When I was seventeen I was a pupil at the Paris Conservatoire and I had already
written some pages to which I did not attach much importance. With ink and
paper... it is so easy to compose. At this time I was studying the violin in
Jules Boucherit's class. My teacher had had the good idea of setting up an
examination in January, organized in the same way as the test at the end of the
year. We had to play a set work, then a piece chosen from three, and to
sight-read something. One of my friends, who appreciated my first attempts at
composition, suggested to Jules Boucherit that he ask me to compose the
sight-reading work. The idea amused me; I agreed and one evening wrote a little
piece. I thought nothing more about it until, some weeks later. I received a
letter from the Societe Musicale Independante, an association that had an
executive committee of Maurice Ravel, Sergey Prokofiev, Bela Bartok and Igor
Stravinsky, announcing that my Sonatina for two violins and piano was
among the works on the programme of the 100th concert of the S.M.I. I was
thunderstruck... Persuaded that it was a joke, I immediately called the friend
who had been at the origin of the work. He knew nothing of this letter and then
asked Jules Boucherit, who admitted that he had been the one who sent my score
to the S.M.I. My sonatina was played and after the concert I met Nadia
Boulanger, who gave me great encouragement. My career as a composer really began...
your position in the aesthetic debates of the period?
M.R.: I was very
early interested in everything that was going on. The period was a rich one for
all the artistic disciplines and I was quickly introduced into the circles
known as "avant-garde". As far as concerns Les Six, I thought there
was a certain exaggeration in the attitude of these artists - but on the other
hand I was attracted by their spirit of freedom, in spite of the weaknesses of
their compositions. They brought in a little fresh air.
your opinion of Claude Debussy?
M.R.: By chance I
had discovered him very early on. I remember one week- end having read through
the score of Pelleas on a
little harmonium. There was there a language that was very new but that did not
break completely connections with w hat had gone before. I found that
formidable technique and a very disciplined imagination was needed to make a
true revolution. It was at this moment that I became involved with Debussy. He
remains for me the model of the free musician who does not dismiss the past nor
deny the spirit of the country in which he was born, his position as a French
And of Maurice Ravel?
M.R.: Until I was
twenty-two, in spite of all the encouragement I had received, I hesitated to
dedicate myself to composition. I had the impression that I lacked the
equipment for this. It was Maurice Ravel who really ordered me to devote myse1f
to it. But he was similarly at the origin of my career as a conductor. One day
when I was at Monfort-L'Amaury for my composition lessons, Ravel was late. He
explained that he had spent the morning with those in charge of the Pasdeloup
Concerts and had asked them to devote one of the programmes of the following
season to my compositions. I was mad with joy. Then he told me that I would
conduct the orchestra. That seemed to me impossible; I had never been in this
position before. I then passed terrible months, asking myse1f how to behave
with a hundred musicians in front of me, what I should do, what I should say to
them ...The day of the rehearsal came. 5haking, I began to work with the
orchestra. Then the break came. I stepped down from the podium and found myself
in the presence of Rene-Bhaton and Desire-Emile Inghelbrecht, both of them
permanent conductors of the Pasdeloup Orchestra. "How long have you been
conducting, young man?", Inghelbrecht asked. "One hour", I
answered. "Very well ... go on all your life, you are made for it",
Ravel choose you?
M.R.: Ravel did so
much for me, spoke so much about me, that one day I asked him why he was
attracted to my music. He answered: "I believe you have outstanding
point of view of
musical language, did Ravel allow you to show something that was only
M.R.: Here and
there he had some important things to say. I remember, for example, having one
day received for one of my works the congratulations of a publisher who advised
me to give priority in my future scores to whatever contributed to my own
originality so that one could easily recognise the composer. When I reported
this to Ravel, he was very angry and told me to forget this advice: "Never
try to pin down what they say is your character. If you have one, it will be
clear in spite of you", he told me.
And in orchestrat;on? Did he show you his secrets?
Ravel's genius as an orchestrator, I thought I was going to learn very quickly
the secrets of this art. He made nothing of it. It took me two years, in fact,
to understand what orchestration was. And I understood when I thought about
Ravel's ideas: one day he had compared for me the art of orchestration to that
of a magician.
Coming now to
the orchestral works and songs on this compact disc. It is a sort of musical
portrait of Rosenthal the composer. ..
M.R.: Yes, in
fact. It is a thing that gives me great satisfaction in this recording. In the
space of little over an hour it gives a very complete idea of my work, with, in
addition to the songs, orchestral work that is restrained and colourful, Les
petits metiers, a work for full orchestra, and Musique de table. This
last belongs to a category that is little exploited, the concerto for
orchestra. In this composition, under the pretext of a Pantagruellian meal, one
hears the instruments of the orchestra as soloists, in sections and all
together. It is a very difficult score, intended to underline all the
instrumental possibilities of sonority and virtuosity, and I am very satisfied
with the interpretation offered by the Orchestra of Nancy which has brought out
certain details much better than other groups: I think, for example, of a
wonderful tuba. I performed this work first with the Orchestre National. Then
the BBC Orchestra played it ... after having refused to do so, arguing its
great difficulty. The same thing happened with the New York Philharmonic. I
then suggested that they should hear the Orchestre National. ..They finally
listener who enjoys a concert knows nothing of the complex life of an
orchestra. He has in front of hirn an "enterprise" of a hundred
people who live together for one sole thing, music. This is perhaps the morallesson
of a concerto for orchestra such as Musique de table.
metiers is an earlier work?
M.R.: Yes. It
dates from 1933. Originally it was a suite for piano commissioned by Magda Tagliaferro
that I later orchestrated. In this score I have put my memories of the urchin I
once was in the streets of Paris. They were full of the songs of the
trades-people, glazier, knife-grinder and so on. But I did not forget the
wet-nurses who fed the new-born children of richer families, the soldiers or
the little telegraph-boys, urchins of twelve or thirteen years old who carried
telegrams by bicycle. In short, all those little trades that favoured exchange
between people and contributed to a very French and very cheerful atmosphere.
And the vocal works?
shows my interest in the voice in three different ways. First the Deux poemes
de Jean Cassou belong to a collection for which I had the idea, the Album
Musical de la Resistance, in which I asked some of my friends in the
resistance to set poems.
In quite a
different spirit are the three songs on poems by a friend, Marie Roustan. These
poems are very urbane, very light, but I took particular care with the
As for the three Prieres
courfes, they cultivate a reduction in the use of the orchestra in order to
bring out the meaning of the text. Apart from my stage- works, these give a
complete over-view of my vocal compositions.
and Frederic Castello
version by Keith Anderson)
conductor and composer Manuel Rosenthal was born in Paris
in 1904 and studied the violin at the Paris Conservatoire, with lessons in
counterpoint from Jean Hure and in composition from Ravel. From 1934 he was
joint conductor and from 1944 to 1947, chief conductor of the Orchestre
National of French radio, conducted the Seattle Symphony Orchestra from 1948 to
1951, and thereafter enjoyed an international career. His compositions include
operas, scores for the ballet, orchestral and choral works, chamber music and