Pierre Sancan

Pierre Sancan (24 October 1916 in Mazamet – 20 October 2008 in Paris) was a French composer, pianist, teacher and conductor. Along with Olivier Messiaen and Henri Dutilleux, he was a major figure among French musicians in the mid-twentieth-century transition between modern and contemporary eras; but outside France his name is almost unknown.

Born in Mazamet in the South of France, Sancan began in musical studies in Morocco and Toulouse before entering the Conservatoire de Paris where he studied with Jean Gallon, and where he took conducting with Charles Munch and Roger Désormière, piano with Yves Nat, and composition with Henri Busser.

In 1943, he won the Conservatoire's Prix de Rome for composition, with his cantata La Légende de Icare, but did not assume a regular teaching post there until 1956 when his former master Yves Nat retired. Sancan held this job until his own retirement in 1985. He lived another 23 years, to the age of 92, but his later years were compromised by Alzheimer's Disease.

As a pianist, Sancan was most prominently seen in his role as accompanist to the great cellist André Navarra. And his recordings of Ravel's two piano concertos with conductor Pierre Dervaux, and Mozart 4-hand Concertos with Jean-Bernard Pommier, were highly praised upon their release in the 1960s, but are now deleted.

As a piano teacher, Sancan helped to train such luminaries as Olivier Cazal, Michel Béroff, Selman Ada, Abdel Rahman El Bacha, Emile Naoumoff, Géry Moutier, Jean-Bernard Pommier, Daniel Varsano, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Jacques Rouvier, Kristin Merscher, Eric Larsen, Jean-Marc Savelli, and Jean-Philippe Collard who has recorded Sancan's Piano Concerto. Sancan's Sonatine for flute and piano (1946) is his best-known work, and has been a popular staple for flute players since its publication, but little else of his oeuvre is well known. Sancan also composed a Violin Concerto, at least three ballets, a Symphony for Strings (1961), and an opera Ondine (1962). Some of his shorter piano pieces, such as Boîte à musique and the Toccata, have caught on as encore pieces.

Sancan sought to reconcile contemporary performance techniques with the harmonic language of Debussy, a composer of whom Sancan was an expert interpreter.

Selected filmography


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