Jean Tardieu

by Claude Beauclair

Born in 1903 to an artist/painter and a harpist, this poet and dramatic author received a degree in literature began working for the Hachette publishing house. Initially known for his translations of Hölderlin, Tardieu published beginning in 1933 several poetic collections before taking up theatrical writing. After the war, he entered radio as head of dramatic programming, and was later named director of the programs at France-Music. Curious and inventive, malicious and discrete, he knows how to go from the commonplace to the strange, from the familiar to the extraordinary, all as if he were playing a game.

Tardieu's theater has initially a didactic interest; its short parts illustrate some of the topics and the tendencies of the French New Theater, or uncover conventions of the traditional theater, generally using comedy. His work plays off similarities between sounds, colors and words, demonstrating his unique virtuosity. Tardieu constructs his plays for brevity and never has the time to take himself too seriously.

In contrast to Tardieu's expressed mistrust of language is the love he holds for music: it dictates the words to him. Words, as sound rather than meaning, have little or no intrinsic value, but gain value from their position and harmony. The work most representative of this idea is "La Sonate" and "Les Trois Messieurs" where each character plays the role of an instrument and places words according to the rhythm needed: largo, andante, finale.

If some works make one think of Ionesco---death awaits us at the end of our desires and of our most banal actions ("Le guichet")--others presage the Genet's theatrical universe ("La Serrure"). His is also a theater of language, at times mocking and ironic ("Un mot pour un autre"), and at other times simply artificial ("Il y avait foule au manoir"). "Very few words, very few gestures... a bias for restraint which leads to the edge of silence," such seem to be the ideals of Tardieu.

Jean Tardieu attracted inventive directors but still does not seem to have reached the greater public which he deserves. The Grand Prix of the Académie Française in 1972, The Critics Prize in 1976, The National Grand Prix for Literature in 1993, Tardieu is venerated by he peers and unanimously recognized for his irreplaceable role in radio. Tardieu the man of theater awaits rediscovery. Let us hope that our show makes it possible for the general public to know is work.

Claude Beauclair (translation by Andrew Wallis)

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This page was first posted and last updated on October 23, 1999. © Marie-Magdeleine Chirol, 1999, except for the source photograph © Claude Beauclair and the translation by Andrew Wallis.
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