Jean-Louis Haguenauer’s former teachers, Germaine Mounier at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, Louis Hiltbrand in Geneva (where he received a prix de virtuosité cum laude), and Jean Fassina, instilled in him a certain respect”for instruments, for texts and scores, for listeners, and for students: he is now teaching in the United States at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. Nadia Boulanger, who took him into her studio in the rue Ballu when he was a child prodigy, and, many years later, Henri Dutilleux, his composition teacher, were equally serious in instilling in him a certain kind of respect ”for those who are knowledgeable, and for those who are not. He can be seen explaining his work on Debussy in a film, La Spirale du pianiste (“The pianist’s spiral”), in which he is the sole protagonist. He takes seriously both the spectator and the specialist; he explains what must be done and he does it calmly, and simply.
This kind of respect has been a pillar of Haguenauer’s existence and a man and as a musician; it has made of him an ideal accomplice in chamber music, in which he has participated with the Quatuor Ébène, the Fine Arts Quartet, the Ensemble Stanislas, the Percussions de Strasbourg, the Ensemble Accroche-Notes, and with the tenor Gilles Ragon, with whom he has been working on the French mélodie and the art-song repertory for more than twenty years. From 1991 to 1997 Haguenauer was a member of the Florence Gould Hall Chamber Players, and, from 2003 to 2007, a member of the American Chamber Players. Working with him, musicians seem to give the best they have to offer.
“Enthusiastic, generous, demanding.”
Since 1998, when he began living in the United States, nothing has changed. He has played in America, he has crossed the Atlantic to perform in France, at La Roque d’Anthéron, at the Folle journée de Nantes, at the Theatre of the Châtelet, and at Les Jacobins in Toulouse. He has become what he was, as Nietzsche put it: enthusiastic, generous, demanding. The tourists whom he used to see from his window in the rue de Buci in Paris are now cheerfully replaced by the deer who eat the grass in front of his window in America. He continues to search: when one loves and respects, one searches for sounds, for phrases. Those that he has found are heard in his recordings of Beethoven, Schumann, Berlioz, Weber, and Liszt (in transcriptions of two of the Beethoven symphonies). When he discovered Debussy’s piano the Blüthner Aliquote filled with sympathetically vibrating strings of which he had dreamed for his recording of Debussy’s complete mélodies he exclaimed: “So that’s the way it was.” It was as though he were possessed; he spoke about it to everyone. Finally he had found it.
Haguenauer put together his nearly-complete recording of the complete works of Debussy for solo piano, which was a great success, with the delicacy of a mason working without mortar using beautiful stones and impeccable joints, and matching the grains and the colors. His gestures were perfectly poetic, as nothing requires precision more than painting that which is imprecise. He said at the time, and quite rightly, that “Debussy was not a Debussyste”! But suddenly, with the Blüthner, he discovered the right mortar and trowel. He was now going to be able to work properly.
The instrument was there. Technique, respect, and love did the rest.