By Mr. Henry Ricard, musicologist. Published in 1995 in the newspaper of the flèchoix.
Jean-Baptiste Lemire was born in Colmar, France, on June 8th 1867. He was the son of Jean-Baptiste (1844-1909), a mason, and Anne-Marie Sarter (1848-1924), a dressmaker. His childhood could have been similar to that of most other children, had the political disaster of the moment not interrupted it. The empire had broken down, France was defeated and Alsace was lost. Jean-Baptiste, his father, his brother, and his sister, were forced to flee.
In 1871 the Lemire family took refuge in Montbéliard, on the other side of the new border. Certainly they regarded it only as temporary stay, during which they hoped for better days. Jean-Baptiste resided in Montbéliard for eleven years. In the April of 1883 he began work as a locksmith in Belfort. He remained there until 1888, when he entered the army. Perhaps the memory of seeing those glistening uniforms in his childhood were having a subconscious influence on his young mind? Was this already a demonstration of his strong personality, which will characterize him thereafter, or simply a passion for discovery and journeys that motivated him?
In a short time France had paid off it's debt; the Republic strengthened, and the colonial expansion could begin again. The army is no longer then, by this time, the ideal means to appease the aspirations of a young man of twenty years? The answer was a double career -- military and musical -- which Jean-Baptiste's life would revolve around for close to a half century.
On March 7th 1888, Jean-Baptiste committed to volunteer for 4 years in the active army with the Crews of the Fleet, in Brest, as Quarter-Major Musician Second-Class, then later to the 52nd Navy regiment as Corporal Drummer and Sergeant Drummer Regimental Adjutant. Holding their promises, in the years 1889 to 1891, in the campaign of the "Dubourdieu," construction began in Cherbourg in 1880 on a new class of cruiser, which was active from 1884 to 1899. This cruiser marked a great progress in naval construction; indeed the rest of the 19th century sees grand transformations in the designs of ships. Progressively the propulsion by steam substitutes the use of the sail, putting in action first paddles and later (in this case) propellers. The use of an armor made of iron replaces little by little the hull of wood.
It is aboard this cruiser that Jean-Baptiste embarks on his first journey, a journey of study, with his music accompanying. He departed from France on November 29th 1889, the "Dubourdieu" passes successively through the Canaries (January 11th 1890), Senegal (January 25th), Singapore (June 3rd), Honolulu (July 15th), Tahiti (August 15th to 25th), Nouméa (October 17th to 21st), Sydney (October 30th to November 3rd), Peru (April 3rd 1891), California (July 31st), Venezuela (September 23rd), then finally makes a return to France via Trinidad (September 29th).
Jean-Baptiste was by now no longer content with the rank of Sergeant Drummer Regimental Adjutant. In October 1891 his ambition motivates him to commit to an other five years with the Navy. Placed in the 3rd regiment of Infantry of Navy, with his new title as Bugle Musician, and soon later Under-Chief of Fanfare. That's good, but not good enough. Why Under-Chief? Merely Under-Chief, whereas he himself could/should be Chief? The promotion was certainly only a matter of time, but there is that five year commitment, which slowed his ascension down. In his off-time he enrolled in the Conservatory of Lyons (1893), and only one year later won the unanimous First Prize of "Flûte Traversière" (transverse flute) in October 1894. In 1896, once again, he renews his engagement, for two years, and in the same regiment.
The years that follow at last make good. In April 1897 to March 1898, he participates in the Colonial Infantry, in the campaign of Madagascar. With his return prolonged all over again for four more years of engagement, in the 4th and 6th regiments of Infantry of Navy, he finally becomes Chief of Fanfare. His goal was finally reached, and for the first time as Cheif of Fanfare he participates in the campaign of Tonkin (June 1900 to August 1901). Returned, he leaves the active service in 1902 and enters the 7th regiment of Colonial Infantry Reserves. In the same season, he takes the position of First Flute Solo with the municipal orchestra of Biarritz. In 1903, he leaves the 7th regiment for the 49th regiment of the territorial army reservers, where he stays until 1913, the year when he puts an end to his service in the army. He was now aged 46, after having completed a 25 year military career.
