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Léo Ferré in 1991
24 August 1916|
|Died||14 July 1993
Castellina in Chianti, Italy
|Labels||Le Chant du Monde
La Mémoire et la Mer
Léo Ferré (24 August 1916 – 14 July 1993) was a Monegasque French poet and composer, and a dynamic and controversial live performer, whose career in France dominated the years after the Second World War until his death. He released some forty albums over this period, composing the music and the majority of the lyrics. He released many hit singles, particularly between 1960 and the mid-seventies. Some of his songs have become classics of the French chanson repertoire, including "Avec le temps", "C’est extra", "Jolie Môme" or "Paris canaille".
Along with Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens, he is considered one of the greatest French-language singer-songwriters of all time, but unlike Brel and Gainsbourg, or even Charles Aznavour, his songs are little known in the English-speaking world. Ferré also gained a large following as an anarchist, and is often seen as the archetypal French protest singer.
Ferré’s songwriting was famously incisive and attuned to the issues of the day, but also poetic. He mixed revolt with love and melancholy, sophisticated lyricism with slang and shouts, and rhyming verse with prose monologues. He moved from music-hall to symphonic music and spoken word, breaking free from traditional song structure, inventing his own dramatic and innovative musical territory. He also popularized the French poètes maudits, such as François Villon, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud, as well as acclaimed French poets from the 20th century such as Guillaume Apollinaire and Louis Aragon, by setting many of their poems to music.
Life and career
Léo Ferré had an early interest in music. At the age of seven, he joined the choir of the Monaco Cathedral and discovered polyphony through singing pieces by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Tomás Luis de Victoria. His uncle, former violinist and secretary at the Casino, used to bring him to performances and rehearsals at the Monte Carlo Opera. Léo Ferré listened to such musicians as bass singer Feodor Chaliapin, discovered Beethoven under the baton of Arturo Toscanini (Coriolanus), was deeply moved by the Fifth Symphony. But it is the sweet presence of composer Maurice Ravel during L'Enfant et les Sortilèges rehearsals that impressed him the most.
At nine years of age he entered at Saint-Charles College of Bordighera, run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Italy. He remained there for eight long years of severe discipline and boredom. He wrote about this lonely and caged childhood in an autofiction (Benoît Misère, 1970). There he deepened his musical knowledge and played the cornet in the college's wind ensemble. At 14, he composed a three-voice mass and a melody on the poem "Soleils couchants" ("Sunsets") by Paul Verlaine.
Back in Monaco to prepare his degree, he became a freelance music critic for Le Petit Niçois newspaper, which allowed him to approach prestigious conductors such as Antal Dorati and Dimitri Mitropoulos. At that time he enthusiastically discovered Daphnis et Chloé and Piano Concerto for the Left Hand by Ravel, under the baton of Paul Paray, and Boléro and Pavane pour une infante défunte, conducted by the composer himself.
He graduated from high school at Monaco, but his father did not let him attend the Conservatory of Music.
In 1935, he came to Paris to study law. Not interested at all in political and social euphoria around him (huge electoral winning of the Popular Front, an alliance of left-wing movements, general strike (more than 1,5 million workers) in May–June 1936, resulting in the negotiation of the Matignon agreements, one of the cornerstone of social rights in France), he perfected his piano technique by himself and read a lot. After graduating from Sciences Po (École Libre des Sciences Politiques at that time), he returned to Monaco in 1939 before being mobilized the following year. During World War II he was assigned to the infantry and led a group of Algerian "tirailleurs". His vocation as a composer got stronger after his demobilization. In 1940, for his sister's wedding, he wrote an "Ave Maria" for voice, organ and cello.
He went on stage for the first time on 26 February 1941, at the Théâtre des Beaux-Arts of Monte-Carlo, under the pseudonym Forlane (after Italian furlana folk dance's name). His first personal texts probably date from this year. At the end of a Charles Trénet show in Montpellier, he met the star, who listened to three of his songs and advised him not to sing himself and simply write for others.
