D'Indy, Vincent. (1851–1931)
"This music of Rameau is very boring if one does not make it live..." - Autograph Letter
An interesting autograph letter from the great French musician, a renowned organist, timpanist, chorus master, and conductor, discussing the details of an upcoming concert with music of Rameau in Brussels. Paris, December 31, 1910. While he says he would be pleased to work with his correspondent's choirs for the concert (for which he would travel to Brussels with the orchestra of the Paris Schola Cantorum), D'Indy expresses concern that there would not be enough rehearsal time to communicate his ideas about the music of Rameau, and he does not wish to risk performing it badly: "This music of Rameau is very boring if one does not make it live and its life lies in the melodic accent and rhythm. One could see this in the performance of Hippolyte et Aricie at the opera which caused everyone in the orchestra to fall asleep (including myself) [...] I have never and nowhere found an orchestra capable of executing this music well, even passably..." He suggests arriving early to rehearse with the choir, but worries that the orchestra will get lost if they have to arrive alone. [Full translation below.] 2 pp. Water-mark of The Archangel Mill, stationary of the Schola Cantorum. One vertical and horizontal crease, tiny hole to center at fold, short. Small closed tear to lower margin (at fold.) Overall in fine condition. 10.75 x 8.25 inches (20.8 x 27.2 cm).
Translated from the French, in full:
"Paris, December 21, 1910My dear Théo,It would be a great pleasure to take your choirs for the Rameau concert on March 16 at the Cercle, but there are some great difficulties with this that I will explain in a few words.This music of Rameau is very boring if one does not make it live and its life lies in the melodic accent and rhythm. One could see this in the performance of Hippolyte et Aricie at the opera which caused everyone in the orchestra to fall asleep (including myself!), while this same work, at the Schola, had been a wonder for all the musicians. My performers at the Schola are very used to this interpretation, where not a single measure is similar to the preceding one, nor any dynamic, nor any movement, because everything depends on the text (the music itself being, in the case of Lully and Rameau, a text without words!). My performers know that a sign made with the little finger means "sudden adagio in the middle of an allegro" and that a shrug of the shoulders means "reduce the sound immediately after producing it." I have never and nowhere found an orchestra capable of executing this music well, even passably, not even the Orchestre Lamoureux, that of the Conservatory, of the Opera, in Moscow or Berlin, it was always a total inexpressive waste. So I am afraid that the choirs, unused to our conventions, will weigh down the performance and make it colorless... especially as the the choirs of the first act of Castor are especially difficult (not the notes, those are nothing) from the point of view of the rhythm and dynamics. If I could have 4 to 5 rehearsals with your choirs, I think I could train them, at least halfway, for this music; but alas, I cannot leave Paris until the morning of the concert, with a group from the orchestra (for the night before I am rehearsing the choral ensemble of Beethoven's Mass in D, which is no small undertaking!). We will arrive in Brussels at lunchtime.
Rehearsal in the hall from 2:30 to 4:30 or 5 o'clock... I really don't see where to squeeze in an absolutely necessary choir rehearsal before the orchestral rehearsal... I would suggest that I could come the night before, on my own, and rehearse the choirs in the morning from 10 to noon, but I would be afraid that if I were not the shepherd of my flock, they wouldn't be able to manage, and they would miss their arrival, which would be terrible.
So this is the situation, dear friend: either no choral rehearsals at all beforehand... or only 1 rehearsal (which is not much) but the risk of the orchestra getting lost, or at least part of it!... you see that it's terribly awkward!
Tell me your opinion, if you feel brave enough for this undertaking in these conditions; I would like nothing better, but the execution would be threading the needle... and it would not be the fault of the Schola, whose reputation I don't want to risk [...]
Write and tell me what you have decided."