updated 4 June 2009
© © Pierre Gafner

Bernard Cavanna

French composer born 6 November 1951 in Nogent-sur-Marne.

Born in France in 1951, Bernard Cavanna decided early in life to devote his life to composing, a field in which he is largely self-taught. An intuitive and original creator, he was encouraged on his path by Henri Dutilleux, Paul Mefano, and Georges Aperghis, and strongly influenced by the music and thinking of the Romanian composer Aurèle Stroë. He was a resident at the Villa Médicis in Rome from 1985 to 1986.

Notable among the many pieces in his repertoire, which covers nearly all genres, are three concertos (Concerto pour violon, Double concerto pour violon et violoncelle, and Karl Koop Konzert) whose defining feature is that they each borrow an instrument from one of the composer’s most loved formations: a trio of violin, cello, and accordion. Cavanna’s attraction to conflict and oppositions – whose unexpected vigor at times mixes violence with pleasurable detail and refinement - is particularly well illustrated in these compositions, as well as in Messe, un jour ordinaire (1994). This piece, probably the most emblematic of his work, contrasts the traditional prayers of a Catholic mass, sung with force and grandiloquence, with the modest and tragic voice of Laurence (a young, lost, drug-addicted woman whose character is drawn from Jean-Michel Carré’s documentary Galères de femmes).

Other remarkable pieces include Io (1980/1981) for voice and eleven instruments, an opera titled La confession impudique (1987/1992) based on a novel by Junichiro Tanizaki, and Sept chants cruels (2001) for soprano and orchestra. Another work, Trois strophes sur le nom de Patrice Lumumba for solo viola, viola da gamba, two double basses, harp, and timpani, illustrates the “tight conjunction” – which may be seen as a legacy of Aurèle Stroë – between musical thinking and the encounters with sound images from which it comes.

Cavanna has received many commissions (including from the French Ministry of Culture, Radio France, the Festival d’Avignon, the Ensemble Intercontemporain and various national theaters), has been performed in renowned international film festivals (Musica, Avignon, Présence/Radio France, Marseille/GMEM, 38e Rugissants), and has received numerous awards and honors. Cavanna has also worked in theater (with Jean Gillibert, Antoine Vitez, Stuart Seide, Daniel Martin, and Michel Berretti), in dance (with Caroline Marcadé, Angelin Preljocaj, and Odile Duboc), and in film (with Pierre-Henry Salfaty and Alain Fleischer, with whom he collaborated for some twenty years).

In 2009, Bernard Cavanna worked on a piece titled musique faite exprès, based on A l’agité du bocal, a text by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, for three tenors and instrumental ensemble.

Aesthetically, the music of Bernard Cavanna stands out for its singular freedom from dogma and its constant inventiveness. The resulting eclecticism has brought Cavanna to incorporate a variety of unexpected encounters into his work, from popular music to the Romantic tradition to modern erudition.

Working with Laurence Pietrzak, Cavanna produced and directed a documentary on Aurèle Stroë (distributed Les Films d’Ici), which won several prizes, including a special mention from the jury in the international Classique en images competition organized by the Louvre Museum.

Bernard Cavanna has directed the École Nationale de Musique de Gennevilliers since 1987, and is on the board of directors of the 2e2m ensemble and the Théâtre du Plateau in Paris.

© Ircam-Centre Pompidou, 2009


  • Site du compositeur (voir ressources documentaires)


  • « La confession impudique / Entretien avec Bernard Cavanna – propos recueillis par Véronique Brindeau », dans Accents – la revue de l’Ensemble intercontemporain n° 29, 2006.


  • Bernard CAVANNA, Karl Koop Konzert ; Double concerto pour violon, violoncelle et orchestre ; Trois strophes sur le nom de Patrice Lumumba, Pascal Contet : accordéon, Noëmi Schindler : violon, Emmanuelle Bertrand : violoncelle, Hélène Desaint : alto, Orchestre National de Lille, direction : Peter Rundel, Grant Llewellyn, Ensemble 2e2m, direction : Pierre Roullier, 1 cd Aeon-Harmonia Mundi-MFA, 2011 [+ dvd « Le cours des choses » Portrait filmé par Delphine de Blic].
  • Bernard CAVANNA*,* Raphaël Reviens !…, Thierry Grégoire : contre-ténor, Vincent Billier, Laurent Bourdeaux : barytons, Olivier Dumait : ténor, Patricia Gonzales : soprano, et le trio Allers-retours : Noëmi Schindler : violon, Christophe Roy : violoncelle, Pascal Contet : accordéon, 1 Cd Soupir/Nocturne, 2005, n° S208-NT100 [Distribution Harmonia Mundi depuis avril 2009].
  • Bernard CAVANNA, Concerto pour violon, Chants cruels, dans « Bernard Cavanna – Concerto pour violon, Chants cruels », Noëmi Schindler : violon, Rayanne Dupuis : soprano, Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire, direction : Hubert Soudant, 1 Cd Soupir/Nocturne, 2001, n° S201-NT 094 [Distribution Harmonia Mundi depuis avril 2009].
  • Bernard CAVANNA*, Messe un jour ordinaire ; Trio avec accordéon n° 1, Fauve,* dans « Bernard Cavanna – Messe un jour ordinaire »*,* Trio Allers-Retours : Noëmi Schindler : violon, Christophe Roy : violoncelle, Pascal Contet : accordéon, 1 Cd MFA-Radio France/Harmonia Mundi, 1998, n° MFA 216125.


  • Le caillou dans la chaussure, réalisé par Delphine de Blic, editions de l’agité, Ars nova, Empreinte digitale, Films d’ici, 2016.
  • La peau sur la table. Un portrait de Bernard Cavanna, réalisé par Delphine de Blic, Les Films d’Ici, Le Fresnoy/Studio national des arts contemporains, 2010.
  • Cavanna, un jour ordinaire, réalisé par Isabelle Soulard, Morgane production, Mezzo, avec le soutien de France 2 et la participation du CNC et de la DMDTS, 1998.
  • Portrait sur le périphérique, réalisé par Alain Fleischer, la Muse en circuit, la Péniche Opéra, 1991.

Liens Internet

  • Bernard Cavanna (site personnel), http://www.bernardcavanna.com (lien vérifié en janvier 2011).
  • Musimediane, revue audiovisuelle et multimédia d’analyse musicale, Entretien avec Bernard Cavanna : présentation de ses transcriptions de lieder de Schubert (par Emmanuelle Tat), http://www.musimediane.com/ (lien vérifié en janvier 2011).