Monday, January 4, 2010

Guy Ropartz: A Truly Forgotten Great Composer


"Who? Ropartz? Never heard of him," you say. Well, neither has anyone else, let alone how to pronounce that first name (Guy is pronounced "Gee" with a hard "G" as in gift).

Allow me to take the story back to 1968 when I first discovered the writings of the mystic Corinne Heline that created for me a new direction in music, and showed me how the twelve notes of the chromatic scale were applied to the astrological chart, thus facilitating my discovery of what I called the duochord. Corinne Heline wrote about three composers of the romantic era whom she credited with giving birth to the most important spiritual music: Richard Wagner, Alexander Scriabin, and Cesar Franck.

In 1974, I began a deep research into the lives and music of these three composers. I intended to write a book about them, but that project quickly turned into three separate books, one for each composer. I actually completed my short book on Scriabin, but while researching Wagner, I realized that not only would I have to learn German (which I began doing), but it would take the rest of my life to finish the book because of the level of depth that I wanted to achieve, and it would take all of my energy to accomplish this work, so complex and misunderstood was the man Wagner and his music.

I shelved the idea of the three books, but continued my study of Cesar Franck, whom I found to have created some of the most beautiful and spiritual music that I had ever heard, and who, like Scriabin and Wagner, has also been completely misunderstood.

My research into the music of Cesar Franck continued sporadically over the next thirty years, spreading into the lives and music of his students. During this thirty year period, I discovered not only a very important master teacher and composer in Cesar Franck, but a very important tradition of French music emanating from his students that somehow has just not yet been accepted for its importance. Uncovering this music has not always been easy. Early on, scores and recordings were very difficult to find, and many still are not all readily available.

The students of Cesar Franck? During his lifetime, Franck was not accepted by the French music academia... at least not as a composer. He taught organ at the conservatoire, Paris' major music institution, but much to the chagrin of those in charge, his classes were filled with eager composition students. He also taught composition to students in his home. His students are too numerous to name, but there are seven that I have found so far to be, in my opinion, the most important:

1 - Vincent d'Indy (1851 - 1931) was an aristocrat and a devoted student of Franck. He wrote a large number of works that deserve to re-enter our concert halls and be heard again. His most important function, however, was as a great educator and reformer. Along with Charles Bordes and Alexandre Guilmant, he founded the Scola Cantorum music school in Paris in 1894. It's alumni include many of France's 20th century composers. d'Indy brought to his students the music of Franck for serious study, as well as that of the almost completely forgotten great composers of the Renaissance, and the German tradition of Bach, Beethoven and Wagner that had fallen out of favor among many French composers. d'Indy was also responsible for the awakening of interest in Gregorian chant, and personally introduced the great 17th Century composer Claudio Monteverdi to the modern world, with d'Indy's own transcriptions and productions.

2 - Charles Bordes (1863 - 1909) became maître de chapelle at the église Saint-Gervais in Paris in 1890, and there he created the Saint-Gervais singers choir. In 1892 he organized the Saint-Gervais holy weeks where the mass was accompanied by French and Italian sacred choral music from the Renaissance. This composition student of Cesar Franck effectively brought out of almost complete obscurity one of the greatest bodies of music ever created: the sacred music of the Renaissance and the great composers of that time: Josquin, Palestrina, Victoria, Gallus and Lassus. The Saint-Gervais concerts had a very important effect on the very alive artistic community in Paris at that time, most notably Claude Debussy.

3 - Guillaume Lekeu (1870 -1894) died when he was only 24. A composer of great promise who left just a few very beautiful works.

4 - Henri Duparc (1848 - 1933) was one of the greatest writers of classical song who ever lived. Listen to the gorgeous songs that he orchestrated.

5 - Charles Tournemire (1870 - 1939). His early works are greatly influenced by Cesar Franck and very difficult to find. I was very fortunate to hear his Poem for Organ and Orchestra, Opus 38 performed in Amsterdam's great Concertgebouw, but have never found a recording. Tournemire, like Franck student Louis Vierne, later in the century became influenced by the 20th century discordant styles, and his music became more and more discordant.

