A secret dedication hidden in Maurice Ravel's music - Home

Page 13 Playing on words Le coeur de l'horloge

Ravel writes to his fellow student  Florent Schmitt, who has just won the First Prix de Rome :
"[...] How unlucky you are, my dear friend, to be to far from Paris [in Rome] to hear such things !"
And he adds, as if masculine brotherhood could not be perfect without a touch of misogyny :
"It is doubtful that yould ever receive a letter from Miss Toutain, a maiden having to abstain from corresponding with a bachelor. This argument, given by the mother of the young person, looked specioux to me, having always considered a woman writing fugues as a bit hermaphrodite. Here must end these confidences, unless I would be late for Mrs David's dinner, where I hope to bring some original defamations about you."
A. Orenstein, op. cit. p.64-65.

Between music fanatics...
The Apaches, a group of music lovers gathered around Ravel, are elaborate a musical dictionary that may have been not approved by the Conservatoire (jokes being not always easy to translate, I left the French definition that could help to understand the word for word translation) :
Word French definition Translation Comments

Forme musicale détonante et alcoolique, qui caractérise la mode sous Louis XIV Musical structure, explosive and alcoholic, typical of Louis XIV fashion.
Octave Empereur romain mesurant huit notes d'une extrémité à l'autre  Roman emperor, eight notes sized.
Point Façon de faire la dentelle qui augmente de moitié la valeur de la note Way of making lace that adds to the value of a note its half. In French, "point" means also stitch.
Sensible Femme placée sur le septième degré de la gamme. Woman standing on the seventh degree of a scale. In French the "Sensible" means also "leading tone"
Sol Poisson plat dont le dos se trouve une quinte plus bas Flat fish whose back [dos] is a fifth below In French, "sol" means (the note G) sounds like "sole" (the fish) and "dos" (back)  like "do" (C).
(Quarter rest)
Silence employé à la construction des ponts Silence employed for bridges construction. Refering to the "Pont des soupirs"
Suspension Note prolongée jusqu'au milieu de la salle à manger Note, protracted as far as the midst of the dining room. "Suspension" (fermata) means also centre light, light fitment.
Viole Instrument ancien considéré comme un crime Old instrument, considered like a crime. "Viole" (viol, viola) sounds like "viol" (rapture)

M.D. Calvocoressi, Music and Ballet.

Between close friends...
From Switzerland, Ravel relates to Ida Godebska some chosen excerpts from the  Journal de Genève :
For sale, a mare coming from a gendarme.
The French word for "coming from" ("provenant de") is understood by Ravel in the meaning "fathered by"

Maiden, wanting to divest herself from a sofa, could accept to loose something on it

A. Orenstein, op. cit. p136.

When l'Heure espagnolewas achieved, the director of the Opéra-Comique, Albert Carré is frightened by its crude subject. In an ironical and comical letter, Ravel tells how Carré tried to refuse the adulterous story of Concepcion :
"[...] I will tell you in the details the adventures of l'Heure espagnole : last Tuesday, I take my best Tolède's voice and go to Carré's with the sole Bathori (1)[...]. I croon more out of tune than ever, start breaking 3 notes of a drum piano, let Bathori alone for the bravura airs, and wait for the supreme decision : Refused... Impossible to impose such a subject to the ingenuous ears of the Opéra-Comique's subscribers. Think ! these lovers locked in clocks, being taken up to the bedroom ! One knows what they will do there !! (sic) I admit that it is the most improper situation staged since Jean Schopffer.(sic)(2) Doubtlessly perverted by unbecoming readings, when I was seeing lovers going in the woods, I had always supposed dishonest intentions. I understand now, thanks to this severe moralist, the Opéra-Comique's director, that my interpretation was vile, and that the less innocent misdemeanour of Carmen, of Manon, of Krysis or of the Queen Fiamette,(3) was to put too frequently their finger in the nose. And isn't it stupefying, this woman that admires a man's muscles  !"
A. Orenstein, op. cit p 94.
Notes ;
(1) Jane Bathori, pianist and singer, had created the Histoires Naturelles the year before.
(2) Jean Schopfer, alias Claude Anet, is awriter, a journalist, a tennis champion. He had never had a play staged at that time (1908), as far as I know...
(3) Krysis is the heroine of Pierre Louys (Aphrodite) and the Queen Fiamette a charachter of Catulle-Mendes.

Mimi Godebska relates :
"On Friday, we were not eating meat and Ravel, arriving, always asked :"What do we eat today? Polish cauliflower ?"
Often he added a word cruder, saying "as Père Ubu would say".
That's how he called my father."

The Père Ubu, in Jarry's play (December 1896), had astonished the public by his first word, "Merdre" : "Shit", improved (?) by a slight "poetic licence".

Revue musicaleQuelques souvenirs intimes sur Ravel. December 1938.

"[...]Anyway, he prided himself, on doing nothing like everybody. Invited to a dinner, he had a cheese-board sent. One brought flowers, but he thougt to the choice of cheeses[...]"
Rosenthal, p136.

And smiling !... until the end.
Soon before the unfortunate surgical operation, his friends take him to have his head shaved, and they try to make him believe to a simple radiography. But Ravel protests :
"I know very well that they will cut my nut."

The day before the operation, he rests at the Delage's, quasi-prostrated, and listen on the radio to a Ravel festival. The Bolero is played.
"And then, at the end, a tremendous burst of laughter of Rave, slapping his thighs. Then Delage asked : "But, Rara, what are you doing ?"
And Ravel [said] jerky: " Ah! What a good trick I played tothe musical world!"

According to me, the Bolero is not the best trick he played to us...
Rosenthal, p 190-191.
Le coeur de l'horloge
Hiding a name in all his music is a feat.
Funnier is to have left many clues of it.
I see him smiling, thinking :
 "I could even give them the key !"

Titre original de Jeux d'eau
Jeux d'eau, original idea for the title (B.N. Ms 15 198, Bob 5 943), not printed in the edition.

David Lamaze
Le Cygne de Ravel ~ Le Coeur de l'horloge