A secret dedication hidden in Maurice Ravel's music - Home
Chapitre 2
 Points of view

Did Ravel like ...


... the other sex ?

 [...] Ravel was very touched by feminine beauty : we will have the occasion to talk about Jenny d'Aranyi or Maria Valente.
To conclude  with Ravel-and-the-theatre (and also with Ravel-and-the-great-ladies), we have to evoke Ida Rubinstein. With her, it was a sort of love story. This links between a fabulously rich woman, who had famous lovers, and Ravel. But I think she really had - added to a normal admiration - much tenderness for Ravel-the-man...
In Ravel's life that I personnaly  concider so full, one always points to the fact that there is no woman, or, more precisely, no sex. One has hawked many legends or hasty interpretations, as the blusher Alma Mahler had seen on Ravel's face and was joking about. Let us specify that it was some rice-powder, commonly used in France, even in the lower classes, that one applied oneself in order to conceal a growing beard, or to soften the effects of the shave.
One has to admit that Ravel had a mediocre and unhappy emotional life. One day [...] he told me abruptly : "You see, an artist must be very careful before deciding to marry because he is constantly  preoccupied with his creative work and that can be hardly funny to his companion. One must think about that if one wants to marry."

Moreover, I knew, by crosschecking and due to a confidence from Hélène Jourdan-Morhange herself, that he had proposed to marry her. Embarrassed, she had to tell him very frankly no, that she loved him infinitely and that he knew it well, but that there could be no question of marriage between them.

Although he was not flirting, Ravel wasn't chaste. At the time, the phone badly worked and it happened that, calling someone who was already on line, one was connected to the conversation. That's why I found out, against my will, that Ravel did not ignore expeditious rendez-vous.
Often, when he had visited his brother at Levallois, he was giving me appointment in a bar of the porte Champeret. And the fist time he told me about this place, he said : " It is fine, and you'll see, there are "ladies"... and, when we met there, I perfectly saw that some of them were gently greeting him as if the were knowing him very well. On his side, he felt no discomfort and was cheerfully waving back his hand, saying " Hello, hello...".
That seems to  dismiss the inkling of homosexuality that some people saw fit to insinuate.
[He] was attracted by Maria Valente; it was a gorgeous girl who entered the stage dressed in black and wearing trousers (that was rare) very thin, very elegant, with a beautiful body. The stage was full of all kinds of instruments and she was perfoming a number [...] in which she played them.  [...] Ravel went to her, and she was afraid. How well she did !
Still, music-hall was a wonderful school. "

Ravel, souvenirs de Manuel Rosenthal, interviewed by Marcel Marnat, Hazan, 1995. See pages 18, 31,132-134, 155.

... the stronger one ?

" L'indifferent is a real feat of grace and delicacy. The poem is charming but the music multiplied its radiance. Here, Ravel finds the mean to evolve in a kind of ambiguity whose flavor is rare. We don't know from who comes the call despised by the young foreigner whose eyes are "soft like those of a girl" and who goes his way, "the hip bended by his feminine and lascivious walking". Is this "éphèbe" pushing back the invitation of a courtesan or of some Greek philosopher ?
When one knows what has been called the sexual enigma of Ravel, who was himself an "indifferent", one is disturbed by all this delicate mystery, floating around this small text, full of so peculiar resonances, and one perceives that this page is one of his most protected part of his sensibility. He gives up his usual restraint confiding himsel in a kind a lyrical effusion, discreet but convincing, which is, in all his works an exceptionnal confession. "
 Emile Vuillermoz (1878-1960) fut condisciple de Ravel dans la classe de Fauré.. (Maurice Ravel par quelques-uns de ses familiers, éd. du Tambourinaire, 1939, p.65-66)

Etienne Rousseau-Plotto quotes :
 "José Bruyr is wondering as many do on the "young foreigner whose eyes are soft like those of a girl", hero of the third melody of  Shéhérazade. The biographer even speaks of a pathetically discreet confession of that one calls the "sexual complex" of Ravel".
and he adds :
"Others confessions more explicit exist like when the composer is calling himself a "guy of the kind of Louis II de Bavière but less zany".

Here Etienne Rousseau-Plotto quotes Vuillermoz, (cf supra) then he writes :