6 - Ernest Chausson (1855 - 1899) died in a bicycle accident at an early age. His music is wonderful… filled with parfum français. Among his great works is the Poème de l'amour et de la mer, Opus 19 (Songs of Love and the Sea), his opera, Le roi Arthus, the Poème for violin and orchestra, his chamber works, and his songs.

7 - Joseph Guy Ropartz (1864 - 1955) came to Paris and studied at the conservatoire and privately with Franck. He was told at conservatoire that he must discontinue his lessons with Franck, but Ropartz told them he would drop out of the conservatoire instead! After consideration, he was allowed to continue his lessons with Franck. Ropartz moved to Nancy in 1894. From 1919 to 1929 Ropartz was the director of the Academy of Strasbourg. He retired in 1929 and withdrew to his manor in Lanloup, Brittany where he died in 1955.

Two other composers who were influenced by Cesar Franck, but were not considered students, were Claude Debussy (the string quartet and early choral works), and Ernest Chabrier. Following in the tradition of Cesar Franck and French romantic organ music were the twentieth-century composers Charles-Marie Widor, Marcel Dupré and Maurice Duruflé.

I managed to locate many of Vincent d'Indy's scores over a 25-year period and even contributed to the publication of three scores in Germany by writing informative introductions (IstarJour d’été à la MontagneTableaux de Voyage). The music of Ropartz, however, eluded me for many years because I was unable to locate recordings and scores. It was only during the past three years, on my visits to Paris, that I began finding CDs and some of the scores. Fortunately, scores for his first three symphonies and many other important works are now available on imslp.org.

After purchasing the two CDs that contained his first, second, forth and fifth symphonies last summer, (Symphonies 2 and 5 Symphonies 1 and 4), I realized that these were great symphonies. I especially loved the second, which I began studying. I did not realize that the 3rd symphony had been recorded until just a few months ago, when I finally found it on Amazon (Symphony No. 3). This Third Symphony was Ropartz' one and only choral symphony, and it is a masterpiece! I immediately wondered how great it was compared to other symphonies of the 20th Century (it was written in 1905). To find such a great work by a composer that is unknown in America, and obscure even in Europe! The beautiful symphony in D Minor composed by Cesar Franck was severely criticized by the music intelligentsia, and it is a masterpiece! What will they do to Ropartz?

The "problem" with Ropartz is that he, like d'indy, refused to follow the herd into the world of discordant harmonies, and was therefore known as someone (like J.S. Bach) who was out of step with the times. Ropartz' music was sent to the scrap heap. A composer who never tried to tickle the tastes of the Paris music world and instead remained in the culturally distant towns of Nancy and Strasbourg, where he conducted his own orchestras, Ropartz' work lay in wait during the "Century of Discord."

Ropartz' Third Symphony is a masterpiece by any standards. When audiences, long alienated by Schoenberg and Stravinsky and the "modern" works that some composers are still trying concoct, finally get a chance to hear this work for the first time, live in concert, the tables will turn. Ropartz' music could never have fit into the 20th century; it belongs to the 21st. I believe that he, like J.S. Bach before him, is a man who because his music was considered to be obsolete, with an "archaic style," will take a century to gain recognition.

The greatness of this symphony? How does it compare the others from the 20th century? Perhaps we have to line it up with Sibelius' Fifth Symphony, also condemned by the intelligentsia because the music was "obsolete." (read about that here: Ostracism of the Tonal Composers). Which are the great 20th century symphonies anyway? The unpleasant Turangalia of Messiaen? The pompous Third Symphony of Copland? The caterwauling of Mahler? The pain of the unfortunate Shostakovich (a must read: "Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich" by Solomon Volkov)? The ugly Age of Anxiety symphony of Bernstein???

I propose that during the 21st Century, classical music will realign itself. I do not believe that the discords of the 20th century are going to be appreciated in the concert halls any more now than they were during the last century. And now we must certainly realize just how destructive the "progress" of the 20th century actually was to life on the planet and to the arts. We have to rebuild, and we have to rediscover. Do we want to continue to bathe in the mud, or shall we instead turn to something more directly responsible for helping us maintain our lives, and our sanity?

