Ravel's Letters to Calvocoressi With Notes and Comments

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Transcript of Ravel's Letters to Calvocoressi With Notes and Comments

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    Ravel's Letters to Calvocoressi: With Notes and CommentsAuthor(s): M. D. Calvocoressi and Maurice RavelSource: The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Jan., 1941), pp. 1-19Published by: Oxford University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/739362

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    VOL. XXVII, No. i JANUARY, '941

    T H E MUSICALQUARTELYRAVEL'S LETTERS TO CALVOCORESSI

    WITH NOTES AND COMMENTSBy M. D. CALVOCORESSI

    IN 1898 a friend introduced me to a French family at whose houseinformalgatheringstook place on Sundays.There I met Ravelfor the first time. He was in Faure'scompositionclassat the Con-servatoire,and I an auditeur (non-matriculatedpupil) in XavierLeroux's harmony class. We met there nearly every Sunday forseveralmonths. We used to talk a lot about music;andI felt veryexcited, becausehe was the firstfull-fledgedcomposerof my owngenerationI had come into contact with. Yet, I never suspectedthat a close friendshipwould develop between us. We were verydifferent in temperament and in musical outlook: he alreadymature musically, I still very callow; both peremptory,but he ina reserved,aloof way, andI, asoften asnot, ratherboisterouslyso.I found his attitudetowards music (and especiallytowardsWag-ner, Franck,and d'Indy) baffling;andhe musthave thought minerathersilly. Still, he always seemedto enjoy our talks.There wasno music at those gatherings;and I did not get acquaintedwithany of hiscompositionsat the time.Circumstancescompelled me to give up my musical studiesfrom 1899 to 1901, and duringthat period I saw no more of him.I

    Copyright, 1940, by G. Schirmer,Inc.

    _____ ___ _ . _ ___ . _ __

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    2 The MusicalQuarterlyThen, we met again-at the Conservatoirethis time. I becameacquaintedwith his works, publishedand unpublished,and theyappealed o me very much.We discovered hatwe were both keenon certainRussiancomposers,and decided to join forces in study-ing their works.His correspondencewith me startedin I902, when, while onholiday, he sent me from Saint-Jean-de-Luztwo picture post-cards:one a view of the harborof Ciboure, ncludingthe houseinwhich he was born (this part of the harbor now bearsthe name"Quai Maurice Ravel"); the other a formalized landscapewithhisphotograph nset.The cards arereproducedoppositethis page.Until I914 he had little taste for correspondence',and whenhis friendsreceived letters from him-even in reply to urgent in-quiries-they considered themselves fortunate. The next threemessagesI had from him were notes left on occasions when hefailed to find me at home.

    [Autumn 1902]Je suis rentre depuis quelques jours. Je regrette de ne pas vous trouverchez vous, et tacherai de venir Lundi apres-midi. Vous pouvez, des a pre-sent, commencer la traduction de Pelleas et en soumettre quelques frag-ments a Debussy.I came back to town a few days ago. Sorry not to find you at home,and shall try to call on Monday afternoon. You may start translating"Pelleas"forthwith, and submit a few passagesto Debussy.Wishing to contribute to the diffusion abroad of Debussy'swork (first producedthat May) I hadthought of trying my handat translating he text into German. I submittedthe rashnotion toFromont, the publisher,who referredme to Debussy. I then asked

    Ravel to throw out a feeler. Needless to say, nothing came of thescheme.[Autumn 905?]Mon vieux, je sais bien que c'est pas genial, mais cela pourra aller pourle moment. Peut-etre la recommencerai-je une troisieme fois!!

    Old man, I know this ain't no masterpiece [Ravel jocularly used thevulgarism "c'est pas" for "ce n'est pas"], but it may do for the time being.Perhaps I shall start on it afresh for the third time!!In I904 Ravel, at my suggestion, composed accompanimentsfor Greek folk-songs illustratinga lectureby PierreAubry. After-1But not so during the Great War. Some of the many letters he wrote then arepublished in Roland-Manuel's"A la gloire de Ravel" (Paris, 1938) and the Ravelmemorialnumber of the Revue Musicale (December 1938).