"We are far from the Basque manly and hardhearted, whose picture was sometimes applied to the composer, picture that he may have wished to give himself; that explains his mysterious side. He is an adult, staid as a child, which is, indeed, not so rare.
But as an adult, he had many nights out in Paris as in Ciboure or in Saint-Jean-de-Luz. [...] Hélène Jourdan-Morhange told that, after 1920 : "Ravel feared insomnia and was always delaying the time to go home. He loved to walk during the night in Paris's  street." What was he looking for in his nocturnals walkis ? He met many friends in the fashionable cabarets and restaurant[...] . But perhaps he looked also the furtive meetings about which Julien Green writes in his mémoires (for himself). However, if there is hardly any doubt about Ravel's homosexuality, whatever say too prudish biographers (and Marguerite Long prefer attributing him meeting with some "Vénus de carrefour" (street Venuses), he was inhibited during all his life. Is the episode of the young crooks in 1929 hiding an affair of seduction or did they only  benefit from Maurice's ingenuity ?Why one recuses Alma Mahler testimony, as does Manuel Rosenthal ?
[...] What a pity the great Viennese lady did not introduce him to Sigmund Freud, as she had obtained from her husband Gustav Mahler, who paniced in 1910 in his relations with this fascinating and fanciful woman. According to his biographer Ernest Jones, Freud guessed that the name of Mahler's mother was Mary (like Ravel's mother). [...] Alma is relating this episode and concludes :
" Freud told him "You are seeking, in each woman your mother who was a poor  tormented valetudinarian..." Then he added, talking of me, that I was searching for may father as a spiritual principle... that was true. But my father was a jovial man and  Gustave Mahler, when I knew him, was, excepting some few occasional adventures, almost virgin... and he was 40. That is no hazard. Born bachelor, he was afraid of women. His fear to be found "diminished" was immeausurable, prudent he was avoiding life, that is to say the woman."
Marie Delouart [Ravel's mother], basquaise, was from a family circle where dominated the feminine element (fatherless family, civilization of the echeko-andere, the housewife) In his infantile passion for her, Maurice was probably fearing her, and in his sadless more or less persistent, as in his difficulty to come out of mourning his parent, Freud would have found this love-and-hate : who suffers after the death of the beloved person, is often blaming himself for the unspokable desire of getting rid of her."

Personnaly , I am sure of nothing... but of the thinness of this "demonstration".
And I hope that all the men whose mother's name is Mary will still be free to chose which sex they prefer...
Etienne Rousseau-Plotto  wrote a Ravel, portraits basques (Atlantica, 2004) very  interesting for the Basque side of Ravel.
 I regret that the author quotes Ravel comparing himself with Louis  II de Bavière without explaining the context, because if Louis II was homosexual he was also known for his  frenzy of construction which gave us the castles of Herrenchiemsee, Neuschwanstein (Dysney's one), Linderhoff.
Ravel in his letter is clearly refering to this side of the characther of Louis II :

" Now my settling in [M   ontfort]  is completed, I would like to  start again somewhere else. I am a guy of the kind of Louis II de Bavière but less zany "

It is interesting to quote Alma Mahler to see if the testimony of which E. Rousseau-Plotto is so convincing :

" He was a peculiar guest and interesting. He lived three weeks alone with me in my little viennese home and conducted himsel the repetitions of his concerts. The two of us often had our meagre meals alone (it was occuring just after the war and starvation was menacing). I had all the time to study him. He was a Narcisse. He brought everything to his physique and to his great beauty. Although he was small, his body was so well proportionned that his elegant and light figure  was of outstanding harmony.
He had great pleasure to play a disquieting role. It was a peculiar mask of perversion that wore at that time, in Paris, the young educated musicians, as for instance, Darius Milhaud. But, only as for amusement, and it was probably also the case for Ravel. He was a man of culture and tasteful sensibility, like Milhaud, Poulenc, and all our friends of the french modern muscians' group.
Ravel liked to wear shining taffeta dresses, that he showed off on the morning when he appeared in my home, painted and perfumed for the breakfast. "
Ma vie, Alma Mahler, Julliard, 1961. (translation of the 1935 version)

The technicity and nothing else?

"The special train finally appeares, drawn by a locomotive of the 120 type, a mixed version of the fast 11 Buddicom. The handymen begin to load the luggages in the places designed to that end while Ravel is saying goodbye to the ladies, using all the distinction of his manners, complimenting, kissing their hands, thanking them and declaring his affection. Then he gets up in the first class carriage and finds easily his place, booked near the window whose pane he lowered. Little gentle words are exchanged again, running out at the time of the departure. when the ladies pick a handkerchief out of their purse and undertake to shake it. Ravel is not shaking anything, restricting himself to a last angular smile with a sign of the hand before raising up the pane and open his newspaper again.
He is leaving for the harbour station of Le Havre in order to go to North America. It is the first time he goes there, it will be the last. He has exactly ten years left to live." (p. 17-18)

" He could perhaps try to sleep with somebody, couldn't he? Slumber is sometimes easier when one is less alone in a bed. He could give it a try. But no, nothing doing! One does not know that he would have amorously loved, man or woman, anybody." (p. 84)

" You're really stupid, Marguerite [Marguerite Long who does not  find the tickets for the train], Ravel  says, getting coldly wound up. A stupid idiot, he specifies, composedly folding in four a newspaper." (p. 98)

I learned this morning due to M. Cassard  that the memoires of Arthur Rubinstein is the source of this passage. I don't think it's quite fair to use it, but it serves well Echenoz 's thesis of a cold-hearted Ravel.
This book is picturing Ravel as a maniac of the detail, of the technical side of things, occulting all the affection he had for his friends (the Godebski, Delage, Hélène Jourdan-Morhange...). I do not say the novel is not made with  a certain art. But, on my point, that's a litterary murder. I feel all the more sad of it because Ravel, despite his mask, was "the first to be hurt" of such tales (see what his friends have said in this page, especially Koechlin).
Ravel, J.Echenoz, les éditions de Minuit, 2006.  

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