… as the world's economic system crumbles, and waves from the melting glaciers crash down upon us, the time for renewal is at hand.

Don Robertson
Jan 1, 2010


Twenty-Ten: Welcome to the New Year and Decade


Here we are at the beginning of another decade, and this promises to be an exciting one. Mary Ellen and I have just completed our upgrade to DoveSong.com, with a full explanation, and unveiled our new direction in music education: Don Robertson's Musical Kaleidoscope. Next, we will have the pleasure of producing the new music videos many of our fans have been waiting for. If you subscribe to our two YouTube channels, you will be notified as new videos are released:

Musical Kaleidoscope Videos
Don Robertson Music Videos

I hope to have the final DonRobertsonMusic.com website online this year. However, my music is available on the current single-page temporary website. We will soon be announcing the release of the CD version of my third digital symphony "Celestial Voyager."

Our message is spreading. My free, online book "Music Through the Centuries" is finding its way into college classrooms (via the Dovesong.com website). We feel that the time is at hand. Many people are looking for a new direction in music.

Our new MusicalKaleidoscope.com website (along with its Facebook application) is a very simple way for me to continue to provide materials for music education. It is, and will remain, just a single page (keeping life simple). On this page I will be providing playlists, both video and audio, as well as the Studies in Music Composition that I have been preparing since 1971. You can be informed of new additions by subscribing here:
http://www.scribd.com/DonRobertson

My studies are prepared using a method that I have been developing over the past 30 years. Music students for too long have been taught to follow "rules" created by music theorists, rather than studying the composer's scores directly. The great composers did not follow rules. They learned by studying the masters that proceeded them, just as we can do today. Only now, everything is at our fingertips. We don't need to find orchestras and musicians to perform the music in order to hear it, and neither do we need to travel to other cities to study scores. Every technique, every solution to contrapuntal problems, every aspect of orchestration, harmonization and form is available through the study the scores. We can observe for ourselves what techniques the master composers used in the creation of their masterworks. Over the years that I have been prepared study scores, I have developed a technique of upgrading the score with highlighters to further enlighten us about the process used by the composer. These studies can be used by beginning and advanced students as well. This is how I teach myself, and there is never a reason to stop learning. Studying music in a university is a great start, but a mere beginning only.

I also believe that it is time to change the direction of music. The Internet is now providing us with, until now unthinkable, access to all of the great music of the world's cultures, throughout many periods of time. The idea that music only exists through the "Top 40", or only in a single genre is dying away quickly as the gifted among the younger generations become wise to the world of their parents: a world of hip-hop and angry rock music, where there was no access to great music either at home or at school. New talent will emerge with new music… music filled with meaning and emotion, music that heals, and music that supports strength of character.

And now, the greatest music and book libraries ever assembled are now becoming available at the fingertips. There are two very, very important giant online libraries available now:

1) http://imslp.org - The Petrucci Music Library contains the most valuable music-score resource ever assembled. It is a gold mine of important scores waiting to be downloaded free of any charge for study and illumination.

2) http://archive.org - This fantastic resource is divided into sections: video, live music, audio and texts. Through the text library, many important music books, long out of print, can be downloaded free of charge. Another feature of this amazing web site is the "Way Back Machine." Here you can find past versions of important websites. For example, our Dovesong.com is represented on the Way Back Machine here:
DoveSong.com on the "Way Back Machine"

You can see our DoveSong website as it existed as early as April 12, 2000. Many features that are no longer on DoveSong.com, such as the controversy about Christian heavy metal music from 2002, can be found on the Way Back Machine: information that I removed from the website in 2002 because those opposed to my opinions began cyber-attacking DoveSong.com and sending me death threats. I decided to "lay low" for a while (whew!).

I wish each and every one of you a very prosperous and important new year, and new decade. Problems in the world are not going to go away and life, in many ways, will become more difficult. Those of us who are working to become more aware and who are growing in the reality will be called upon to help bring about change.

Bless Us All!

Don Robertson
January 1, 2010