What better day to post this than on his birthday? Joseph-Maurice Ravel (March 7, 1875 – December 28, 1937) was a French composer a too frequently associated with impressionist music (I think that it’s a bit more complicated than this…), and he is the next installment in our French Composers’ Names series.
The pianist and composer Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944) was admired by the British Queen Victoria, for whom she often performed at The House of Windsor. Over 200 Chaminade Music Clubs sprang up in the States, where she made her live debut in 1908 with the Philadelphia Orchestra in her own Concertstück. In 1913 France made her a member of the Légion d’Honneur, yet after her death Chaminade was virtually forgotten. From October 8 – 12 the Dutch classical station Radio 4 honors Chaminade with five daily programs in the series Componist van de week (Composer of the week) from 7:30 – 8 pm Central European Summer Time. They will be streamed live atwww.radio4.nl.
George Bizet, a household friend at the Chaminade residence in Vésinet, a stylish suburb of Paris, lovingly called her ‘My little Mozart’. He advised her parents to send young Cécile to the Paris Conservatoire to study piano and composition. Papa, director of an insurance company and amateur violinist, refused permission, however: ‘Bourgeois girls are predestined to become wives and mothers.’
Chaminade’s mother, an apt piano player and singer herself, supported her daughter’s ambitions, and sent her to private teachers recommended by Bizet. As early as 1877, when her father was away on a business trip, Cécile took her chance to give a public recital in the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The concert was well received, and soon after she quickly rose to fame with her tuneful songs, solo pieces for piano, and her first Piano Trio (1880).
“Inspired by Cage’s visionary spirit, “A Worldwide day of Vexations” unites a community of intrepid vibraphonists from around the globe in a complete, live streamed performance of Erik Satie’s epic work. Starting in Australia and ending on the West coast of the United States, segments of over 10 performances will be strung together on www.worldwidevexations.com to create one 18-hour performance in its entirety.”
So here are two MP3s giving the pronunciation of Satie’s name and Vexations:
Satie’s Vexations is an enigmatic short composition that was never published (and probably never performed) during Satie’s time. The score mentions 840 repetitions, although it might not be a performance note, just a curious comment or even a prank intended to ridicule lengthy Germanic classical pieces (think Wagner). The Wikiepdia entry is quite interesting.
There are many weird stories that one can learn about Erik Satie, but I strongly recommend reading his letters gathered by the director of the Erik Satie Foundation in Paris, Ornella Volta. Satie was a complex character—not the Dadaist caricature that is sometimes portrayed in the media—and he influenced generations of composers (including Maurice Ravel, John Cage, and Les Six). Besides the vary famous Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes, his output includes Mélodies, songs that sound like the Cabaret music he performed a lot during his youth in Montmartre. One of them is Allons-y Chochotte! (Let’s go sweetie!) which lyrics even feature a reference to the Rome Prize!
Allons-y, Chochotte – Erik Satie
If you are ever in Paris, make sure to walk by one of his apartments 6, rue Cortot or take a day trip to Honfleur, in Normandy, to visit the Maison Satie, a nice museum full of very interesting Satie paraphernalia…
“In 1967, a young astronomer detected in the heavens a rapidly varying radio signal, in the form of periodic impulses 1.3 seconds apart. The discovery caused a sensation. The impulses were so regular that for a while they were taken to be signals coming from extraterrestrial civilisations. Then astrophysicists revealed a truth that was just as surprising: the signals were being emitted by a pulsar, the fantastic compact residue created by the supernova explosions that long ago disintegrated the massive stars.” -Jean-Pierre Luminet, Astrophysicist at the Paris-Meudon Observatory
Yesterday, somebody Googled Pelleas et Melisande Pronunciation and landed on I Care if You Listen. I felt so bad that the audio file was not yet available that I immediately prepared this post, the second exception to the French Composers’s Names series…
The MP3 below features the only pronunciation of the title of Debussy’s opera I’ve ever heard—and always used—although after a brief search on the interwebs, it seems that people sometimes pronounce Melisande with a Z sound instead of an S.
Stéphane Degout (Pelléas) et Elena Tsallagova (Mélisande) – Photo by Charles Duprat
Funny anecdote about Debussy and Pelleas, recalled by Jean Cocteau in 1921 and quoted in Robert Orledge’s Satie the Composer:
One evening Debussy and Satie found themselves seated at the same table. They found each other pleasant. Satie asked Debussy what he was preparing. Debussy, like everyone, was composing a Wagnerie, with Catulle Mendes. Satie made a grimace. ‘Believe me’, he murmured, ‘we have enough of Wagner. Quite beautiful; but not of our stock. We should … (Here I ask the greatest attention. I have cited a phrase of Satie which was told to me by Debussy, and which decided the aesthetic of Pelleas) … We should see to it’, he said, ‘that the orchestra does not grimace when characters enter on the scene. Look here: do the trees of the scenery grimace? We should make a musical scenery, create a musical climate where the personages move and speak – not in couplets, not in leit-motifs: but by the use of a certain atmosphere of Puvis de Chavannes.’
Think of the time [of] which I am speaking. Puvis de Chavannes was one of the audacious mocked by the Right.
‘And you Satie’, asked Debussy. ‘What are you preparing?’
‘I’, said Satie, ‘I am thinking of the Princesse Maleine; but I do not know how to obtain the authorization of Maeterlinck.’
Some days afterwards, Debussy, having obtained the authorization of Maeterlinck, commenced Pelleas et Melisande.
After a brief Facebook/Twitter survey, Nadia Boulanger emerged as a good candidate for this French Composers’ Names series. It felt quite natural to add her sister, Lili, to the same post.
Does Nadia Boulanger need an introduction? Aaron Copland wrote in Harpers Magazine (1960): “there are few musicians anywhere who would not concede her to be the most famous of living composition teachers.” Lili, her younger sister (by 6 years) was an accomplished composer—the first woman to ever win the Premier Grand Prix de Rome, you know the one Ravel never got—who died way too young at age 24.
I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an award-winning digital magazine available in the Apple Newsstand, and soon on Android devices. With almost 60 contributors reporting from 7 different countries, I CARE IF YOU LISTEN has become—in just a couple of years—a preferred source of New Music news.