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Claude Arrieu was a classically trained musician from an early age. She became particularly interested in works by Bach and Mozart, and later, Igor Stravinsky. However, Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy, and Maurice Ravel provided her the most inspiration.
Dreaming of a career as a virtuoso, she entered the Conservatoire de Paris in 1924. She became a piano student of Marguerite Long and took classes from Georges Caussade, Noël Gallon, Jean Roger-Ducasse and Paul Dukas. In 1932, she received first prize for composition.
From this point on, she developed her personal style. She was particularly interested in the evolution of musical language and various technical means available. In 1935, she joined the French Radio Broadcasting Program Service (« Service des programmes de la Radiodiffusion française »), where she was employed to 1947. She participated in the development of a wide range of programming, including Pierre Schaeffer’s experimental radio series, La Coquille à planètes (1943–1944). In 1949, she won the Prix Italia of the RAI for her score Frédéric Général.
She wrote music in all styles, composing works of "pure music" as well as music for theatre, film, radio, and music hall, contributing her own voice to every situation, dramatic or comic, with a particular taste for rhythm and imagery. Her musical gift is typified by its ease of flow and elegance of structure. Vivacity, clarity of expression, and a natural feel for melody are her hallmarks.
Arrieu composed concertos for piano (1932), two pianos (1934), two concertos for violin (1938 and 1949), for flute (1946), trumpet and strings (1965). She also wrote Petite suite en cinq parties (1945), "Concerto for wind quintet and strings" (1962), Suite funambulesque ("Tightrope Walker's Suite") (1961), and "Variations for classical strings" (1970).
Among her important chamber music compositions are her "Trio for Woodwinds" (1936), "Sonatina for Two Violins" (1937), and "Clarinet Quartet" (1964). Her "Sonatine for flute and piano" made a big impression at its first radio performance in 1944 by Jean-Pierre Rampal and H. Moyens.
Although Arrieu’s instrumental works strongly contributed to her legacy, it is vocal music that most markedly distinguish her career. Voice inspired her to set many poems to music, including those by Joachim du Bellay, Louise Levêque de Vilmorin, Louis Aragon, Jean Cocteau, Jean Tardieu, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Éluard. Examples include Chansons Bas for voice and piano based on poems by Mallarmé (1937); Candide, radio music on texts by Jean Tardieu based on Voltaire; and À la Libération, cantata of seven poems on love in war, on poems by Paul Éluard
Her first opéra bouffe, Cadet Roussel with a libretto by André de la Tourasse after Jean Limozin, was presented at the Opéra de Marseille on 2 October 1953. In 1960, La princesse de Babylone ("Princess of Babylon"), an opéra bouffe after the work of Voltaire adapted by Pierre Dominica, was praised for its lyrical originality and spectacle.
Pierre Schaeffer writes: "Claude Arrieu is part of her time by virtue of a presence, an instinct of efficiency, a bold fidelity. Whatever the means, concertos or songs, music for official events, concerts for the elite or for a crowd of spectators, she delivered emotion through an impeccable technique and a spiritual vigilance, finding the path to the heart."
Selected works for stage and broadcast
- Noé, 1931–1934 (imagerie musicale, 3 acts, A. Obey), f.p. Strasbourg Opéra, 29 January 1950
- Cadet Roussel, 1938–1939 (opéra bouffe, 5 acts, André de la Tourasse after Jean Limozin), f.p. Marseilles, Opéra, 2 October 1953
- La Coquille à planètes (opéra radiophonique, Pierre Schaeffer), RTF (Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française), 1944
- Le deux rendez-vous, 1948 (opéra comique, P. Bertin after G. de Nerval), RTF, 22 June 1951
- Le chapeau à musique (opéra enfantine, 2 acts, Tourasse and P. Dumaine), RTF, 1953
- La princesse de Babylone, 1953–1955 (opéra bouffe, 3 acts, P. Dominique, after Voltaire), Rheims, Opéra, 3 March 1960
- La cabine téléphonique (opéra bouffe, 1 act, M. Vaucaire), RTF, 15 March 1959
- Quintette en Ut, pour flute, hautbois, clarinette, cor et basson (1955) 
- Cymbeline, 1958–1963 (2 acts, J. Tournier and M. Jacquemont, after Shakespeare), ORTF, 31 March 1974
- Balthazar, ou Le mort–vivant, 1966 (opéra bouffe, 1 act, Dominique), Unperformed
- Un clavier pour un autre (opéra bouffe, 1 act, J. Tardieu), Avignon, Opéra, 3 April 1971
- Barbarine, 1972 (3 acts, after A. de Musset), incomplete
- Les amours de Don Perlimpin et Belise en son jardin (imaginaire lyrique, 4 tableaux, after F. Garcia Lorca), Tours, Grand Théâtre, 1 March 1980
- Sadie, Stanley (Ed.)  (1994). The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, vol. 1, A-D, chpt: "Arrieu, Claude" by Richard Langham Smith, New York: MacMillan. ISBN 0-935859-92-6.
- IMDb: Claude Arrieu - Filmography
- Fr.Wikipedia: Claude Arrieu