Fictional Letter from Ivana Meedintiano to Musical Times Editor, April 1, 1932


A Letter to the Editor of the Musical Times, in response to HJK’s concert remarks published in the March 1, 1932 edition (Vol. 73, No. 1069, p. 266), submitted by Mme. Ivana Meedintiano:[1],[2]


April 1, 1932 (Vol. 73, No. 1070):

SIR – HJK’s concert remarks concerning Claire Croiza’s recent London performance contain implications which I feel called to address. HJK wrote last month that while Croiza’s performance was charming in large measure, she displayed notable deficiencies, “step[ping] outside the limits of her finely-trimmed art” and struggling to manage ‘Asie’ of Ravel’s Shéhérazade. HJK stated, “It did not seem possible to associate this sweet singer with rough time, but in this song there were definite indications of forcing.”[3]

Claire Croiza Clip[4]

HJK’s remarks suggest that Croiza’s talent is decaying, that her voice is not what it was and that perhaps London’s patronage would be best taken elsewhere. Perhaps, he argues, it is time for Croiza to drift into the land of memory, a pleasantry in her heyday but simply another voice of the decade. If this thought should prevail, then I write with urgency. Now is as crucial a time as ever to recognize the transformation that Croiza has brought into our lives. At present, our world is uniquely interconnected and unsettled by remnants of war.[5] To rise out of the dust and move onward, France and England alike need a fresh musical culture – and Claire Croiza provides it. We must laud her example, a gentle yet powerful force that conveys every phrase and note at its most relevant, meaningful, and powerful. Croiza’s championship of art song is a new definition of vocal music that answers the quest for a revitalized future.

Claire Croiza[6]

I have known Claire for many years, and I consider her to be one of my dearest and most longtime friends. She and I have performed countless times together, and I have watched from the piano as she has mesmerized audiences and composers across western Europe and Britain with her bright mezzo voice.[7] Since the advent of her career, she has surprised her listeners: she delights them with unexpected simplicity so far removed from the burdensome opera that has become notorious in concert halls throughout France.[8]   Even at age 18, when she was first engaged by the Opéra at Nancy to sing Messaline in de Lara’s opera, she was noticeably different from other singers.[9] Her use of the whole person to express herself without any makeup aid rendered her an “unusual debutante” by Nancy’s young women, launching her immediate success.[10] More than two decades later, Croiza continues to surprise and to delight her audiences, lauded continually for her devotion to text emphasis without detriment to the music.[11]


I recognize that despite this praise, Claire’s name does not yet have the widespread acclaim that she deserves.[12] Certainly this is due in large measure to her transition from opera to art song, a transition that reflects poorly not on Croiza but on the deterioration of operatic artistry in the early part of our present century. As readers are well aware, since the turn of the century audiences and critics alike have expressed pervasive dissatisfaction with poor opera technique, fueled by the abundant overbearing Wagnerian influence that swept the continent. Thus emerged a growing penchant for song repertoire over opera arias. However, although this transition has now been underway for more than two decades, few singers have adapted their performance styles to fit the repertoire.[13] Many an unfortunate audience has thus been introduced to poorly performed song repertoire, leaving a sour taste for the genre. Moreover, because audiences have had little familiarity with the underperformed repertoire, many have been ill-prepared for the subtlely and melodic restraint so different from opera. The success of this music depended entirely on those who could perform it with sensitivity and craft to allow its natural beauty to radiate. These vocalists were few; Claire proved to be among them.[14]


No one should dare deceive himself that Croiza adhered to this change to mask operatic inadequacies or deficiencies. Let us not forget that for much of her musical career, Croiza herself has been an operatic artist whose work has been highly demanded in France by Rouché’s Théåtre des Arts, the Opéra-Comique, and the Théatre du Vaudeville; in Brussels by the Theatre de la Monnaie; and in London by Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House. She has performed the works of Berlioz, Gluck, Breville, and Faure – at their own requests – among numerous others.[15]