Struggling debuts in Paris
At the end of the summer of 1946, Ferré moved to Paris. He immediately got a three-month appointment with the cabaret Le Boeuf sur le Toit, where he accompanied himself (and sometimes other singers) on the piano. He befriended comedian and writer Jean-Roger Caussimon, after he asked him if he could set his poem "À la Seine" to music. Caussimon became his favourite lyricist and together they made several songs especially liked by the audience, such as "Monsieur William" (1950), "Le Temps du Tango" (1958) or "Comme à Ostende" (1960) and "Ne Chantez pas la Mort" (1972).
In April 1947, Ferré agreed to tour in Martinique, which turned out to be disastrous. Completely broke, he was unable to return for six months. By then, he had been forgotten by everybody in the city and had to start from scratch. This period was psychologically and financially difficult for him. For seven years he had to settle for random and episodic commitments in the "song cellars": Les Assassins, Les Trois Mailletz, Le Café de l'Écluse, Le Trou, le Quod Libet, or Milord I'Arsouille, the last three being successively directed by his friend Francis Claude, with whom he co-wrote several songs, including the famous "La Vie d'artiste" (1950), echoing his recent break up with Odette.
His career slowly got off the ground, his songs being performed by such singers as Renée Lebas, Édith Piaf, Henri Salvador, Yvette Giraud and Les Frères Jacques. But it was in the singer Catherine Sauvage that he found his most loyal, passionate and persuasive ambassador.
During this period he got in touch with exiled Spanish anarchists. This fed his romantic imagination about Spain (inspiring such songs as "Le Bateau Espagnol" and "Flamenco de Paris") and his hatred of Franco (he wrote in 1964 "Franco la muerte", a highly offensive song against the dictator, only sung in Spain after Franco's death in 1975).
Ferré's meeting in 1950 with Madeleine Rabereau gave new impetus to his life and career. He made her his muse and it affected some artistic choices (staging and organization of singing tours, essentially). That year he recorded at least 14 songs, accompanying himself on the piano, for the label Le Chant du Monde, with whom he signed a three-year contract. Most of these songs were released as 78s.
Ferré also wrote and composed a radio drama entitled De Sac et de Cordes, broadcast in 1951. He gave the narrator's part to the famous comedian Jean Gabin and blended together his songs with some orchestral music of his own, which gave him the opportunity to conduct for the first time a symphony orchestra and a choir, those of the Radiodiffusion Française (French Radio Broadcasting).
From the end of 1947 Ferré produced and hosted on Paris Inter station several cycles of programs devoted to classical music. In Musique Byzantine (1953–54), he expanded his topics on aesthetics, such as tonality necessity, exotic melody, opera (the "song of rich people"), boredom, originality or "marshmallow music", and asserted with controversial sharpness his anti-modern ideas, mocking at the same time musical enslavement by the new music industry and the intellectualist decay embodied in his point of view by the avant-garde praise for new techniques and processes, especially within the booming serialism. A subsequent radio project on instruments did not materialize, and Ferré stopped working at the station.
In 1952, in order to submit Verdi examination at La Scala in Milan, he wrote the libretto and music of an opera called La Vie d'artiste (same title as the song). It transposed his past years' experience ito a kind of a black comedy but Ferré did not seem to like it much, finally abandoning it for other projects.
Early 1953, after having been rejected by Yves Montand, his song "Paris Canaille" (written and composed by Ferré but sung by Catherine Sauvage), became a major hit. Professional and financial difficulties suddenly ended. Many performers who ignored him until then came to him now he had shown his strangeness could be bankable. Instead of writing right down another popular song in that up-tempo joyful style, he devoted himself to compose a dream-like oratorio on La Chanson du mal-aimé (The Song of the Poorly-Loved), a long poem by Guillaume Apollinaire about the visionnary wandering of a sad lover who can't forget the woman he loved and lost. Ferré turned the monologue into four singing parts, each one for a different voice type. The piece was created under the baton of the composer in 1954 at the Monte-Carlo Opera. After several unsuccessful attempts to bring it to the stage in Paris, Ferré would record an album in 1957 with French Radio Broadcasting orchestra.
