City of Paris criticised for refusing a plaque to honour the late great composer.

The City of Paris has rejected an application to commemorate the home of the composer Henri Dutilleux with a plaque, claiming the moment “inopportune” and suggesting the composer had collaborated with the Vichy regime during the Second World War.

Dutilleux, who had been awarded France’s highest state award, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour in 2004, died in 2013 at the age of 97 and was one of the late 20th century’s more performed composers. The plaque had been commissioned by the Mayor of the 4th Arrondissement, Christophe Girard, as long ago as December 2013. However, as Girard explained, although the History Committee of the City of Paris issued a generally positive opinion, it “wishes to note collaborative facts with the Vichy regime.”

In fact, Dutilleux, who had won the Prix de Rome in 1938 for his cantata L’Anneau du Roi, was forced to leave Rome by the outbreak of World War II and worked for a year as a medical orderly in the army before returning to Paris in 1940, where he worked as a pianist, arranger and music teacher. In 1942, while he was conducting the chorus of the Paris Opera, he joined the Front National de la Musique, an important resistance group, who along with the likes of Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric, Manuel Rosenthal, Roger Désormière and Louis Durey supported composers persecuted by the Nazis. In 1944, he even secretly composed The Jail on a sonnet by resistance poet Jean Cassou.

However, the History Committee wrote that “Henri Dutilleux, while he was the choral head of the Paris Opera, composed the music of the armed forces propaganda film Forces sur le Stade (1942),” although they admitted that “the involvement of Henri Dutilleux in an active collaborative policy is not otherwise documented”. They concluded their report suggesting the wording “Here lived Henri Dutilleux, composer Contemporary, Grand Prix de Rome in 1938,” might be acceptable at some point in the future “but the time is not appropriate”.

Supporters of the composer and his legacy were quick to take action getting up a petition on Monday, March 16, which by Tuesday had garnered over 2000 signatures accusing the City of Paris of having buried the composer back in 2013 in virtual anonymity with no state officials turning up, and now seeing his reputation “soiled by dishonest accusations, testifying to a limited objective reading of history.”

Girard believes the decision to postpone the installation had been tied up with the commemoration of the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. “I had hoped that now would soothe everything,” he told Le Monde, “but now social networks have been ignited, saying that I did not respect the memory of Henri Dutilleux”.

You can sign the petition here.