July 20, 1872 - March 24, 1921
born in Saint-Félix-Caraman, France, composed during the Romantic period
A contemporary of Debussy, Fauré, and Ravel, Sévérac ranks perhaps only marginally below this distinguished group. He was, for some time, assessed a second-rate composer largely because of his decision to leave Paris -- and its influences -- a move seen by many as a step backward, revealing the composer to be a provincial-minded artist lacking sophistication. But his works exude subtlety and sophistication in their conservative expressive language, and are quite individual in their frequent use of modal writing and folk qualities.
Déodat de Sévérac was born in Saint-Félix-Caraman (now Saint-Félix Lauragais), near Toulouse. His father, Gilbert, was a talented amateur musician (also a painter of some renown) who taught him on the piano. The youth next studied with local organist Louis Amiel. In 1890, Sévérac graduated from college in nearby Soreze, where he studied piano and organ. Intending to enroll at the Toulouse Conservatory for music instruction, he acquiesced to his father's wishes and began to study law at Toulouse University. In 1893, however, he convinced his father to allow him to abandon his legal aspirations and enroll at the conservatory. He traveled to Paris three years later for further music study at Vincent d'Indy's Schola Cantorum, where d'Indy and Magnard instructed him in composition. Sévérac stayed on for 11 years there, taking courses in choral conducting, organ, and other facets of music as well. He began to produce his first serious compositions during his early years at the Schola Cantorum. Among them was his Ave verum corpus (1898), for vocal soloists and organ. Sévérac enjoyed the musical climate in Paris and made friends there with some of the most prominent musicians of the day, including Albéniz, Ravel, Dukas, and Fauré. Fellow music students included Roussel, Canteloube, and Labey. But Sévérac also maintained his Mediterranean ties with trips back to Saint-Félix-Caraman and by being elected to the town council there in 1900. In 1903, he began work on his opera Le coeur du moulin, which he finally finished five years later. It was premiered on December 8, 1909, at the Opéra-Comique, establishing Sévérac as one of the rising stars on the Parisian scene. But by this time, he had already decided the "Parisian scene" was not necessarily the location most conducive to his artistic muse. His 1907 graduation thesis at the Schola Cantorum created a good measure of controversy, for in it he argued French music should diversify and filter out Germanic influences. He asserted that these aims could be accomplished by incorporating the various folk elements and traditions of France. He thus returned to Saint-Félix-Caraman shortly after his graduation. In 1910, Sévérac relocated to Céret, where he became organist at the Church of St. Pierre. He retained ties to his hometown, however, since he remained a municipal council member there until 1919. Sévérac continued to compose during this period, producing one of his most important works for the stage, Héliogabale, described as a tragédie lyrique. It was premiered to an audience of 13,000 at Beziers in 1910 and presented the next year in a concert version in Paris. Sévérac served in World War I, his duties and redeployments reducing his output to a handful of mostly insignificant works. After the war, he resumed his post as organist at St. Pierre's and returned to composition. Among his last efforts was his 1919 piano work Sous les lauriers roses. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi