September 1932)

French composer and career naval officer, Jean Cras, was born and died in Brest, France. He was from a medical and naval family in one of the most important military stations in the Breton coast in France. At 6, he wrote his first compositions including short piano pieces, songs, and duets to be performed by his siblings. At age 17, he began his naval career, balancing his life between his two passions: music and military service. Mentored during his 20s by Henri Duparc (1848–1933) a French composer of the late romantic period, Cras explored various composers and compositional techniques that allowed his unique style to evolve. Autobiographical elements such as family, church, travel experiences, and home nostalgia inspired the main topics of his compositions. The harmonic exploration mixed traditional romantic features with impressionistic elements. Although World War I took up a substantial amount of his time since he was in the navy, he began to work on the opera that catapulted his career, Polyphème, written based on a lyric tragedy by Albert Samain (1858–1900) for the Concours musical de la Ville de Paris in 1921. During the final decade of his life, his composition of chamber music and solo works intensified, bringing to life his famous Trio pour cordes in 1925.

Légende pour violoncelle et orchestre was completed in 1929, right after the composer was promoted to Rear-Admiral and Commander. It was premiered by the oldest orchestra in Paris, the Concert Pasdeloup, on March 29 in 1930. Shortly after the successful premiere, the composer wrote a version for piano and violoncello. Cras dedicated Légende to French cellist Fernand Pollain (1879 –1955), whose collaboration was crucial for the composition. Letters and journals had been found expressing the compositional process.

On 12 June 1929, Cras wrote from Casablanca that: “I worked on my piece for ‘cello and orchestra. All the groundwork is completed. The piece lasts 11:30 minutes, which is just right for a work of this kind. It’s the same length as Ravel’s Tzigane… Now I have to re-write the ‘cello part, in great detail. It’s vital that I incorporate manifold technical difficulties and exploit the fundamental resources of the instrument. My intention is to dedicate the work to Fernand Pollain, and to ask him to look over the solo ‘cello part so that he can suggest all the interesting modifications possible. From this standpoint, Pollain will be a valuable asset. He has imagination, and has composed very beautiful cadenzas in his arrangements of ‘cello concerti… For me personally, there may also be a superb, hidden collaboration in this process. For a composition of this nature must above all satisfy and please the instrumentalists, making them shine. However, I am far less comfortable with the ‘cello than with the violin.”…


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Score Data

Score Number



Repertoire Explorer


Solo Instrument(s) & Orchestra




210 x 297 mm



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