Ravel was particularly known, for instance, for misplacing things in the years after the war, as Marguerite Long recalls in her accounts of going on tour with Ravel in the s and s. She collected as many as twenty press clippings after the sudden death in of her friend and business partner Jacques Thibaud. Although she may have used a press clipping service for obtaining these excerpts, her handwriting appears underneath each one with the date and name of the newspaper in which the piece was found, demonstrating that she played an active role in constructing this memento.
Both scrapbooks include a manuscript autograph of the score, and several letters from Ravel to Jourdan-Morhange in which he refers to the composition included in the scrapbook. Likewise, Marguerite de Saint-Marceaux repeatedly refers to endlessly mourning her husband, who died in April It would be too painful if it lasted only the strict duration of mourning prescribed; and then we accustom ourselves to it so well eventually; the true suffering would be to no longer suffer.
The alleviation of grief must happen little by little; then, when the first bitterness and the first indignation has gone away, we find that sometimes we are able to relive happy memories, veritable minutes full of joy and happiness. They leave an impression that is so comforting, that not only has the being about whom we were just speaking, between close friends, been evoked, but that the reunion of the people who loved each other has indeed been realized anew.
Nadia Boulanger, for instance, held memorial concerts upon the anniversary of her sister's death until the end of her life. Emma Debussy was similarly impassioned about arranging concerts of her late husband's music, but then, being immensely overwhelmed with emotion, was rarely able to stay after concerts to speak with friends and performers, which often resulted in apologetic letters later that evening or the next day.
However, the extent to which Ravel appears to have been preoccupied with grief in the years after the war suggests that he was indeed invested in composing music for others in mourning.
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In her work on mourners, Phyllis R. Silverman has pointed out that people in mourning often seek each other out for support and comfort. At the time, Madame Fernand Dreyfus and her husband were coping with the death of their son Jean, who had been killed in action in the months prior.
This often consisted of music either beloved by her husband—which she likely played for him while he was still living—or that she was practicing in his presence before his death. Suzanne tells us that you started practicing the piano a little again. That makes me very happy, for nowhere will you find such a desire to live again; I say live again, for the months you have just been through have been for you as if you did not exist anymore, or rather, as if nothing in you existed anymore.
There was nothing fair or right about this, which is why I am so thrilled to see you return to what may save you. Renunciation seemed to me the only refuge. Only music was consoling to me. It is what saved me. In a article published in Le Monde musical Jaques-Dalcroze argues that his method is the key to healing neurasthenia, a nervous and physical disorder from which Ravel, amongst many others, was said to be suffering after the war.
I like to think of slow-motion films, with absolutely smooth and hypnotic movements—and I recommend this regardless of what the final tempo must be. Still more, which leave me weary and panting: Durozier, Gerbeau, Richomme I keep walking, rocked by a vague, regular, swinging.
I don't find this hard; I don't try to escape; it seems to me that it's good like this. With a metronome marking indicating a dotted-quarter note equals 92, the pianist plays just over sixteenth notes per minute. Ravel has the performer play these uncomfortably fast sextuplets in one hand or the other throughout the entirety of the movement, with the exception of a sixteenth-note rest at the end of measure 85—hardly a moment of repose! Long was especially known for her accuracy in performing this movement, to the extent that Ravel often told his students not to play the movement as fast as Long for only she could play it so every note could be heard.
Interestingly, Long's solution for deficiencies in hand or finger independence laid in the return to technical exercises, in particular five-finger exercises.
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The rubato-oriented aesthetic of these compositions is evident as well in the many instances of rallentando , ritardando, retenez , and accelerando that Ravel includes in these scores. Moreover, in both of these movements Ravel gives his performers ample opportunities to shift out of these challenging passages and into somewhat easier, more melodically oriented material see the shift at m. In addition, Ravel prescribes using the pedal only in the final five measures of the movement, once the perpetual sixteenth notes have ceased their stirring.
His hands limp through the piece, faltering particularly on passages with exposed repeated notes, of which there are many. It sounds a bit like a machine breaking down: notes follow one another jerkily just as a machine slows down and speeds up due to tiny bits of rust lodged in the grooves of its cogs.
This feeling in and through the flesh might be understood as a physical transduction of the psychic and indeed physical pain experienced in intense grief. Bach, and Handel that display extended passages of perpetual-motion-style keyboard technique. Roger-Ducasse's G-sharp minor Etude, which Long tells us was composed specifically as a way of persuading her to begin performing publicly again, demands an extraordinary degree of technical skill and employs a large amount of figural repetition. After each of these mid-Etude moments of repose, the pianist must immediately return to her fast-paced perpetuum mobile.
Roger-Ducasse composes lengthy passages where the performer plays the exact same fingering pattern over and over again, only shifting her hands up and down the keyboard according to pitch set. Gaubert, for instance, whose Sonata for Flute and Piano was completed in June , writes a moving letter to Nadia Boulanger in April about having buried a friend of his who had been killed in the trenches on January 26 th. Thus it is not difficult to imagine that for Ravel, Debussy, Roger-Ducasse, and Gaubert, creating these challenging and yet somewhat hypnotic compositions gave them the opportunity to bring a sense of rhythmic stability and comfort back to their minds and bodies.
Although Ravel had initially wanted to compose a piano concerto to play himself, he decided instead to write a concerto specifically for Long. In addition, when Ravel brings back this theme at the end of the movement, he gives this melody to the English horn, an instrument traditionally associated with mourning and lament. In yet another incredibly kind gesture of musical friendship, Ravel chooses this precise moment to give Long what he knows might help her most: the opportunity to hear her grief sympathetically voiced by someone else while her fingers move through measure after measure of technical-exercise-like and highly rhythmically regular passagework composed of steady thirty-second notes.
This was also the anniversary of the Armistice, a fact that had surely not escaped Ravel. They say that I play this concerto well. It is because it evokes for me so many poignant memories! However, it is likely that the concerto was also a touching reminder in sound and movement of her friendship with Ravel, their shared experience of resistant mourning, and the ways in which, for both of them, making music offered a way to express and cope with grief.
I am indebted to Professor Buch and the graduate students who attended his seminar, as well as to all of the respondents to previous versions of this paper for their invaluable feedback. I would also like to thank Nina Eidsheim for encouraging me to explore the relationship between grief and pianistic performance in her UCLA graduate seminar, Musicology in the Flesh, in the spring of In addition, I would like to thank Robert Pearson, Erin Jerome, Karen Turman, and Fanny Gribenski, as well as my fellow UCLA graduate students who participated in dissertation seminar in January , for providing immensely helpful feedback on earlier versions of this paper.
Finally, special thanks go to Tamara Levitz for her always thoughtful and invaluable comments on earlier versions of this article, as well as for her incredible and continuing support as my dissertation advisor.
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Laffont, , p. It is still unclear as to whether the performer for that recording was Casadesus or Ravel. D diss. For more on this, see the my dissertation, op.
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