From 1953 to 1958 Ferré was under contract with Odeon label. His first album contained such classics as "Mr. William", "Le Pont Mirabeau" (poem by Apollinaire), "La Chambre" and "Paris canaille". Since then, his fame grew slowly with such successes as "Le Piano du pauvre", "L'Homme" ("The Heel", immediately sung by Eartha Kitt, and later by Marc Almond), "Le Guinche" or "Pauvre Rutebeuf" (a 13th-century French poem, modernized by Ferré, later sung by Joan Baez). As well as nightclubs in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, he began to sing in larger venues such as l'Olympia (opening act of Josephine Baker in 1954, featured act in March 1955) or Bobino music-hall theatre (featured act in January 1958). During these years Ferré met musicians who would become his friends and, together or individually, accompany him for a while on stage or for recording sessions: guitarist Barthélémy Rosso, accordionist Jean Cardon, pianist and arranger Jean-Michel Defaye and blind virtuoso pianist Paul Castanier.
In 1956, the surrealists André Breton and Benjamin Péret publicly hailed his poetic talents. Ferré and Breton became very good friends until Ferré asked him to write the preface to Poète... vos papiers ! (Poet... your documents!), his first book of poetry published. Breton did not like the content and refused. Ferré wrote a preface himself, in which he attacked surrealists' automatism writing which was in his view a way to hide lack of talent. He also criticized contemporary regimentation of collective abstraction in the arts, which turned out to be a new aesthetics academicism. Ferré asserted poetry was not meant to stay inside books but had to go outside, in real everyday life, meaning into people's ears, through the powerful vehicle of music. Poetry was meant to be listened to. Surrealists remaining faithful to Breton killed the singer-songwriter off in their literrary magazine, and the two men never talked to each other again. Later, Ferré would work with poet Louis Aragon, past friend of Breton, excommunicated by him as well.
The same year Ferré wrote and composed La Nuit (The Night), a ballet with sung sections commissioned by choreographer Roland Petit. It was a violent flop and Ferré abandoned for many years his musical ambitions in favor of writing.
In 1957, Léo Ferré was the first singer to devote an entire LP to a poet, using Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal first publication century celebration as a starting point for what he called his "poetic crusade", a will to shatter distinctions between poetry and song and to counteract the poor lyricists of his time. After Baudelaire he set many poems into music from Louis Aragon in 1958, Paul Verlaine in 1959, then from Arthur Rimbaud between 1961 and 1963. This intensive work led him logically to devote an entire recital to the poètes maudits and others in 1966.
In 1959, Ferré acquired the island of his dreams, near Saint-Malo in Brittany. This was the beginning of a passionate love for the Atlantic Ocean, which inspired many songs and the long poem Guesclin (1962), subsequently entitled La Mémoire et la Mer (Memory and the Sea).
In 1960, Léo Ferré joined prosperous Eddie Barclay's label. He used this new exposure to vituperate society, the rise of consumerism, militarism and French Army torture (during the Algerian War of Independence), authoritarian power of Charles de Gaulle, stuffy bourgeoisie.... This outspokenness was regularly banned from the radio, but eventually reached a larger audience since Ferré, backed by favorites such as "Paname", "Jolie môme" (1960), and to a lesser extent "L'Affiche rouge" ("The Red Poster") (1961), finally received critical and public acclaim in his triumphant performance at the Alhambra-Maurice Chevalier theater in 1961. In that wake, his concept-album Les Chansons d'Aragon, dedicated to Louis Aragon's poems was a landmark, and would rapidly become an evergreen classic in French song culture.
From 1960 to 1970, Ferré worked with arranger Jean-Michel Defaye, whose classical skills and taste accorded well with Ferré's musical sensivity. They maintained a steady pace of creation, realizing almost an album a year, sometimes more. This artistic output, including the way Ferré would write for symphonic orchestras after 1970, would have an influence in the English-speaking world over such singer-songwriters as Scott Walker, Martin Newell or Benjamin Clementine.
Ferré used to sing each year in a major Parisian music-hall theater for two to six weeks, continuing to say out loud what some thought to themselves and others found outrageous. He occasionally toured in country towns or in other countries (Belgium excepted), and he went to Canada for the first time in 1963. He would return there regularly until the end of his life. He was not invited much on television and voluntarily stayed aside from show-business world.
From 1963 to 1968, he lived surrounded by many animals in a 16th-century castle, named Pechrigal, in the department of Lot. He wrote a lot, without trying to publish anything; songs, short essays and long poems in a wide range of stylistics. He devoted himself to deepening his passion for typography, by installing professional equipment and publishing himself his wife's diary, that depicted their life. During this period, Léo Ferré had developed a very special relationship with a chimpanzee named Pépée, but he failed to act with her as his master and the monkey became increasingly unlivable, angry, destructive. This isolated the couple, whose relationship deteriorated.
