He was a composer born in Basel,
Switzerland as the
son of a confectioner. The
family moved to Bulle in 1913 when his father got
a job in Broc and after two years there Jean
began to play the violin.
In 1919 he began taking lessons in trombone alongside
the violin and studied with Raphael Radraux. That same year he wrote his first
composition for solo violin entitled “Souvenir des Montagnes de la Gruyere”.
Although wanting to concentrate completely on a career
in music, in 1924 he entered a school of commerce under the insistence of
his father who wanted him to have a business education. He graduated with a diploma in 1927
and immediately entered military service where he became a trumpeter
After his service was complete he entered the Paris
Conservatoire to study counterpoint, composition, conducting, chamber music
and Gregorian singing with his teachers including Charles Koechlin, Jean de Valois and
Vincent D’Indy. Because his family did not help
finance his studies he took on a job as a musician for a silent movie
theatre but had to look for other options around 1931 with the introduction
After he left his job at the movie theatre he obtained
the position of trombonist and violinist for the orchestra at Folies Bergeres and the
Casino de Paris and in 1932 took on the job as a correspondent at La Liberte
newspaper where he used the pseudonym Jean Devilliers. He remained with the newspaper until
In 1933 he returned to Switzerland
for a few months and got married to Augusta Celina Folly, who he always
Still undertaking his studies at the Paris
Conservatoire it became apparent that the school was beginning to
experience financial problems and caused many of Jean’s professors to
leave and form the Cesar Franck
School. Deciding to stick with the teachers
he knew, he followed them and began to study there in 1935. He received his diplomas in
composition, conducting, fugue and Gregorian singing in 1937 and that same
year composed his “Missa Solemnis ad Honorem et memorium Sti. Gregorii Magni”.
In 1938 he held the position of the director of the
Cesar Franck School Orchestra by as war was becoming more imminent he
returned to Switzerland
where he became the conductor of the band La Gerondine
in Sierre after answering an advertisement in a
music journal. The following year he as asked to compose an official march
for 50th anniversary of the Music Society in Chalais
and the resultant “Marignan” was the
music he became recognised and remembered for much of his career even
though he wrote many other compositions.
In 1941 he wrote his Alpine Symphony and a year later
he became the director of the Ste. Cecile mixed chorus at Ste
Catherine’s parish. 1943
saw him beginning work with Radio-Lausanne and composing many works for
them and in 1946 he became acquainted with Roland Muller who was a
film-maker. After teaming up
with him and the lyricist/librettist Aloys Theytaz, Jean composed many of the pieces for the films
which depicted life in Sierre.
In 1947 he was recognised for his music when he was a
winner at the Rhodanian Music Awards and he then
decided to establish the Rhone en Valeis music festival and La Chanson du Rhone which he toured with and wrote more then 300
songs for with his friend Leon Monnier. Just two years later in 1949 he
founded the Sion Conservatory of Music.
Going into the 1950s he arranged “Tiger
Rag” which was performed by La Gerondine at
the Festival of Saxon in 1952 and with La Gerondine
going on to receive honours in the National Music Festival in 1953 for
their performance of Jean’s transcription of Mussorgsky’s
“One Night on Bald Mountain”.
Having continued his work with Roland Muller they
received the “best colour movie” award for their Terre Valaisanne
at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.
A year later they won the “best documentary” award for
their White Horizons and in 1960
their movie The Barrier won the Grand Prix Award and President of the
Busy as always during the 1960s he was the founder of
the Zacheos in 1962, which concentrates on the
folklore of Valais, and in 1963 he wrote
“Cantata” which was used for the centenary of the Red Cross
When 1970 came along he was requested to write a
Concerto for Alphorn by the horn player Jozsef
Molnar, this led to Jean writing in the region of 20 other works for the
alpenhorn. He also wrote his
“Mass of Valais” for mixed and
children’s chorus which was dedicated to the President’s son at
Ste. Cecile and in 1972 composed his “Requiem pour le Temps Atomiques” in remembrance of WWII after visiting Auschwitz. Awarded for his contribution to his
local area he was awarded the title Bourgeois d’honneur
of Sierre in 1973.
On his 70th birthday in 1977 there were many
testimonials written about him and later in the year he was commissioned to
write a concert for Radio Romande followed by
International Switzerlan Radio asking him to
write the Christmas play Noel Valaisan.
In 1978 he went to the USA
and found success there when Eugene Ormandy
conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra for his “Concerto for
Alphorn”. On his return to Switzerland he retired after 40 years as
the director of La Gerondine” and two years
after that in 1981 he retired after 39 years of directorship at Ste Cecile.
He was honoured several times again with the Bourgeois
d’honneur of Heremence
and in 1991 Sierre renamed the steps leading up
to the Villa Beau-Soleil, which had been his home
since 1942, the “Escaliers Jean Daetwyler”.
In 1992 he conducted Chanson du
Rhone for the last time after having led it for 45 years. There was later a video of filmed
portraits of him.
On the 29th
May 1994 he suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and was taken to
the hospital in Sierre. He remained unconscious and passed
away on the 4th June when he was 87 years old. Five years after his death Jean Daetwyler Gallery was opened in his honour.
Chanson du Rhone
Noel Valaisan: The Angels/The Kings/The
Bells (Jean Daetwyler)
Musica Helvetica CD 69.2 (CD: Christmas in Switzerland)