Paul Paray

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Paul M. A. Charles Paray (French: [pɔl paʁɛ]) (24 May 1886 – 10 October 1979) was a French conductor, organist and composer. He is best remembered in the United States for being the resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for more than a decade.[1]


Paul Paray was born in Le Tréport, Normandy, in 1886. His father, Auguste, was a sculptor and organist at St. Jacques church, and leader of an amateur musical society. He put young Paray in the society's orchestra as a drummer. Later, Paray went to Rouen to study music with the abbots Bourgeois and Bourdon, and organ with Haelling. This prepared him to enter the Paris Conservatoire. In 1911, Paray won the Premier Grand Prix de Rome for his cantata Yanitza.

As World War I started, Paray heeded the call to arms and joined the French Army. In 1914, he was taken prisoner of war and held in Darmstadt camp.[2] Deprived of paper, he composed the string quartet in E minor and the piano suite D'une âme... in his head, only writing them down from memory after the war.

Once the war was over, Paray was invited to conduct the orchestra of the Casino de Cauterets in the Pyrenees which included players from the Lamoureux Orchestra. This was a springboard for him to conduct this orchestra in Paris. Later he was music director of the Monte Carlo Orchestra, and president of the Concerts Colonne.

In 1922, Paray composed music for the Ida Rubinstein ballet Artémis troublée. That year he and the Spanish violinist Manuel Quiroga premiered his Violin Sonata. In 1931, he wrote the Mass for the 500th Anniversary of the Death of Joan of Arc, which was premiered at the cathedral in Rouen to commemorate the quincentenary of Joan of Arc's martyr death. In 1935, he wrote his Symphony No. 1 in C major, which was premiered at the Concerts Colonne. He composed his Symphony No. 2 in A major in 1941.

Paray made his American debut with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra in 1939. In 1952, he was appointed music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducting them in numerous recordings for Mercury Records' "Living Presence" series. Following his departure from Detroit in 1963, Paray returned to France and maintained a healthy international guest-conducting career. He was in his tenth decade when he made his last conducting appearance in the United States, leading the Orchestra of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. A report in Musical America noted: "Now ninety-two, Paray brings to the podium not only a reputation as one of the great conductors of our time, but strength, energy, and a solid technique that have not diminished through the years."

Paray could and did conduct the entire orchestral repertoire well, but he specialized in the French symphonic literature. One of Paray's most renowned recordings, made in October 1957, is that of the Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3 in C minor "Organ". The circumstances surrounding the recording were fortuitous. Paray had built the Detroit Symphony Orchestra into one of the world's most distinguished. Marcel Dupré, a friend and fellow student from childhood, was organist for the session. Dupré, as a young student, had pulled the organ stops for the composer Camille Saint-Saëns in a performance of the Symphony No. 3 in Paris, and the organ of Ford Auditorium in Detroit was well suited to the work. As well as being among the most authoritative readings of the work, the original analogue recording on the Mercury label remains an audiophile reference in vinyl, and the analogue-to-digital transfer produced by the original recording director Wilma Cozart for compact disc is also available from Mercury (recording number 432 719-2).

Paray married Yolande Falck in Cassis, France, on 25 August 1942. He was a National Patron of Delta Omicron, an international professional music fraternity.[3]

The government of France awarded him its highest honor, the Grand-Croix de la Légion d'honneur, in 1975. He died in Monte Carlo in 1979, aged 93.

Selected works[edit]