In 1967, Barclay executives censored the song "À une chanteuse morte" ("To a Dead Singer"), dedicated to Édith Piaf's memory and criticizing those who wanted to make money with her name (especially Mireille Mathieu's manager). Ferré sued his label, but lost. The same year, he devoted a double album to Charles Baudelaire, for the poet's death centenary.
In March 1968, Ferré did not return at home after a gig, taking back his freedom, despite threats from his wife. In his absence, Pépée suffered a fall and refused to be approached. Eventually, Madeleine asked a hunter neighbour to put the chimpanzee out of its misery by shooting it (and several other animals, who were not suffering from anything). Ferré's requiem for the primate would be his eponymous song "Pépée". The singer blamed his wife for Pépée's death and they would divorce after endless procedures.
After he had mocked French youth ("Épique époque" ["Epic Epoch"] in 1964, "Le Palladium" and "Les Romantiques" ["Romantics"] in 1966), and he had reviled in the same time population inaction and submission in a right-minded France ("Ils ont voté" ["They voted"], "La Grève" ["The Strike"], 1967), Ferré finally put his last hopes for change into youth ("Salut, beatnik!" ["Hi, beatnik!"], 1967). On May 10, first night of the barricades in the Latin Quarter of Paris, he sang at the Mutualité for the French Anarchist Federation, as he used to every year since 1948. He performed that night for the first time the song "Les Anarchistes" ("Anarchists"), which would become a kind of an hymn for his young audience. Then he went straight back to the South of France to meet his new companion, taking no part in any of the protests of May.
During summer '68 Léo Ferré set to music several poems from his book Poète... vos papiers ! (1956). Critics praised these new songs, released on such albums as L'Été 68 and Amour Anarchie, as a veritable renewal of his inspiration, neglecting the fact that these texts had been mostly written in the early 1950s.
In 1969, Ferré settled in Tuscany, in Italy. The huge success of "C'est extra", an erotic ballad, greatly expanded his audience, especially among the French youth, who recognized in the poet the "prophet" of his own rebellion. Backed by this new energy, Ferré began to smash traditional song structures to explore spoken word and long monologues. With a very precise work on the voice (rhythm, speech) and a rhetorical writing derived from the prose of poet Arthur Rimbaud, Ferré ritualized his speaking in an incantatory and dramatic fashion, which aimed to blow the audience away and make share his anarchist views on society. You can hear it on the such songs as "Le Chien", "La Violence et l'Ennui", "Le Conditionnel de variétés", "Préface", "Il n'y a plus rien".
After he had sung in Canada, Ferré, who was interested in rock music, briefly went to New York in order to find the right sound for his "new language", used in his insurrectionary poem "Le Chien". Initially, a studio session was intended with Jimi Hendrix, who cancelled, being ill. Ferré recorded with John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham, guitarist and drummer of Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Miroslav Vitous, bassist of Weather Report. For some reason, Ferré didn't use this version and re-recorded the track with Zoo, a young French band signed on the same record label. His interest in rock music last two albums (Amour Anarchie, La Solitude) before he went to his own musical inner territory: symphonic songs.
In 1970 his record label dismissed the song "Avec le temps" from the double LP Amour Anarchie. It was released as a 45. This tragic and beautifully sad love song, inspired by his own disenchantment, would become an instant classic, his best-known song, becoming with years the most constantly covered French song worldwide. The same year he published Benoît Misère, an autobiographical novel on his childhood. He jumped on the opportunity movie director Jean-Pierre Mocky gave him to bring his orchestral dreams to life, by asking him to compose the music for his movie L'Albatros. Ferré wrote 40 minutes of symphonic music but collaboration went wrong and Mocky only used five minutes of the score. The following year, Ferré took back this material to create "Ton style" ("Your style is your arse!") and "Tu ne dis jamais rien" ("You don't say a word"), two surrealistic love songs. Willing to prove to everyone his musicianship, Ferré decided to re-record with better technical conditions his 1950's oratorio La Chanson du mal-aimé, on Guillaume Apollinaire's poem. This time he did not use opera singers but recited and sung the poem all alone. He also directed the orchestra and modified a little his lush, epic and sweeping orchestration.
