Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Maurice Ravel

Joseph Maurice Ravel ca. 1920
Joseph Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), circa 1920

We mark the death on December 28, 1937 – 83 years ago today – of the French composer and pianist Maurice Ravel, in Paris, at the age of 62.

We will get to the magnifique and formidable Monsieur Ravel in a moment, but first, we’ve a birthday to acknowledge.

Georg Solti and Roger Sessions in 1976
Georg Solti (1912-1997, left) and Roger Sessions (1896-1985) in 1976

We mark the birth on December 28, 1896 – 124 years ago today – of the American composer and teacher Roger Huntingdon Sessions, in Brooklyn New York. He died, at the age of 88, on March 16, 1985, in Princeton, New Jersey.

I myself never studied with Roger Sessions; he had retired from the Princeton faculty in 1965, while I was in attendance from 1972 to 1976. Nevertheless, the “old man” cut a wide swath on campus. And why the heck not? A multiple Pulitzer Prize winner; friend of Arnold Schoenberg, Aaron Copland, and Thomas Mann; Norton Fellow at Harvard: there was hardly an American musical event that took place during the twentieth century that Sessions wasn’t in some way involved with.

Andrew Imbrie ca. 1980
Andrew Imbrie (1921-2007) circa 1980

While I never studied with Sessions, I did indeed study with his protégé Andrew Welsh Imbrie (1921-2007) when I was a graduate student at the University of California Berkeley; Imbrie was my Ph.D. thesis advisor. And thus a silly game I love to play, and that is to trace my personal musical lineage back through my teachers. My principal teacher was Andrew Imbrie; Imbrie’s principal teacher was Roger Sessions. Sessions’ principal teacher was the Swiss-born American composer Ernest Bloch (1880-1959). 

Roger Sessions and Ernest Bloch ca. 1930
Roger Sessions (left) and Ernest Bloch (1880-1959), circa 1930

Bloch studied with the German composer Iwan Otto Armand Knorr (1853-1916) in Frankfurt. Knorr’s principal teacher was Carl Heinrich Carsten Reinecke (1824-1910). Reinecke, in turn, studied with Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt at the Leipzig Conservatory.

Mendelsohn studied with Carl Friedrich Zelter (1758-1832). Zelter was self-taught, so that branch of my pedagogic tree dies there. 

It is with Schumann and Liszt that the tree further branches; bear with me! …

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