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ALS to Composer William Molard about “Hamlet” and the Case of Murderer Jean-Jacques Liabeuf

Signed by Maurice Ravel

Item: 21903
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RAVEL, MAURICE. (1875-1937). French composer; creator of masterpieces such as Daphnis et Chloe, Gaspard de la nuit and Bolero. ALS. (“Maurice Ravel”). 1p. 12mo. Paris, [June 10, 1910]. On a Carte-Lettre. To French-Norwegian composer William Molard (1862-1937) about the cancellation of Molard’s Symphony, Hamlet, which had not been selected for the first orchestra concert of the Société Musical Indépendante. In French with translation.

“I have received from Ouvré a letter that amazes me: 1st He did not ask for Liabeuf’s pardon because Hamlet was not performed. 2nd It is I who caused the symphony not to be produced.

I thought that, in this affair, I had shown myself to be if not a better comrade than Schmitt, at least not as disorganized and more effective.

I do not like ambiguous situations. I demand from my colleagues that at the next committee meeting, on Monday or Tuesday, you be received and that a full explanation be given.

I apologize for bothering you, but I believe that an old friendship, if it is not worth a man’s head, is at least worth a few minutes…”

At the turn of the 19th century, the word “Apache” was used to describe Paris’ violent street thugs and their culture. As many of these gangs were centered in the city’s artistic enclave of Montmartre, it is not surprising that aspects of les Apaches found their way into artistic expression. In 1900, Ravel joined an artistic group that called itself Les Apaches. “Typical of many such bands of artistic allies, it was formed around the turn of the century, and its regular meetings offered its members a stimulating platform for their work as well as a congenial milieu for aesthetic discussion,” (The New Grove Dictionary).

Jean-Jacques Liabeuf

Jean-Jacques Liabeuf

Ravel must have found comfort in the unrestricted and open atmosphere of the group, members of which included Manuel de Falla, Stravinsky, and the prolific French composer Florent Schmitt (1870-1958). In 1910, Jean-Jacques Liabeuf (1886-1910), a so-called “Apache,” was convicted of killing a police officer while wearing spiked gauntlets that wounded several other officers. An anarchist whose ambition had been to free women from prostitution, Liabeuf’s crime was revenge for being jailed on charges of pimping that were drummed up after he interfered with payoffs the police received from prostitution. For the killing, he was sentenced to death over protests from anarchists and revolutionary socialists. The debate became so heated that the politician Gustave Hervé, editor of a periodical entitled Class War, received a four-year prison sentence for publishing articles in Liabeuf’s defense. Ravel was among many who sought leniency for Liabeuf. In his book, Musician’s Gallery, Ravel’s friend Michel de Calvocoressi recorded, “Ravel was among the most eager to secure a reprieve [for Liabeuf]… He was, he told me, against the death penalty always…he averred that Liabeuf had been the victim of a trumped-up charge simply because he was an anarchist, and the blind fury which had led him to avenge his honour by shooting his accusers was understandable. After Liabeuf’s execution [by guillotine on July 2, 1910], Ravel was so upset that for a few days he shut himself up in his home, refusing to see anybody.”

Our letter, written less than a month before Liabeuf’s execution, probably refers to illustrator Achille Ouvré (1872-1951), who completed Ravel’s portrait in 1910. Molard, Ravel’s friend, classmate, and an occasional composer, was also Gauguin’s neighbor, residing in Montparnasse, in a “modest two-story building [that] became one of the relatively rare meeting-places between artists and musicians,” (“Gauguin’s Cellist,” The Burlington Magazine, Sensbach). Gauguin’s Portrait of William Molard hangs in Paris’ Musée d’Orsay.

Written on a folded carte-lettre, on which Ravel has added his name on the return address portion. In very fine condition.

ALS to Composer William Molard about “Hamlet” and the Case of Murderer Jean-Jacques Liabeuf

Signed by Maurice Ravel

$2500 • item #21903

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