After being idolized by many young people, Ferré suffered from 1971 to 1974 virulent protests from a boisterous minority of his audience, so-called leftist, who regularly disrupted concerts. These "mess" would lead Ferré to hesitate about whether to go on touring or not. Very active during these years, he toured intensely in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Lebanon, Algeria, also performed many galas to help striking workers, or in favor of activists against death penalty, against which he had already released the song "Ni Dieu ni maître" ("Neither God nor master") in 1965, considered as one of his classics, and against which he would write "La Mort des loups" ("The Death of the Wolves") in 1975.
In 1973 he released two very dark albums: the symphonic, and epic Il n'y a plus rien (There is nothing anymore) that deals with May 68 utopia disappointment, and the minimalist Et… basta !, wherein Ferré looks back in one uninterrupted prose monologue on his private and public life, past and recent scars, failures, friends' disloyalties, love disillusion. The leaving of his blind pianist Paul Castanier, long-time companion, as well as the separation in 1974 from Barclay Records after growing discord, would lead Ferré to focus primarily on composition and symphonic orchestra conducting.
In 1973, he met classical pianist Dag Achatz in classical music festival organized in Vence by his friend violinist Ivry Gitlis. Together they recorded the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand by Maurice Ravel (released in Ferré muet..., his only one instrumental album) and they performed La Chanson du mal-aimé and new songs during five weeks at the Opéra-Comique, in Paris. This was a great public success, despite a misunderstanding and an almost unanimous critical rejection.
In 1975 Ferré conducted successively Orchestra of the Institut des Hautes Études Musicales in Montreux, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège, and the Pasdeloup Orchestra at the Palais des congrès de Paris. It was a perilous challenge for Ferré, who conducted the orchestra and sung at the same time. He mixed Ravel and Beethoven with his own compositions and reversed the placement of the orchestra. 140 musicians and choir singers were on stage. This was an unprecedented performance, breaking free from conventions and blending separated worlds. Concerts were sold out for five weeks, but critics from the classical music field rejected this hybrid show. Ferré was deeply hurt and despite many attempts he would experience great difficulty to set again this kind of show.
From 1976 to 1979 he toured less. He left a bit his violently declamatory expression of revolt to avoid being locked into a role and to celebrate the spiritual forces he had inside him, love and wisdom. His next bunch of albums is still fleshy and lyrical, but with much more serenity: Je te donne (I give to you, 1976), La Frime (The Swank, 1977) and Il est six heures ici et midi à New York (It is six o'clock here and noon in New York, 1979). Each one of them could have offered twice titles as Ferré had accumulated a lot of poems and was composing incessantly. For example, during the year 1977 Ferré recorded two studio albums, and then the demo versions of a third album devoted to the poet Charles Baudelaire (never released, published in 2008) and the demo of Je parle à n'importe qui (I talk to anyone), an illuminated monologue combining prose and free verses that can be considered as the direct continuation of Et... basta ! Ferré always worked on more projects that he would be able to formalize.
In 1976, Ferré signed with CBS Records International. From this date until the end of his career the majority of his recordings would be made with the Milan-based RAI National Symphony Orchestra under his conducting. CBS soon dropped Ferré, whose commercial potential was estimated too low (his new aesthetics of symphonic down-tempo being against the current of all musical trends, it was complicated now to put the artist on radio and reduced the possibility of a hit). Being dropped by the "professionals", disgusted for good with being "a merchandise for producers", Ferré decided in 1979 to become his own producer, renting studio, orchestra and technicians at his own expense, which would lead him to a kind of "never-ending tour", in order to pay the price for being free to make his own albums.
In 1980, he published a new book, called Testament phonographe. It was half poetry collection, half songbook (making available lyrics of his songs recorded between 1962 and 1980). The book sold well before the publisher went bankrupt, without paying a penny to the artist. That same year La Violence et l'Ennui (Violence and Boredom) was published, in which Ferré moved away from all-symphonic and choirs orchestrations, returned to piano and inaugurated a new research for contrast he would explore during the 1980s.
