Jean (Emile Paul) Cras – Concerto pour Piano et Orchestre
(b. Brest, 22 May 1879 – d. Brest, 14 September 1932)
This work is the only piano concerto written by Jean Cras. Cras was dedicated to “fervent Catholicism” (Bempéchat, 2009, 5) and much of his music is known to express his faith, as well as his Breton origins. Born and died in Brest, Breton, France, Cras dedicated his life to both composition as well as to a naval career with the French Navy. He was an officer and scientist developing new technological advancement during his career, including a new “directional ruler-compass” (Bempéchat, 2009, 89). He is an interesting figure of French music, as his response to the First World War is documented in many letters and diary entries (as explored by Jean-André Bempéchat, 2009). Bempéchat’s biography is a significant work, identifying much of Cras’s biography for the first time, but the assessment of his writings is vital to our understanding of Cras’s faith, regional loyalties, and to our view of him as a deep thinker with much “introspective spirituality” (Bempéchat, Grove Music online).
Cras’s career was certainly varied. He composed many religious pieces for voice, organ and orchestra. He was most well-known during his lifetime for his opera, Polypheme, from 1922. It is based on a well-known Greek myth. It won the first prize of the Concours musical de la ville de Paris in 1921. The work was staged at the Opéra-Comique. Cras did have some compositional success in his lifetime but unlike many of his contemporaries he did not study at the Paris Conservatoire. Rather, following in the family tradition, he moved to Paris to the join the Naval Academy in 1896. It was while in Paris that he met his future friend and mentor, Henri Duparc. Duparc gave him the only formal training he had in composition, during a season of intensive meetings. They met in 1900 and would remain in close contact by letter throughout their lives. Interestingly, Duparc observed Cras’s dedication to sacred topics, and declared him to be his “spiritual son” (Bempéchat, 2009, 154).
Cras completed his three movement Concerto for Piano in 1931. As such it is a mature work, from his final period (defined by Bempéchat as the years spanning 1930-1932). The work was premiered by his second daughter, Colette, in 1931, with the Concert Pasdeloup, under the direction of Desire-Emile Inghelbrecht. Unlike Cras, his daughter was trained at the Paris Conservatoire, where she received lessons from Lazare-Lévy and Maurice Ravel. …
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