Only during the Great War, more than ten years into her career, did Croiza truly begin to champion the song recital, giving concerts free of charge for the Red Cross throughout France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy.[17]   I recall how something within Claire changed during that period, as if the simplicity she had long exuded on the opera stage found new meaning in the intimacy of a song recital. These performance experiences during the Great War seemed to fuel her dedication to poetry, to text, to intent more strongly than ever before. It became apparent to me that these recitals and concerts illuminated a new light within Claire, as she witnessed their healing and restorative powers night after night. Indeed, I have vivid memories of recital attendees expressing the bliss or the catharsis they felt upon hearing Croiza’s miracles of effortless interpretation. Arias were no longer enough for Claire, and her passion blossomed for utterly natural, unforced, and vulnerable song.[18]


Truly, both Croiza’s motivation and success in song performance are due to her unparalleled devotion and unique quality that she offers this style. In the past decade, it has been Croiza’s timbre that has defined purity, Croiza’s diction that has defined text declamation, Croiza’s musical control that has defined intimacy, Croiza’s presence that has defined holistic simplicity. Croiza is the embodiment of the rejection of nineteenth-century opera’s overbearing disconnectedness. She has instead embraced simplicity and, in simplistic vulnerability, brings every emotional essence into being.  One need to listen only once to hear the fine focus and transparency in her silky phrases, but the listener’s attention is captivated time and time again as Croiza artfully exercises her mastery of tone color to convey each minute emotional shift in music and in text.[19] She creates more than a performance; she creates an entire atmosphere into which her audiences are invited and captivated.



I myself can attest to this aura, for I feel it every time I share the stage with Claire. I recall one occasion prior to the war in which Croiza and I ventured together to meet the esteemed Debussy. He had heard of Croiza’s talents following her success in the title role of Faure’s Penelope at the Monnaie, and had invited her to his residence to perform some of his own works.[21] At this time, Croiza was still an active opera singer, but she had already begun to undertake song repertoire with diligence. As we rehearsed together to prepare for our visit, Croiza would describe to me how she wished to invoke Debussy’s notions of “La fantaisie dans la sensibilite” into her performances of each of his pieces through pure phrases, clear words, and simple expressivity.[22] She was successful: hours later, after she and I had finished performing “Ballad que Villon fait a La Requeste de sa Mere,” Debussy clapped his hands and exclaimed, “What a joy to hear my songs sung exactly as I have written them!”[23] Claire has since performed Debussy’s songs for countless recitals and performances. Critics continually marvel at how her simplicity of gesture and her musical restraint manifest in such poignant psychological understanding, crafting musical interpretations that are at once Hellenic and modern.[24] What could be more fitted for this present age in which our nations seek clarity, harmony, and order?[25][26]


Even as Croiza ages – she was 49 years of age on the evening of the performance in question – her legacy of musical craft invigorates musicians through her teaching. Many times have I had the joy of accompanying Claire to a master class to play for eager students. With every pupil, Croiza demonstrates care and devotion, intent upon relaying the importance of vocal music’s textual focus. Claire empowers each student to free his or her ‘other self’ and to allow oneself to be “completely absorbed by the music, the poem, the beauty of the whole.” I remember distinctly one particular class in this very city of London, in which Croiza took the hand of the student in question and said clearly,

We must have the courage to bare our soul, to express our faith and enthusiasm; we must create and live the characters in a scene of our imagining, and the face as well as the voice must, through our inward conviction and concentration, allow the actor to take precedence over the singer.[27]


Here, HJK, is the true beauty of Claire Croiza that cannot be forgotten even in a moment of her performance: Croiza’s musical ideologies are not confined to her person and her career. Rather, the very essence of Croiza’s talent is that it is so evidently meant to be shared – and it is time to share the news of Claire Croiza so that all may partake. Whether through performance or through teaching, Croiza has honed her music to evoke emotion, meaning, and artistry, so that student by student, audience by audience, vocal music in the twentieth century will become pure communication of meaning and emotion.


Croiza’s championship of song is precisely the healing balm that post-war Europe desperately needs. With text declamation at its core, vocal music created under the Croiza craft will suffer no heavy-handed impediments, no Wagnerian excesses.[28] Rather, just as Croiza instructs, each singer will free himself from “the obsession of tone-in-the-singular that so often prevents [him] from concentrating on the music.” Under Croiza’s legacy, vocal musicians of the twentieth century will serve both the musician and the poet in purest fashion, internalizing the text to best synthesize it with the music.[29] Gone be the emotionless stalemates of the past! Now is the time for musical rejuvenation that awakens every fiber of our being to feeling, a time to stir our hearts so that we may rebuild and renew our nations.