In 1982, Ferré collaborated with Catalan guitarist Toti Soler, recorded and released the triple LP Ludwig - L'Imaginaire - Le Bateau ivre, often considered as one of the pinnacles of his discography. The following year he reworked La Nuit (The Night), his lyrical ballet from 1956, resulting in an abundant masterpiece, offering a wide range of poetic and musical styles; it would be the epic quadruple LP L'Opéra du pauvre (Poor's opera), to which he added Le Chant du hibou (Song of the owl), a long and peaceful instrumental ballad for violin and orchestra. Also in 1983, he gave a concert for the benefit of Radio Libertaire, then threatened with banishment by the French state, and wrote satirical dialogue in the play L'Opéra des rats (Opera of the Rats), an hymn to melting pot and underclass dignity. The play would be staged by actor-playwright Richard Martin in Marseille that year and in 1996.
This hard work did not prevent him going on the road again, performing in front of larger and larger audiences, whose constant renewal was his pride (as he was often mocked by journalists about his age). During the 1980s the relationship between Ferré and his audience dropped the early '70s hysterious idolization and moved toward more complicity. However, shows were still confrontational and lasted about three hours, wherein the poet criticized Margaret Thatcher, Leonid Brezhnev, Pierre Boulez and "subsidized dodecaphony composers", Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. He didn't hesitate to mock and deconstruct some of his iconic songs, as you can see in his recorded recital at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in April 1984. That same year, he conducted the Lorient Symphonic Orchestra during seven atypical concerts, where all songs and pieces were connected to each other by the recitation of his long surrealistic poetic masterpiece Métamec (Metadude). He closed the year by giving three performances of his oratorio La Chanson du mal-aimé with the Orchestre symphonique et lyrique de Nancy.
He spent winter 1984-85 working on Les Loubards (The Thugs), an album dedicated to new texts by his old friend Jean-Roger Caussimon. The same year he conducted the City of Barcelona Orchestra, including Toti Soler, and the Orchestre Métropolitain in Montreal.
In February 1986, ever loyal to anarchists, Ferré helped to launch the Libertarian Paris Theatre (now Théâtre Déjazet) with a six-week recital devoted again exclusively to poets, he had not ceased to set into music (in the '80s especially Arthur Rimbaud and Guillaume Apollinaire). The theatre would be his "new home" for each of his next major events in Paris, in 1988 and 1990.
In the meantime, Ferré refused to accept French song prizes. He also refused the proposal to enter the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (at the highest grade) and to support President of France François Mitterrand in his reelection campaign in exchange for leading and conducting of a first-class symphonic orchestra. He refused being guest of honor in the Victoires de la musique (Music's Victories), annual French award ceremony recognizing the best musical artists of the year (the music equivalent to the American Emmy Awards for television, the Tony Awards for stage performances, or the Academy Awards for motion pictures). Ferré used to say: "The only honor for an artist is not getting any".
In 1987, Ferré began a "marathon tour" in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Canada and even Japan, where he was warmly praised by the audience. He participated in several French festivals, where other singers publicly paid tribute to him. Same year was released the double LP On n'est pas sérieux quand on a dix-sept ans (You're not serious when you are seventeen), a combination of pieces from all his countless unfinished projects underway. The French audience now welcomed him on stage more and more by a fraternal standing ovation. From 1990 until the end, Ferré ended all his recitals with "Avec le temps", his emblematic song about oblivion and ephemeral human experience of life, love and fragility, asking the audience not to applaud, letting him heartrendingly disappear into the silence and darkness behind the stage, with no curtain call.
The last years
In 1991, for the centenary of Arthur Rimbaud's death, Ferré chose to record an old demo he had made during the 1960s of Une saison en enfer (A Season in Hell), alone at the piano. He conducted classical musicians for the last time with the National Orchestra of Lorraine. Hospitalized in late 1992, he had to cancel all his future concerts. He founded the music publishing label La Mémoire et la Mer in order to protect his rights to the catalog he had produced and to ensure future use of his work. His last public appearance was at the Fête de l'Humanité (Festival of Humanity), a huge event organised annually by the French Communist newspaper L'Humanité, where he sang in front of thousands of people Louis Aragon's poem "Est-ce ainsi que les hommes vivent?" ("Is this the way men live?") and, a last provocation, his song "The Anarchists".
