The Paris Conservatory of Music
Written Expressly for “The Etude” by the Eminent Composer
[Although this issue is devoted to the subject of “Italian Music” we are publishing this notable article by M. Moszkowski because it was announced to appear in this issue. A biography of M. Moszkowski appeared in The Etude for last February.]
I have often wondered why it was that in Europe, as well as in America, so little is known of the musical life of Paris and why such erroneous ideas prevail of its character and artistic signification. Though it is no longer as it was in the time of Cherubini, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Auber, Chopin, Liszt, etc., the supreme center of all musical interest, of all the cities in the world it contains the greatest amount of musical talent. The principal reason of this ignorance is probably the poorly organized system of publicity in the matter of giving concerts. It is in truth difficult to gain information about concerts that are to occur. Only those by large orchestral and choral bodies are advertised in the newspapers, and the critics seldom notice any musical occasion on a small scale. The only way to find out what concerts are to take place is to study the advertising pillars, the show windows of musical establishments and the entrances of concert halls. This naturally presupposes a certain familiarity with the city, no little spare time and a great deal of interest in music, in all of which visitors are often lacking. Another difficulty is the generally far too high prices of admission. In what other city in the world is one obliged to pay 20 francs (about four dollars) for a ticket to a recital which is not given by a celebrity of the first rank? Only the friends and acquaintances of the concert-giver burden themselves to do so. and these only when they feel under obligations to him. Free tickets, however, are distributed here with the greatest prodigality, but it is generally the Parisians who profit by them; hence strangers for the most part hear much less music in Paris than in Berlin, Vienna or London, where it can be heard for less money.
In Berlin, for instance, one can secure a comfortable seat for the Philharmonic Orchestra for 75 pfennigs (about twenty cents), and this may be done three times a week. In Paris such an enjoyment costs 5 francs (about $1.00), and the seat is much poorer. Then another great inconvenience confronts the concert-goer: practically all the important orchestral concerts are given on Sunday afternoon, and, since it is not possible to be in three or four places at one time, he must often deny himself some very interesting performances.
All these drawbacks may, of course, be criticised, and with reason; they should not, however, give rise to the opinion that Paris cannot compare with Berlin or Vienna as a musical center, for in this respect one should not judge only from the standpoint of the organization of musical life. To be just toward Paris we must consider the astonishing number of prominent musicians whom it shelters, and one who is familiar with artistic circles there will be able to reckon many more who are yet without general recognition on account of their works not having been brought before the public. Since France is “centralized” in music, as in so many other things, the French composer must go to Paris if he wishes to make himself known through works of a large style. But this, on account of the immense productivity, is a matter of time; it often happens that even highly talented composers are forced to struggle for years—to bring out a grand opera, for instance. As to this Lalo could a tale tinfold; he was obliged to wait twenty years before his Roi d’Ys was produced.
If Paris, as I have already said, surpasses all other cities of Europe in the sum of musical talent, it deserves to take first place for still another reason: in her Conservatoire Nationale de Musique et de Declamation she possesses an institution with which no conservatory in the world may be compared. All that other conservatories have thus far accomplished seems slight in comparison with the results obtained by the one in Paris. This is represented in the musical world by a truly imposing list of celebrities who have emerged from her sheltering care. Let us recall some of them to memory:
Composers:—Alkan, Bazin, Berlioz, J. E. A. Bernard, Bizet, Bruneau, G. Charpentier, Debussy, Delibes, d’Indy, Théo. Dubois, Bourgault-Ducoudray, P. Dukas, Duvernoy, Enesco (also a distinguished violinist), Erlanger, César Franck, Galeotti (also a fine pianist), Gédalge (perhaps the greatest living teacher of counterpoint), Gounod, Guiraud, Halévy, Hérold, the brothers Hillemacher, Lacombe, Fernand Leborne, Lecocq, Lenepveu, X. Leroux, Lefebvre, Maillard, Massé, Massenet, Metra, Missa, Paladilhe, Pessard, Pierné, Rabaud, Ravel, Guy Ropartz, Saint-Saëns, Salvayre, Savard (a noted theoretician), Serpette, Stojowski, Ambroise Thomas, Thome, André Wormser.
Pianists:—Cortot, Diémer, Tissot (also a distinguished organist), Henri Herz, Kalkbrenner, Clotilde Kleeberg, Le Couppey (a celebrated teacher), Berthe Marx-Goldschmidt, G. Mathias (a well- known teacher), Marmontel and I. Philipp (ditto), Planté, Prudent, Pugno, Risler, Caroline Montigny- Remaury (now Madame de Serres), Germaine Schnitzer, Marie Trautmann (now Madame Jaell), Ricardo Vines, Joseph Wieniawski, Wurmser, Zimmerman (in his time a great teacher).
