Prix de Rome

The Prix de Rome was an annual award of a four-year studentship, won by competition, and available to unmarried Frenchmen under thirty. Among those who had won it were Berlioz, Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, and Debussy. It was regarded as prestigious but stuffy; it guaranteed the winner a moderate regular income for four years. Ravel entered the competition five times but never won.

   1900  Eliminated at the preliminary stage, with a fugue and choral piece.
   1901  Wrote cantata Myrrha; won the lower 2nd prize.
   1902  Wrote cantata Alcyon; failed.
   1903  Wrote cantata Alyssa; failed.

   [In 1904, his String quartet and Shéhérazade song cycle were given their first public performances]

   1905  Eliminated at the preliminary stage, with a Fugue in C and a choral piece L'Aurore. A scandal broke out in the press. Jean Marnold published a denunciation in the Mercure de France. Le Matin, owned by Alfred Edwards, then husband of Misia Godebska, continued the attack on the reactionary and prejudiced attitudes of the musical establishment. The author Romain Rolland wrote a highly publicised letter of support for Ravel to the Académie des Beaux-Arts; (the text is reproduced in Marnat, [1986], p.161-162). In the ensuing controversy, Théodore Dubois, director of the Conservatoire and one of Ravel's critics, resigned his post; it was filled by Gabriel Fauré, Ravel's former teacher. This was the first "affaire Ravel".


For more information about the Prix de Rome, see the Musica et Memoria site, which includes lists of prize-winners. The entry on Ravel includes a rare photograph from 1892, showing him among the students of Beriot's class at the Conservatoire.


 

Légion d'honneur

"Le 16 janvier suivant, le nom de Ravel figure sur la liste des promotions dans la Légion d'honneur. Mais il a un tel dédain des honneurs qu'avec un entêtement un peu enfantin, il refuse la croix qu'on lui offre. Sans doute aussi garde-t-il rancune à ces officiels qui l'ont si mal compris et mal traité à ses débuts? Il refusera de même, plus tard, d'entrer à l'Institut."
  (Long, [1971], p.168.)
["On 16th January 1920 Ravel's name was among those on the list of promotions for the Legion of Honour. But he was so disdainful of honours that with a childish obstinacy he refused the award offered to him. He doubtless has a grudge against those officials who had failed to understand him and had given him such a bad time at his first performances. In a similar manner he was later to refuse election to the Institut de France."
  (Long, [1973], pp.110-111)
]

"Ravel refuse la Légion d'honneur, mais toute sa musique l'accepte."
["Ravel rejects the Légion d'Honneur, but all his music accepts it."]
  (Erik Satie, in Le Coq, May 1920.)

 


Chevalier de l'Ordre de Léopold

Ravel did agree to accept one national honour (but not French), on 4 March 1926 on-stage at La Monnaie in Brussels:

"Pourtant, il accepta la croix de Belgique, qui ne représenté pour lui qu'un joli ruban, et ce privilège lui semblait si comique que, m'écrivant de Bruxelles pour me dire son contentement de la présentation de L'Enfant et les Sortilèges, il signait sa lettre majestueusement: 'Maurice Ravel, chevalier de l'ordre de Léopold.'

"...Les distinctions honorifiques lui paraissaient vaines autant que les paroles creuses des discours; jusqu'à la fin de sa vie il lutta contre l'emprise officielle, refusant de faire partie de l'Institut..." (Jourdan-Morhange, [1945], p.36-37].

 


Doctorate of Music

Ravel at Oxford. (Photo: Wide World. 1928. Source: H.Jourdan-Morhange, 'Ravel et nous', Ed. du Milieu du Monde, 1945. Plate III. In October 1928, Ravel was awarded an honorary doctorate of music at the University of Oxford. The Public Orator gave an address in Latin.

"Sa nomination, à Oxford, de 'Doctor honoris causa' avait, seule, trouvé grâce à ses yeux; il me racontait avec amusement son costume, sa toque plus haute que son visage: certes, je gage que l'idée de revêtir le 'déguisement' avait plus occupé son esprit que la gloire octroyée par son nouveau titre." (Jourdan-Morhange, [1945], p.38).

[It was apparently while he was travelling back on the train from this ceremony that he had the idea for the initial theme of the Concerto en sol. "The G major Concerto took two years of work, you know. The opening theme came to me on a train between Oxford and London. But the initial idea is nothing. The work of chiselling then began. ...Writing music is seventy-five per cent an intellectual activity. This effort is often more pleasant for me than having a rest." (Conversation recalled by Robert de Fragny, Echo Liberté, 7 November 1950, trans. in Nichols, [1987], p.61).]

www.maurice-ravel.net