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    Two Postcards sent from Saint-Jean-de-Luz byMaurice Ravel to M. D. Calvocoressi in September, 1902(Translations on the reverse of this page'

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    St.-Jean-de-Luz- 41 rue GambettaA thousand kind remembrances. I am here until the end of

    September. I should be very happy if you would be willingnot to imitate my silence and to give me news of yourself.Respectful greetings to your mother.

    Maurice Ravel

    This, dear friend, is to give you an idea of the house inwhich I was born, which may be found towards the middle ofthe card. Respectful greetings to your mother and cordiallyyours

    Maurice Ravel

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    Ravel'sLettersto Calvocoressiwards, he did a second batch in view of lectures of mine. Theabove note covered an arrangementof No. 79 in Hubert Pernot's"ChansonsPopulairesde l'Ile de Chio",a dirge-one of severalhedecided not to publish. [I905?]Mon cher CalvoVoulez-vous telephonerdans la matineede demainJeudi a MadameCruppi?Elle a un renseignement vous demander elativementa Russianet Ludmilla.Mercid'avance, t abient6t.Will you ring up MadameCruppitomorrowmorning?She wishesforsome informationconcerning"Ruslan ndLiudmila".

    MadameCruppiwas the wife of the well known French poli-tician (Ministerof War in 1914), and a keen music-lover.Raveland I used to help her organize performances n her home of Rus-sianoperasand choralworks then unknown to the French public.The next communication laid a heavy responsibilityon myshoulders: Mercredi [February i906]Mon vieux Calvo,vs trouverez ci-inclus2 missives,une simplecarte etunelettre,destineesa P.L....Dans la lettre, je n'en appellepoint au jugementd'uncritique,commevs pourrezvous en assurer,maisaussipolimentque possiblea sabonne foi.Jettez l'une des deux a la poste, l'autre au panier.Je m'en rapporteabsolument a vous.Excusez a corvee.Poigneede pattes.Herewith two missives intended for P.L.... the one just a card, theothera letter.In the letter I appeal,not to a critic'sjudgment,asyou willbe able to see, but as politely as possibleto his good faith. Post the one,throw the other into the waste-paperbasket.I leave it entirely to you.Excusemy imposing he task.Shakeyour paw.Pierre Lalo, the critic of Le Temps, was ever disparagingRavel's music and describingit as a slavish imitation of Debussy.Reviewing the firstperformanceof "Miroirs",he hadpraised"thedelicacy, elegance and musicianlyquality of Ravel's art",but onthe other hand had written:His music bearsa strangeresemblanceo Debussy's;a resemblance ostriking hatoften, while listening o a piece of his,one feels asif onewerehearinga page from "Pelleaset Melisande".Debussycreateda new styleof writingfor the piano,a specialstyle entirelyhisown [Laloproceeds odescribethis style]. Forthwith all the young composersstartedimitatingthisstyle in theirpianomusic. (Le Temps. January 30, 1906)

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    The MusicalQuarterlyRavel considered hat Lalo was misrepresenting point of fact. Hewas right. Nowadays it is acknowledged that he and Debussyoccasionallyreacted upon one another,but that in the matterofwriting for the piano Ravel's "Jeux d'eau",composed in 90oI,owed nothing to Debussy-a point made by Ravel in his reply,as will presently be seen-whereas Debussy's later piano musicowed somethingto Ravel's.Still, it was difficult for me to decide whether to advise Ravelto enter a circumstantialprotest:nor did I approveof the alterna-tive, a visitingcard with a few words of thanks,obviouslyironicalin their laconism,and with no reference to the impeachment.SoI got hold of him, and we discussedmatters.I pointed out to himthat, as a rule, critics were adeptsin the art of twisting their con-tradictors'utterancesand appeari