The Juilliard School in collaboration with the Médiathèque Musicale Mahler offers a Tribute to Leading Mahler Musicologist Henry-Louis de La Grange

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Nélida Nassar   07.10.2018

An intimate, by-invitation-only tribute to Henry-Louis de La Grange took place at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, organized by Nicolas Dufetel and Jane Gottlieb. Who is de La Grange? A major musicologist of the 20th century, who devoted his life to Gustav Mahler. A Franco-American, born to Emily Sloane and the Baron Amaury de La Grange, he was at home on both sides of the Atlantic, but his youth and adolescence were firmly rooted in the new world. He studied the humanities in Paris and New York, and literature at Aix-en-Provence University and at the Sorbonne. He then enrolled simultaneously at Yale University’s School of Business and School of Music. Subsequently, he studied piano privately in Paris under Yvonne Lefébure and harmony, counterpoint, and analysis under Nadia Boulanger.

Mahler was at the center of La Grange’s life, but his interests extended to many other aspects of music, and thus the aim of the present gathering was to emphasize these other musical interests, especially his collection of musical manuscripts and his love for the piano. He personally knew Alfred Cortot and profoundly admired the great pianist, and he purchased part of the latter’s collection of scores and books, which forms the core of the Médiathèque Musicale Mahler. While La Grange focused on Mahler, one should not forget that he was curious about virtually every aspect of the history of music, and was especially fond of 19th century piano music.

A few weeks after his death in 2o17, an homage was held in Paris with the Secession Orchestra conducted by Clément Mao-Takacs. The idea of organizing a Franco-American tribute in New York, a city he loved and where he had many friends who had been unable to attend the Paris event, originated with Nicholas Dufetel (CNRS, Institut de recherche en musicologie/IReMus, Paris) in collaboration with Jane Gottlieb, the Vice President for Library & Information Resources, and Director of the C.V. Starr Doctoral Fellows Program at The Juilliard School of Music. Dufetel initially suggested the idea to Gottlieb and together they turned it into a reality.

Dufetel is member of the executive board of the Fonds de La Grange Fleuret (Fondation de France), founded by La Grange when he decided to make the Fondation de France his sole beneficiary and to bequeath his rich collection to it. The board works closely with the Médiathèque Musicale Mahler in Paris, founded in 1986 by La Grange and Fleuret, and with the Fondation de Royaumont, with which it is associated.

The celebration in New York was intended not only to honor La Grange’s memory, but also to demonstrate that the Médiathèque Musicale Mahler is involved in various projects that build on the legacies of La Grange and Fleuret to music and musicology. For example, the Médiathèque has organized several concerts, teaching, research, and editing projects with Royaumont. It is also supporting the publication of La Grange’s last volume of Mahler’s biography, the long-awaited first volume, completed by his assistant Sybille Werner. Incidentally, the beautiful home of the Médiathèque, a Haussmann-designed building close to the Parc Monceau in Paris, will be closed next year for a complete renovation and reconstruction, in order to make it a central facility for Parisian musical life. 

Dufetel’s main expertise covers 19th-century German music, cosmopolitism, Levantine Studies, and Liszt, a composer whom La Grange loved – especially his piano music, though it appears that he did not know his religious music, which was the subject of Dufetel’s doctoral dissertation. La Grange once told him: “I could have studied Liszt and written his biography, but you know… he lived too long (75)! As for Mahler, he died at 50, so it was easier for me to try to research everything he did every day in his life. Liszt would have been too complicated!” 

Dufetel and La Grange had a special kinship. La Grange visited him in Weimar, the city of Goethe and Liszt, and together they made pilgrimages to the houses of the latter figures, but also to Buchenwald. A few months later, La Grange told Dufetel that before he died there was one Mahler piece he would like to listen to in his company: the Eighth Symphony, of course! Mahler, like Liszt, was a pianist and a conductor who devoted a great part of his musical life to other composers, often performing their works. Both were acclaimed first as performers, and both had to fight to be recognized as composers. There is still a mountain of research to be done on Liszt. Thousands of documents, letters, music remain unpublished – even his diaries!  

The Juilliard tribute was divided into two parts, Mahler and a very rich program of piano music. Barbara Haws, the archivist at the New York Philharmonic, who knew La Grange and worked with him when he was researching the composer’s biography set the tone for the afternoon with a short talk entitled  “H-L de la Grange: Seeking the Humanity in Music.” The Mahler Mexican Society Prize was presented by its president Francisco Bricio to the Médiathèque Musicale Mahler, and then music by Mahler, Ravel and Debussy followed.

The Médiathèque Musicale Mahler’s collections include the autographs of 2 of the 3 lieder as well as that of the piano transcription of the finale of his Ninth Symphony, which was performed by the Juilliard School’s baritone Dominik Belavy and pianist Christopher Reynolds. Also featured are the two of the most promising pianists of their generation both from the Paris Conservatory of Music Paul Drouet and Guillaume Masson. They played Debussy’s music, as this year marks the 100th anniversary of his death with Fêtes launching their performance to a joyous beginning. They followed it by Cortot’s arrangement for two pianos of Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand; for that manuscript, still unpublished, is part of the collection, too (working edition by PhD Candidate Vincent Bridet). First performed in November 2017 at the Conservatoire de Paris during the centennial conference of the Société française de musicologie, it here received its US Premiere! The two pianists sound was entirely their own. Their devotion to the French repertory is extraordinary. They ennobles that music in a way no one else can. They made us listen to these genius with fresh ears. Altogether, it was a most enchanting event!

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