Obituary for Jacques Taddei

The French musician, museum director, public servant and man of many letters.


Jacques Taddei, the director of the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, died suddenly on 24 June, shortly after playing the organ for the Solemn Sunday Mass at the city’s Basilica of Saint Clotilde, where he was the incumbent organist (titulaire). He was 66.

Taddei will be remembered as a man of parts—perhaps not a “Renaissance man” or, as his detractors claimed, a “Rastignac” (social climber), but certainly a man of many talents and striking ambition in discrete fields. He is probably unique in that he pursued two distinct careers, as an professional organist and as a museum director, simultaneously.

Born in 1946 in Nice, where his father was a businessman, Taddei attended the local lycée and went on to study philosophy at the Sorbonne, and piano and organ at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris. He took organ lessons from Pierre Cochereau and Marie-Claire Alain, winning the first prize in the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud competition in 1973. He then pursued a double career as a professional virtuoso keyboard performer—he was a pianist as well as an organist—and as an official in various state institutions.

He played both instruments to acclaim and appeared in many concerts, mostly in France, under conductors such as Georges Prêtre and Jean-Claude Casadesus. He also performed in the US, Latin America, Japan, South Korea and Russia. His recordings, produced by companies such as EMI, REM and Erato, feature mainly organ works by composers ranging from Liszt and Franck—his predecessor in the loft at Saint Clotilde—to Poulenc and Marcel Landowski.

In the tradition of the great French composer-performers who were organists—one that includes François Couperin (Saint Gervais), Camille Saint-Saëns (La Madeleine), Charles-Marie Widor (Saint Sulpice), Louis Vierne (Notre Dame) and Olivier Messiaen (Saint Trinité)—Taddei also became a titulaire at Saint Clotilde from 1993; he had been co-titulaire since 1987. His predecessors there included Franck, Charles Tournemire and Jean Langlais. As a result of French history and musical culture, titulaires are accorded considerably greater social status than church organists in Anglo-Saxon countries, and are expected to be expert improvisators. Taddei proved himself a worthy son of such great fathers: one can hear a recording (REM, 1994) of his “In Memoriam P. Cochereau: Symphonie improvisée”, a tombeau to his teacher, in which he displays his abilities both as a composer and a spontaneous performer.

Many of these organists also taught in the conservatories, and Taddei was no exception here either. His second professional career was a cursus honorum of mainly civil service posts in the service of music and the arts. In 1987, he was appointed the director of the National Conservatory of the Paris region. Un rien obscure (a nobody) when he took over, he transformed the conservatory into one of the leading musical schools of the city, if not the country.

He founded the international organ competition of Paris in 1995, and from 1993 was the director of the Festival d’Art Sacré de la Ville de Paris, a position he held for 12 years. After marrying princesse Anne-Louise de Broglie, a member of the upper echelons of French aristocracy with whom he had two daughters, he was elected in 2001 to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, an event that was to determine the latter course of his life. He was loaded with honours: he was an officer of the Légion d’honneur, a chevalier of the Ordre national du mérite and the Ordre des Palmes académiques, and a commandeur of the Ordre des arts et des lettres. He took special pride in appearing whenever possible in his gold-embroidered academicians’ uniform with medals and sword. For 12 years, he served as the deputy mayor of the Parisian suburb of Rueil-Malmaison, with responsibilities for culture.

Having retired from the Conservatory in 2004, he spent a couple of restless years, first as the musical director of Radio France, then as the national inspector general of education, quitting both due to boredom. However, in 2007, the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the body to which the Musée Marmottan Monet belongs, appointed him its director.

His incumbency was unremarkable, except for the rehang in 2010 of the house-museum’s Monets, the largest collection in the world. The decision to undertake this work was severely criticised by some as it resulted in Taddei’s refusal to lend any of the works to the blockbuster show taking place simultaneously at the Grand Palais (September 2010-January 2011). Nevertheless, Taddei worked hard to attract more visitors to, and to generate greater interest in, this little-visited corner of the 16th arrondissement.

Regarded as self-important by those who did not know him well, those who did considered him to be a man of great feeling, wit and urbanity.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Jacques Taddei'