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Paul-Henri Büsser

Henri Büsser, sometimes referred to as Paul-Henri Büsser, was a significant and very long-lived French composer, conductor, arranger, and educator. After formative training at the Ecole Niedermeyer under Alexander George, in 1889 Büsser went to Paris and attended the Conservatoire, studying with Ernest Girard, Gounod, Franck, and Massenet. Gounod helped Büsser obtain the post, in 1892, as organist at Saint Cloud, a position Büsser held until 1921. In 1893, Büsser won second place honors for his Prix de Rome cantata Antigone, and shortly thereafter became a choral conductor at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. Büsser assumed direction of the chorus from Messager in the first production of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902. Though Debussy found fault with Büsser's direction, the two became fast friends and Büsser's orchestration of Debussy's early Petite Suite is his most frequently revived orchestral score.

In 1905, Büsser assumed the post of chief conductor at the Grand Opéra, which he held until political difficulties forced him to resign in 1939. He began teaching at the Paris Conservatoire in 1904, but was not made a full professor until 1931; Büsser held onto that job until 1948. Büsser was made music director of the Opéra-Comique in 1939, but held it only for two seasons; negative remarks about Richard Wagner attributed to Büsser mysteriously appeared in a Paris daily and he was dismissed. His post at the Grand Opéra, however, was restored to him at war's end and he held it until 1951. In 1958, at age 86, Büsser married legendary French diva Yvonne Gall; he was 12 years her senior, and yet would outlive her by a year. The occasion of Büsser's 100th birthday in 1972 was widely observed in France, celebrated with concerts and exhibitions in Paris; he died near the end of 1973 at the age of 101.

Debussy assisted Büsser in composing what is likely his most advanced, ambitious, and popular stage work, the opera Colomba (1902-1910), which nonetheless was not premiered until 1921, three years after Debussy died. Büsser did adopt some aspects of impressionistic style and made expert use of them, but he remained essentially beholden to the post-romantic ethos of Franck and Massenet; some of his latest music betrays the influence of Gounod and even Wagner. It is undeniably attractive music, and while Büsser remains best-known in France, certain works have managed to travel, particularly his Le messe de Domrèmy á la gloire de Ste Jeanne d'Arc (1949), scored for four trumpets, chorus, and organ. Büsser also made countless arrangements of works of other composers, edited two volumes of music by Rameau (in collaboration with Paul Dukas), and completed Bizet's unfinished opera Ivan IV, also known as "Ivan the Terrible."