Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Discovering Maurice Delage

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Discovering Maurice Delage

Article excerpt


IN DECEMBER OF 1903, French poet Leon-Paul Fargue invited a young composer, Maurice Delage, to 39 de la rue Dulong, the home of artist Paul Sordes, where Delage was introduced to Paris literati. Each Saturday night, this group would meet to share artistic ideas and discuss current musical performances that they had attended together. They often played new Russian music that an up and coming composer, Maurice Ravel, would bring along, and discussed musical innovations long into the night.

The group would later label themselves "Les Apaches" (the Apaches).1 "This name was given us one Sunday when we were walking up the rue de Rome, after a concert, by a news vendor of the newspaper, L'Intransigeant, who was innocently bullying us with 'Beware the Apaches'!"2 Liking the sound of the name, the group decided to adopt it, and from then on the artists who met at Paul Sordes's called themselves "Les Apaches." They even adopted the main theme from Borodin's B Minor Symphony as a musical calling card.

The Apaches' musical gatherings often would continue long into the night, annoying neighboring tenants. The young Delage, of independent means, solved this problem in 1904 by renting a small, wooden pavilion-a remnant of the Exposition universelle of 1900-on the rue de Civry in Auteuil that would function as a club house for these French bohemians. "The garden cottage of Maurice Delage . . . [had] spare, simple furnishings, its wood and cardboard partitions, and its two pianos."3 Delage's cottage fulfilled the needs of the group; thanks to Delage, the survival of the group was no longer in peril. The Apaches would meet there regularly in an environment that encouraged independent and innovative thought. Delage's home functioned as a catalyst to the development of the group; other artists joined the Apaches, among them the poet Tristan Klingsor, critics Michel Calvocoressi and Émile Vuillermoz, as well as composers Manuel de Falla, Déodat de Séverac, and, in 1909, Igor Stravinsky. Thus, from the humble beginnings of Delage's cottage on the outskirts of Paris, a wealth of talent was given the opportunity to foment and burgeon, significantly affecting the arts from France that we know today.

Who was Maurice Delage? And did he like others in the group go on to compose? In fact, Delage would compose for over fifty years, during which time both critics and audiences would extol his works, winning for him the admiration and respect of his contemporaries.4 The bulk of his work is vocal music characterized by highly refined writing that meticulously reflects the chosen texts. Musical components of each work heighten the meaning of the text and capture the mood inherent in the poet's words. Impressionistic and exotic color is often visible in many of Delage's works. The composer also experimented with different stylistic and compositional techniques; departures from convention are best seen in his songs written in the 1920s.

Delage's music is not well known today, and his works are rarely performed. To what might we attribute his obscurity? Certainly, aspects of his personality are in part responsible. Delage was uncomfortable with success and, more significantly, was insecure about his compositional abilities. With all of his compositions, Delage scrupulously searched for the right poem or the right verse to be set to music; no single tone was superfluous or inappropriate. This obsession with perfection was often a painful process: he would search for the appropriate poem-one that somehow moved him-and would then undergo the exacting process of putting this poem set to music that would reflect the chosen text.

Delage was in awe of Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky, and he could play most of their works by heart.5 But when fellow Apaches asked him to play one of his own compositions, he would refuse, for though he wrestled to find perfect choices for notes and harmonies in the work before allowing its publication, playing it anew would raise new doubts and uncover new feelings of indecision. …

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