A new way of looking at things
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things.” –  Henry Miller

Curt Veeneman, Ph.D.


Impression, maison

Ravel and Le Belvédère Part 3

25 February 2011 

The music room at the Maison Musée Maurice Ravel held Ravel’s Érard piano, dating from the early 1900s.  I once had a chance to play a historic Érard at a little piano shop in San Francisco:  I was taken with its smooth, light, singing tone and its wide range of colors including its bell-like high notes.  It didn’t have the power of the modern Steinway; its sound was more intimate and harp-like.  In fact, Sébastien Érard (1752 – 1831), the instrument maker who founded the company, was proficient at designing harps as well as pianos.  Perhaps some of his ideas cross-pollinated.

Érard made great contributions to both harp and piano.  His "double movement" seven-pedal action for the harp, which he patented, allows a harpist to perform in any key and is still used today.  And modern grand pianos use a mechanism based on the "double escapement" action that he invented and also patented, allowing notes to be repeated more easily.  The Transcendental Etudes, composed by Franz Liszt (who played Érard pianos), would be impossible without Érard’s action.  The  Érard was Ravel’s preferred instrument. 



I think it is interesting that Ravel had so frequently orchestrated works that he had originally written for piano, pieces that seem to thrive in both versions.  These include: 

Menuet antique for piano (1895), orchestrated in 1929
Pavane pour une infante défunte for piano (1899), orchestrated in 1910
“Une barque sur l'océan” and “Alborada del gracioso” from Miroirs for piano (1904-05), orchestrated in 1906 and 1918 respectively
Ma mère l'oye (the Mother Goose Suite, which is immensely enjoyable to perform with a friend) for piano four hands (1908-10), orchestrated in 1911 and then orchestrated as a ballet in 1911-12 with two pieces added
Valses nobles et sentimentales for piano (1911), orchestrated in 1912
Le Tombeau de Couperin for piano (1914-17), selected pieces of which were orchestrated in 1919
Ronsard à son âme, song with piano (1923-24), orchestrated in 1935
Tzigane, rhapsody for violin and piano (1924), orchestrated that same year.

Two other notable pieces, both penned while at Monfort-l’Amaury, are Boléro (1928), first scored for orchestra and then transcribed for piano four hands in 1929, and Tableaux d'une Exposition, a 1922 orchestration not of Ravel’s own music, but of Mussorgsky's piano suite.

Our guide Claude showed us another utterly charming curio of Ravel’s, a model ship in a little bell-jar, tossing on a paper sea that undulates:  Une barque sûr l’océan.

We then went into the basement.  While descending the stairs Claude talked about Ravel‘s Siamese cats and his dog named “Jazz.”  The bedroom in the basement, with a canopy bed, has a door and window that open onto the garden.  Last, off the bedroom, we saw the bathroom.  There were intriguing, faux light switches on the wall (for show only, as there was no electricity!), a bathtub with claw feet, shaving supplies (he had a full beard as a young man, but was imberbe later in life), and at least 20 metal implements that resembled dentist’s tools, perhaps giving one pause as to what is kept around one’s house.

The group arrived for Les journées Ravel just as we had returned upstairs. Claude introduced us to the visitors and invited us to sign the guest book.  We thanked her profusely for allowing us the time to squeeze in a visit before the conference was to begin, and then we stepped outside, where I suggested that I take a photo of Claude and Colleen.  Claude protested — speaking for the first time in English — and then relented.

Curiously, just across the street from Ravel's house had once lived another composer, who also happened to be King of the Franks and Duke of Burgundy — Robert II, the second reigning member of the Capetian dynasty.  Also a singer and a poet, he had built a castle here in 996, but unfortunately it was destroyed by the English during the Hundred Years' War.  Today one can take a romantic stroll amongst the ruins of this castle, which even inspired an ode by Victor Hugo.



We then walked down the hill into the village center, where we looked around and stopped at a little marché.  We then decided that, with a visit to the Debussy museum planned for the afternoon, we should take an early lunch.

We found a bistro on the main square, where we ordered a planche du bistrot avec jambon, boeuf sèche, terrine, pomme campagnard et salade balsamique (a repast fit for a Gascon:  a wooden board piled with air-cured ham, dried (raw) beef, potted meat, country potatoes, and salad with balsamic vinegar), which we shared.



After lunch, I asked our waitress, “Est-ce qu’il y a un taxi près d’ici?”

