Fournet’s father was a flutist who gave him some instruction on the flute and music theory. Fournet was then trained at the Conservatoire de Paris in flute by Gaston Blanquart and Marcel Moyse, and conducting by Philippe Gaubert (himself a flutist). He performed on the flute at age fifteen with the Orchestra of the Théâtre des Arts in Rouen. He first established himself as a conductor in his native country conducting in Rouen 1936-1940, Marseilles 1940-1944, and then as director of the Paris Opéra-Comique 1944-1957. He was also a professor of conducting at the École Normale de Musique de Paris 1944-1962.
His debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra was in 1950. The Netherlands became Fournet’s second home. He became principal guest conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in Hilversum 1961-1968, where he also taught conducting. He married Miriam-Hannecart Jakes, an American who performed the Cor anglais with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra from 1977.
He served as music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra 1968-1973, and the newly created Orchestre National de l’Ile de France 1973-1982. He was the conductor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra 1983-1986 (he was given the title Honorary Conductor in 1989, and on his death in 2008 he was honored again with the title Permanent Honorary Conductor). His debut with the Lyric Opera of Chicago was in 1965 with a double bill of Carmina Burana and L'heure espagnole, and his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York was on March 28, 1987 where he conducted Samson et Dalila.
Fournet was also president of the jury of the Besançon International Conductor's Competition for many years.
He proved a welcome addition to opera companies in America, where the French style had become something of a lost art. Beyond stage work, he proved, both early and late, a persuasive interpreter of the French symphonic literature. He was known as a gentle perfectionist, rarely raising his voice in rehearsal. Jean Fournet's career extended over an extraordinarily long period. His final concert was conducted in January 2005, at age 91, with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. Following that concert he retired to his home in Weesp near Hilversum in the Netherlands.
- Arthur Honegger: Pacific 231, Rugby, Pastorale d`Eté recorded with The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (Jean Fournet)
- Camille Saint-Saëns: Samson et Dalila recorded with The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (Jean Fournet, Jon Vickers, Dominguez)
- Ernest Chausson: Symphony in B-flat Major, Op. 20; Gabriel Fauré: Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 80 recorded with The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (Jean Fournet)
- Paul Dukas: Orchestral Music: The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Fanfare for La Peri, La Péri, Symphony in C recorded with The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic (Jean Fournet)
- Georges Bizet: Les pêcheurs de perles recorded with Lamoureux Concert Association Orchestra, Pierrette Alarie, Léopold Simoneau, René Bianco, Xavier Depraz)
- French Orchestral Favorites: Claude Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; Maurice Ravel: La Valse; Jacques Ibert: Escales; Georges Bizet: L'Arlesienne Suites (excerpts) recorded with Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra (Jean Fournet)
- Hector Berlioz: Requiem, Op.5 Emile Passani Choir and Orchestra, Georges Jouatte-tenor 1943 Columbia SL-159 (1949)
- César Franck;Claude Debussy;Manuel de Falla: various works recorded with Czech Philharmonic, 1965 - 1967 Supraphon SU 4122-2 (2013)
- Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 2001.
- "Le chef d'orchestre Jean Fournet est mort" Le Figaro, May 11, 2008.
Franz Paul Decker
|Music Directors, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Edo de Waart