Sketch for Artémis troublée by Léon Bakst
  • Symphonie d'archets for string orchestra (1919); orchestration of the string quartet
  • Nocturne for chamber orchestra
  • Symphony No. 1 in C major (1934)
  • Symphony No. 2 in A major (1936)
  • Fantaisie for piano and orchestra (1909)
  • Humoresque for violin and chamber orchestra (1910)
Chamber music
  • Piano Trio (1905)
  • Sérénade for violin (or flute) and piano (1908)
  • Sonata in C minor for violin and piano (1908)
  • Humoresque for violin and piano (or chamber orchestra) (1910)
  • Nocturne for violin (or cello) and piano (1910)
  • String Quartet in E minor (1919)
  • Sonata No. 1 in B major for cello and piano (1919)
  • Sonata No. 2 in C major for cello and piano
  • Tarantelle
  • Scherzetto
  • Impromptu
  • Vertige
  • Incertitude
  • Entêtement
  • Berceuse
  • Valse-caprice (1906)
  • Romance (1909)
  • Portraits d'enfants (1910)
  • Valse sur un thème de Franz Schubert (1911)
  • Impressions (1912)
  1. Nostalgie
  2. Eclaircie
  3. Primesaut
  • Reflets romantiques (1912)
  1. Avec esprit et charme
  2. Ardemment
  3. En rêvant
  4. Avec fougue
  5. Souple
  6. Léger
  7. Tender
  8. Energique
  • Sept pièces (1913)
  • Presto (1913)
  • Prélude, scherzo et allegro
  • Thème et variations (1913)
  • Prélude in F major (1913)
  • Allegro (1913)
  • Scherzo (1913)
  • D'une âme... (1914)
  • Pieces for piano 4-hands (1914)
  • Éclaircie (1923)
  • Prélude (1930)
  • Allegretto
  • Prélude en mi bémol mineur
  • Prélude en fa mineur
  • Sur la mer
  • Valse en fa dièse mineur
  • Valse en fa mineur
  • Vertige
  • La vraie furlana
  1. Infidélité
  2. La Dernière feuille
  3. Serment
  • Villanelle for voice and piano or orchestra (1912); words by Théophile Gautier
  • Chanson violette for voice and piano or orchestra (1913); words by Albert Samain
  • Le Chevrier for voice and piano or orchestra (1913); words by José-Maria de Heredia
  • Il est d'étranges soirs for voice and piano or orchestra (1913) words by Albert Samain
  • Viole for voice and piano (1913); words by Albert Samain
  • In manus tuas for voice, oboe and organ (1914)
  • Quatre poèmes de Jean Lahor for voice and piano or orchestra (1921)
  1. Après l'orage
  2. Adieux
  3. Après le bal
  4. Dèsir de mort
  • Vocalise-étude for medium voice and piano (1924)
  • Le Poèt et la muse for voice and piano; words by E. Thévenet
  • L'Embarquement pour l'idéal for voice and piano; words by Catulle Mendès
  • Mortes les fleurs for voice and piano; words by P. May
  • Chanson napolitaine for voice and piano; words by P. May
  • Os Justi, Offertorium for chorus and organ (1903)
  • Acis et Galatée, Cantata (1910)
  • Jeanne d'Arc, Oratorio (1913); words by Gabriel Montoya
  • Salve Regina for chorus a cappella (1929)
  • Messe du cinquième centenaire de la mort de Jeanne d'Arc (Mass for the Fifth Centenary of the Death of Joan of Arc) for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1931)
  • Nuit tombante for chorus and orchestra
  • Pastorale de Noël pour for soloists, chorus and orchestra
  • Soleils de septembre for chorus and orchestra


  1. ^ Arbie Orenstein: A Ravel Reader By Maurice Ravel (Courier Dover Publications, 2003), p. 580.
  2. ^ "General View of the Prison Camp at Darmstadt". Western Michigan University. First World War Central Powers POW camps. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  3. ^ Delta Omicron Archived 2010-01-27 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]

Other reading[edit]

  • W.L. Landowski, Paul Paray, musician de France et du monde, in series, Nos amis les musiciens, Lyon: Éditions et impr. du Sud-est (1956).
  • Bibliography (in French): Jean-Philippe Mousnier: "Paul Paray", Editions L'Harmattan (1998).
Cultural offices
Preceded by
Camille Chevillard
Principal Conductors, Lamoureux Orchestra
Succeeded by
Albert Wolff
Preceded by
Music Directors, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Succeeded by
Jean Martinon
Preceded by
Karl Krueger
Music Directors, Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Succeeded by
Sixten Ehrling