She gave us a hopeless shrug and said, “Je suis désolé,”, amazed that someone might imagine finding a taxi in a tiny village such as Montfort-l’Amaury.

We paid our bill and began walking down the road, consoling ourselves that perhaps it was better that there were no taxis available, considering Ravel’s experience with them.

We walked some distance, reaching the edge of the village.  Soon a peloton — a congealed mass of bicyclists, Tour-de-France style — whizzed by, skinny, spandex enshrouded legs a-blur.  Then all was quiet again and we seemed to be getting nowhere.  The air was still; even the birds were silent.  No other humanity shared the street with us and even the houses covered their eyes with their shutters.

Soon we heard a car approaching, and I stuck my thumb out.  The car stopped.  We ran and got into the car, and with our conversation entirely in French this time, the driver brought us directly to the train station, where we thanked him and thanked him more, and from there we departed for the Musée Claude Debussy.



The photographs used in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are by Curt Veeneman.

Related Posts (France)

Who started Travel Con Brio®?

Composer, scholar (in music theory, ethnomusicology, and music history), performer, educator, conference organizer, and entrepreneur, Curt Veeneman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

His additional interests, subsumed in wonder at the beauty of God’s entire creation, include art (he was an art major before the balance tipped ever-so-slightly toward music), literature, architecture, photography, mathematics, history, languages, cultural studies, world-cuisines, and, of course, travel.
photograph by Colleen Veeneman

In founding Travel Con Brio®, Curt was eager to synthesize all of these interests to create imaginative, stirring, and enlightening experiences to be enjoyed by both young and mature travelers alike.  The tours that he organizes reflect his extensive travel experience and familiarity with the art, music and culture of numerous countries, with each tour being richly enhanced by local experts.

Curt and his wife Colleen live near San Francisco.  They have three children.

What is this blog about?

Culled from a number of trips abroad, this blog compiles various experiences in an attempt to reveal the cultural nuances of places visited on Travel Con Brio® tours.  Sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, Curt’s observations are intended to describe and appreciate the personalities, character, idiosyncrasies, conventions, mood, and ambiance of places visited.  Contemplations of topics ranging from language and customs to climate and bureaucracies are freely offered alongside art and music reviews.  Any cultural issue, if illuminating, can become the focus.

These musings on the personal impact of various cultures are offered so that you, as a traveler, may compare and contrast your own impressions with them.  Do you share a similar interest?  Do you agree with a specific conclusion?  Or is there a fine distinction to be made regarding a particular point?  You are invited to leave your comments; please, however, be respectful of other readers.

And last, a caveat:  flukes, asymmetries, and twists of fate may suggest more about Curt than about any foreign culture under discussion.

What are some of Curt Veeneman’s musical activities?

As a composer, Curt has spoken and/or his works have been performed throughout the United States, in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Bulgaria.  He is the winner of several awards, including the ASCAP-Hubbell Award for composition.

Curt Veeneman's compositions include Les Cloches, inspired by the life of Joan of Arc (premièred by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra), The Wiry Concord for 5-string banjo, dulcimer, cimbalom, harp, harpsichord, piano, viola and percussion (available on Capstone Records), Mountain Thyme, based on Bulgarian folk music (recorded by the Sofia Symphony Orchestra), Alcuin's Riddle, for orchestra and 15 soloists who cross the “audience-river,” Hommage for voice, flute, 'cello, piano, and percussion, Windmills, computer music featuring sampled wind turbines on California's Altamont Pass, and Pneuma for solo flute, (also available on Capstone Records).

Of this last work, the following comments have been made:  “J’ai beaucoup apprécié le lyrisme et la rigueur de Pneuma pour flûte de Curt Veeneman”  (I greatly appreciate the lyricism and the precision of Curt Veeneman’s Pneuma for flute) —Gérard Condé, Le Monde, Paris, 29 August 1996; “a well written piece”  — Robert Dick, flutist, author of The Other Flute; “it is quite exciting!” — Molly Alicia Barth of eighth blackbird; and “strong and imaginative” — Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice, 13 March 2006.

As a new music promoter, he directed the new music ensemble Sonor Borealis at University of Alberta, Canada, and founded and directed the concert series, PACIFIC MARKET: Fresh Music From Around The World, at the University of the Pacific.  As a performer, Curt Veeneman is recorded on Music and Arts.

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