While I was researching Maurice Ravel for last week’s Haiku Wednesday, I kept seeing connections between various French composers, more so than I had seen with other composers (or maybe I haven’t looked hard enough yet). So I started reading about them to learn more, and found the connections fascinating.
Of course we know now about Ravel (1875-1937). Ravel studied with Émile Decombes, a student of Chopin’s, as did Alfred Cortot, whom I mentioned in a previous post. Later Ravel studied with Gabriel Fauré. Ravel’s father introduced him to Erik Satie (1866-1925). Satie at some point turned his back on Ravel, and Satie’s student Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) said (after Satie had also turned against Poulenc) “I admire him as ever, but breathe a sigh of relief at finally not having to listen to his eternal ramblings on the subject of Ravel.”1
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) studied organ under the tutelage of Camille Saint-Saëns, and the two remained close friends. In 1871 he took the post of choirmaster at a church where the organist was Charles-Marie Widor. The two frequently improvised organ duets. Fauré was a charter member of the Société National de Musique founded by Saint-Saëns. Also members were Georges Bizet (1838-1875), Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894), Jules Massenet (1842-1912), and César Franck (1822-1890). 2 One of Franck’s students at the Paris Conservatory was Claude Debussy (1862-1918)3
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) studied organ at the Paris Conservatory (organ was emphasized over piano because of the greater career opportunities for organists). As an organist he came to the attention of Hector Berlioz. After the collapse of his marriage, Saint-Saëns became attached to Gabriel Fauré’s family.4
Charles-Marie Widor received his first organist post with the support of Saint-Saëns and Charles Gounod. When César Franck died, Widor took his post as professor at the Paris Conservatory. Widor was a staunch proponent of Bach’s organ music and one of his students was Albert Schweitzer. Widor founded the American Conservatory of Fontainebleau and served as its director until 1934, at which time Maurice Ravel succeeded him.5
Charles Gounod (1818-1893) was introduced to Bach’s music by Fanny Mendelssohn. One of Gounod’s students was Georges Bizet. When Gounod died, the music for the service was conducted by Fauré with Saint-Saëns at the organ.6
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) became friends with Franz Liszt, when both attended a performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest with an overture composed by Berlioz. Liszt was a witness at Berlioz’s marriage to Harriet Smithson.7 Liszt was also in attendance at a mass where organ improvisations were performed by César Franck. Liszt highly praised Franck’s work and began including Franck’s work in concerts in Germany.8 Liszt is said to have called his friend Camille Saint-Saëns “the greatest organist in the world.” Saint-Saëns dedicated his third symphony to Liszt.9
Tune in tomorrow for more on the music behind these French connections.
- Kelly, Barbara L, Music and Ultra-modernism in France: A Fragile Consensus, 1913-1939. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2013, p 57, Wikipedia entry on Maurice Ravel.
- Wikipedia article on Gabriel Fauré.
- Wikipedia article on Claude Debussy.
- Wikipedia article on Camille Saint-Saëns.
- Wikipedia article on Charles-Marie Widor.
- Wikipedia article on Charles Gounod.
- Wikipedia article on Hector Berlioz.
- Vallas, Leon, Cesar Franck, Trans. Hubert J. Foss. New York: Oxford Universty Press, 1951, p 127. Trans. of La veritable histoire de Cesar Franck, 1949, via Wikipedia article on Cesar Franck.
- Wikipedia article on Franz Liszt.