Any other man would have accepted this retirement as amply deserved, but Jean-Baptiste is not a man to stand by watching the time pass. He could not remain idle. Not surprisingly, he undertakes a grand tour of France's Orchestres d'Harmonie. His son, later, said that actually Jean-Baptiste was an avid traveler. He left Biarritz in 1904, surrendering his post to Sain-Claude (Jura). In 1906-1907, he was the Chef de la Musique l'Espérance de Morez. During the two seasons of 1909 and 1910, he was chief of the Grand Théatre de Lyon. On March 1st 1910, he joined the Union Musicales d'Amplepuis (Rhône). After the outbreak of the first world war he leaves the Union, only to be found again for six months in 1916 as the head of the Harmonie de Lalinde (Dordogne).
Lyon receives him again in 1917; where his son, Jean (1917-1987), was born, resulting from Jean-Baptiste's second marriage to Elisabeth Romeuf (1894-1966), originally from Saint-Ferréol-d'Auroure (upper Loire). Belfort welcomes him in 1918 and, in 1919, his home town of Colmar. On May 24th 1921, Jean-Baptiste was appointed Chef de l’Harmonie for the paper manufacturer at Anould in the Vosges [it was common in Lemire's time for major industrial companies to have house orchestras or bands. -- D.R.], sharing this function with the one of the former military musicians from the city of Lyon.
For the following two years, we lose track of Jean-Baptiste. Probably he stayed in Lyon, a city that he definitely left in 1931. We find him again later that year, very surprisingly, in Sarthe. Why this distant move? His son, Jean, first a student of the military school of Autain, was later a stundent of the Prytanée de La Flèche, but only between 1936 and 1938. This however doesn't explain his presence in the region prior to his father.
It appears that the arrival in Sarthe of Jean-Baptiste corresponds with a total retirement. Henceforth, indeed, he did not conduct again, contenting to giving some music lessons. In 1935 at last, after having been decorated with the military medal of the Colonial Medal of Madagascar and having been elevated to the rank of Knight of the Medal of Anjouan of the Comores, he settles in the valley of Saint-Germain. He stays there until February 26th 1945, when at age 77 he was admitted to the hospital of La Flèche. He died there the following March 2nd. His wife left the area in 1948, going to Alsace and her family.
He was a good professor, an excellent musician, and might we add, a gifted musician. Jean-Baptiste Lemire doesn't seem to have started composing until some time after the day when he was first appointed Chief of Fanfare. His catalog doesn't contain a large number of works, and there are no major pieces like symphonies or operas. However, his production is far from negligible. Jean-Baptiste Lemire composed only for that which he once called, "music of the open air," a kind that many consider minor, but a kind which he certainly knew well.
We do not want to launch a fruitless contreversy, but we will say only that if music is merely for the elite, if it was only accessible to the wealthy and intelligent classes, to those that a long education had put all the secrets of the musical language, then music would fail in it's main vocation which is above all a social art. Music's means of communication with the masses are numerous, and it would be absurd to disregard such a medium. All kinds of music, light or large, has it's part, it's position, it's rank that it is "of the beautiful work." The kind of light music thanks to which Johann Strauss met such fame is not, one day, to make Jean-Baptiste Lemire famous too? The music of Lemire is in many ways similar to Strauss's.
Jean-Baptiste Lemire wrote marches, waltzes, polkas, scottisches -- all the fashionable styles of his time -- without forgetting the important "Pas Redoublés," where dancers divide into various formations, as in "Rubis sur l’ongle", pas redoublé for music d'Harmonie or fanfare (Paris 1906); a tour from energetic, to brilliant and even tender. For the transverse flute, his instrument, Jean-Baptiste composed some early works with piano accompaniment like "Solo pour flûte" (Lyon 1904), built on a succession of episodes of changing colorations; soon later with orchestral accompaniment as in "Erimel" (Lyon 1905) and "Le Bouvreuil" (Paris 1907), pieces of a great virtuosity. For the philharmonic orchestra, the list is long, including the agreeable "Acanthe Scottisch" (Lyon 1903), the vernal "Souvenir d’Alsace" (Valse, Lyon 1905), the straightforward and decided "Colmar Marche" (Lyon 1905), and the mischievous "Riri Polka."
Behind his Commandeur manner, Jean-Baptiste Lemire hides a great sensitivity and an affirming profession. He knew how to take advantage of the particular color of the military orchestra, associating or opposing the different families of instruments according to his taste. He knew how to impart his melodies with freshness and elegance. Sometimes their breadth is considered too conventional, with a simplicity of his structures and the harmonic relationships, but these fundamental traits are not uncommon in this kind of music. Finally, he privileged certain rhythms of which he retains strictness, other times versatility.
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