A Second Interview with Henriette Renie (1875-1956)

By Haefner, Jaymee | American Harp Journal, Summer 2018 | Go to article overview

A Second Interview with Henriette Renie (1875-1956)


Haefner, Jaymee, American Harp Journal


The following interview is the second of three that were aired by Radio-Sottens in August 1965 and possibly recorded in September 1955. The original transcripts in French reside in the International Harp Archives at Brigham Young University. These transcripts were translated word-for-word by Claire Renaud, edited by Jaymee Haefner for publication, and are an appendix to Dr. Haefner's newly-released book, One Stone to the Building: Henriette Renie's Life Through Her Works for Harp. AuthorHouse, 2017. Used with permission. Footnotes have been added and some words have been translated differently from the original text for the purposes of this excerpt.

The interviews are important historically as they were a primary source for the book written by Francoise des Varennes about Renie's life, (1) which was translated and published by Susann McDonald as Henriette Renie, Living Harp. (2) The interviews center on Renie's work, as des Varennes worked tirelessly to preserve Renie's legacy in her own words.

Second Interview:

Introduction: Henriette Renie has already shared her fairytale beginnings. The little harpist, who revealed the resources of her instrument, became a brilliant virtuoso, simultaneously having a career as a teacher and composer. (3)

INTERVIEWER: Henriette Renie, what was the most important event in your career?

RENIE: Without question, it was when I played my Concerto at Lamoureux. It was the first time that the harp was heard at the Great Concerts. (4)

Not only do I hold great gratitude for [Camille] Chevillard, (5) but I believe that all harpists should be grateful to him, since he took this responsibility upon himself. After its inclusion in the Great Concerts, the harp has been played in all the great symphonic concerts throughout the world.

INTERVIEWER: Until that point the harp had never been a solo instrument with the accompaniment of the orchestra?

RENIE: Never in the Great Concerts of the symphony on Sunday; it existed only as an instrument [that] gave color to the orchestra.

INTERVIEWER: How did Camille Chevillard know about this work?

RENIE: I had asked to meet with him, upon the suggestion of Theodore Dubois. (6) I was quite intimidated--and I rarely am. Maybe I also intimidated him, but it didn't seem to go well.

INTERVIEWER: It seems that nothing is quite as intimidating as a shy person. How did the meeting go?

RENIE: I played my Concerto for him. I don't know if you realize how difficult it is to play the parts of both the orchestra and the harp on the piano. I was sweating blood. After the first movement, he said: "After?" I played the second. He said: "Good. After?" I played the third, and he said: "After?" After the fourth we talked about the number of instruments necessary and that was it.

INTERVIEWER: It didn't sound very encouraging. Did you intend to ask him to have this work performed with the Concerts Lamoureux?

RENIE: Not at all. I planned to ask him to conduct a concert I was giving where I had my own audience.

INTERVIEWER: After this strange welcome, how were the rehearsals?

RENIE: There was only one, which went very well. He even seemed to admire my work a lot. But, on the night of the concert, I made a small remark about a tempo to him. Maybe he was cross--I don't know. He briskly answered, "Your Concerto has a lot of tempo changes. There are very beautiful works [that] don't change tempo." What to answer! Fifteen minutes before playing, I really couldn't do much about this! That's when Monsieur Blondel, the friendly director of Maison Erard, came to tell me sweetly: "Well! It seems that Chevillard is really pleased!" "He doesn't seem like it!" I answered while turning on my heels. I left the poor Mister Blondel completely shocked.

INTERVIEWER: Although he didn't seem like it at that time, the following events proved that he was very happy! …

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