- 1955: Récital Léo Ferré à l'Olympia
- 1958: Léo Ferré à Bobino
- 1961: Récital Léo Ferré à l'Alhambra
- 1963: Flash ! Alhambra - A.B.C.
- 1969: Récital 1969 en public à Bobino (2×LP)
- 1973: Seul en scène (Olympia 72) (2×LP)
- 1984: Léo Ferré au Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (3×LP)
- 1988: Léo Ferré en public au TLP Déjazet
- 1993: Alors, Léo... (live at the TLP Déjazet 1990, 2xCD)
- 2000: Métamec (unreleased album demo tapes)
- 2000: Le Temps des roses rouges (78s songs from 1950)
- 2001: Sur la scène... (live at Lausanne 1973, 2×CD)
- 2001: Un chien à Montreux (live at Montreux 1973, maxi CD)
- 2003: Les Chansons interdites… et autres (songs from 1961)
- 2004: De sac et de cordes (radio drama from 1951)
- 2004: Maudits soient-ils ! (Verlaine et Rimbaud album demo tapes, 2×CD)
- 2006: La Mauvaise Graine (radio sessions & interview from 1959)
- 2008: Les Fleurs du mal (suite et fin) (unreleased album demo tapes)
Boxed sets, compilations, and rarities
- 1998: La Vie d'artiste: les années Le Chant du Monde 1947-1953 (2×CD)
- 2003: Les Années toscanes (1975–91)
- 2006: Léo Ferré au Théâtre libertaire de Paris (1986, 1988, 1990) (Live box set)
- 2013: Léo Ferré Best of (1960-1974) (2×CD)
- 2013: L'Indigné (20xCD)
- Vassal, Jacques (2013). Léo Ferré, la voix sans maître. Paris: Le Cherche midi. p. 17. ISBN 978-2-7491-2833-7.
- Interview with Michel Lancelot, La Mémoire courte (Europe 1), 1969.
- Léo Ferré, "La musique souvent me prend... comme l'amour", La Mémoire et la mer, 1999, p. 91.
- Quentin Dupont, "Vous savez qui je suis, maintenant?", La Mémoire et la mer, 2003, p. 421.
- The song "L'Amour" ("Love") was published by Péret in his Anthologie de l'amour sublime and by Breton, with the sheet music, in his literary magazine Le Surréalisme même.
- Young, Rob (2013). Scott: The Collection 1967-1970, Universal.
- Newell's musician Louis Philippe says on his website they went for the Léo Ferré treatment in the string arrangements of a song such as "Arcadian Boys", from The Off-White Album (1995), since Ferré is one of Newell's favourite singers.
- Godwin, Richard (2013-12-06). "Benjamin Clementine: the future sound of London". London Evening Standard.
- Henry Samuel, "Tyrannical chimp ruins childhood", The Age, 24 May 2013.
- Céline Chabot-Canet, Léo Ferré : Une voix et un phrasé emblématiques, L'Harmattan, 2008.
- "I think the revolt is no longer appropriate. Revolt is a way of getting into the City. This is a tribal virtue (...)." "Technique de l'exil" ("The Exile Technique"), in La Mauvaise graine, Édition N° 1, 1993.
- Alain Raemackers, On n'est pas sérieux quand on a 17 ans album booklet (2008 edition).
- For contractual reasons, the orchestra would be named Orchestre symphonique de Milan on record sleeves.
- Interview with La Nouvelle République du Centre-Ouest newspaper, 5 June 1979.
- Interview with Jean-Louis Foulquier, Pollen (France Inter), 1987.
- Robert Belleret, Léo Ferré, une vie d'artiste: ninth part, chapter "Je te donne ces vers...", Actes Sud, 1996.
- Interview Pierre Bouteiller, France 3, August 1984.
- "Visite funéraire de Monaco". Amis et Passionés du Père-Lachaise. Retrieved December 26, 2015.
- 25 songs of Léo Ferré translated in English (complete lyrics)
- Léo Ferré Official site
- Vinyl discography (French)
- Recording of the unique interview with Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel, 6 January 1969 (French)
- Pays-Âges de Léo Ferré a gallery of places and people in Ferré's life (French)