Violinists:—Alard, Artôt, Capet, Dancla (author of the celebrated violin school), Flesch,Geloso,Hayot, Kreisler, Isidor Lotto, Marsick (founder of the Society of Beethoven’s last Quartets),Mazas(composer of the well-known violin school), Nadaud,Ondricek, Sarasate, Secchiari, Jacques Thibaud,Tirmin Touche, Teresina Tua, Henri Wieniawski
Violoncellists:—Delsart, Franchomme (with whom Chopin collaborated in composing for the piano and violoncello), J. F. Hekking, Jacquard, Salmon, Mademoiselle Caponsacchi.
Organists:—Lefébure Wély, Tournemire,Silas and a number of others previously mentionedascomposers or pianists.
Harpists:—Bochsa, Godefroid, Salzedo.
Directors:—Chevillard, Colonne, Deldevez,Garcin,Habeneck (founder of the Conservatoryconcerts),Lamoureux, Luigini, Marty. Further may be mentioned Gilles (oboe) and Gaubert (flute),two virtuosi of European fame; also the musicallittérateur, François Joseph Fétis.
Singers:—Capoul, Escalaïs, Fauré, Maurel, Melchisédec, Roger, Talazac, Taskin, among the men; women: Caron, Carvalho, Brunet-Lafleur, Bilbaut- Vauchelet, Boidin-Puisais, Hatto, Cesbron.
Actors:—Men: Coquelin (aîné), Coquelin (cadet),Delaunay, Feraudy, Galipaux, Got, Guitry, Le Bargy,Leloir, Mounet-Sully, Truffier; women: Bartet, Sarah Bernhardt, Brandès, Brohan, Reichenberg, Réjane,Samary.
It is hardly necessary to say that such an array of distinguished artists could be formed in even the most excellent institution only during a long series of years. Here also the Paris Conservatory has a great advantage over all others. If we go back to its very first beginnings it has been in existence a hundred and twenty-five years. In 1784 Louis XVI founded an Ecole Royale de Chant (Royal School of Singing), at the head of which stood Gossec, a very celebrated composer of his time. Among the teachers under him we find a still more highly honored artist, viz., Piccini, who was in charge of the first class in singing. The chief aim of this school was to educate composers, singers, players of the clavecin and violin. Two years later another school for the training of actors was established, but it lasted less than four years, while the Ecole de Chant continued in existence until 1795.
The real beginning of the present Conservatory, however, must be placed in the year 1789, when, under the direction of Bernard Sarrette, the Ecole gratuite de Musique de la Garde Nationale (Free School of Music for the National Guard) was founded. This at first had only the object of reorganizing the music of the army, but in 1795, under the name of Conservatoire de Musique, it was made an institution embracing all branches of music. During the years that followed it suffered much from adverse conditions: on the one hand it was subjected to violent opposition; on the other it was severely cramped by the poverty of the Government, which gradually led to a restriction of its activities. With the First Empire, however, it entered upon a brighter era. During the first decade of the reign of Napoleon I the list of its teaching personnel contained the names of the most renowned musicians of France. In composition we find those of Cherubini, Gossec and Méhul; Baillot taught the violin and Boieldieu at first the piano, later composition. This brilliant epoch lasted until 1814; then the political events which finally led to the overthrow of Napoleon cast a shadow over its existence, which for a time was seriously threatened. Under Louis XVIII it was obliged to confine itself to the training of singers and musicians for the Royal Opera. The director was the Marquis de Larouzière, who had up to that time served as the royal master of horse!
In 1822 the Conservatory at last made a definite advance; Cherubini was appointed director, and continued in office until 1842, when he was succeeded by Auber. As an important innovation occurring during Cherubini’s administration it must be mentioned that since 1841 pupils of foreign nationalities have been admitted, though at first only in exceptional cases. Auber was followed, in 1871, by Ambroise Thomas, who gave way, in 1896, to Theodore Dubois. Since the resignation of Dubois, in 1905, the Conservatory has been directed by Gabriel Fauré. The director is assisted by a Conseil supérieur d’enseignement, a committee composed of the Government officials of the Ministry of Education, critics, writers, theatre directors and musicians, with whom he discusses all questions concerning the management of the institution. Only a few of its members are allowed to belong to the teaching staff.
(Owing to the large amount of special material collected for this “Italian Issue” it is necessary to continue this excellent article in the February Etude, when M. Moszkowski will tell of some of the methods employed at the famous French school.)