I am proud and humbled to be the friend and colleague of such a musician, and I implore all music patrons not to let petty performance concerns about Croiza’s aging but mighty voice impede appreciation for the extraordinary gift that her work and teachings present to vocal musicians of this century. In closing, I am reminded of the words of French poet Paul Valéry, who wrote in awe to Croiza:

Never have I seen a more prompt understanding of the musical system of poetry. Your soul, dear and noble artist, possessed it in all its power. I salute you and I admire you. The purest fire is in you![30]


Indeed, we should all aspire to have the fire in us.


Yours, &c.,

Ivana Meedintiano


[1] Ivana Meedintiano was a French pianist contemporary of Claire Croiza, and served as Croiza’s accompanist on

numerous occasions throughout Croiza’s performance and teaching career. Croiza considered Meedintiano to beone

of her closest friends. See Betty Bannerman, ed., The Singer as Interpreter: Claire Croiza’s Master Classes (London:

Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1989), 22.

[2] In 1914, composer Henry Duparc wrote to Croiza after she and Meedintiano had visited him to perform some of his

songs. In his letter, Duparc wrote of Meedintiano, “Please thank your most charming friend [Meedintiano], and tell

her that concerning her accompaniment about which she was very wrong to excuse herself, … I find, on the contrary,

that it was excellent; and I like immensely this expressive way of accompanying, that follows and envelops the voice

like a garment … from the heart and the intelligence.” See Carol Kimball, Song: A Guide to Art Song Style and

   Literature (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation, 2005), 174.

[3] F.H., “Morley College,” in The Musical Times Vol. 73 No. 1069, March 1, 1932,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Eugen Weber writes that the first World War “bled France white,” leaving the nation with a “sense of pacifism,

defensiveness, timidity, indecisiveness, and shortness of breath and initiative.” He states that even though

France was filled with patriots, patriotism was somehow dead. See Eugen Weber, The Hollow Years: France in

   the 1930s (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1994), 6.

[6] “Claire Croiza as Charlotte in the opera Werther by Jules Massenet, 1907.” Photograph. c1907. From Bibliothèque

nationale de France, Public Domain. Accessed via Wikipedia.

[7] Claire Croiza (b. Paris, 14 Sept. 1882; d. Paris, 27 May 1946) was a French mezzo-soprano who, throughout her

career, became known for her instinct for French language, tone clarity, and passionate reserve. Recordings, letters,

and performance notes document her warm yet shimmering vocal tone and her pure utterance of text. See Martin

Cooper, “Claire Croiza,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., Vol. 6 (London: Macmillan

Publishers Limited, 2001), 716.

[8] C.S. Schwab writes in her dissertation that “dissatisfaction with the art of singing was widespread by the turn of the

twentieth century, and writers cited a variety of causes, including Wagner, nineteenth-century opera, theatrical music

in general, and the traditional singers’ repertoire and training … music critics all agreed that because operatic

tessituras were so highly prioritized, singers were no longer being taught how to sing with refinement.” See Catharine

Mary Schwab, The Melodie Francaise Moderne: an Expression of Music, Poetry, and Prosody in Fin-De-Siecle

   France, and its Performance in the Recitals of Jane Bathori (1877-1970) and Claire Croiza (1882-1946), PhD diss.,

University of Michigan, 1991, ProQuest (AAT9124102).

[9] Croiza began her career at age 18 out of necessity: her father died suddenly, and she unexpectedly needed to find a

career quickly. She was sent to the French vocal teacher Jean de Reszke for advice; Reszke arranged for her audition

with the Opéra at Nancy. See Bannerman, The Singer as Interpreter: Claire Croiza’s Master Classes, 11.

[10] Ibid., 12.

[11] Elwood A. McKee, “Sound Recording Reviews,” in ARSC Journal 30.2 (1999): 188,

[12] David J. Baker, “Claire Croiza,” in Opera News, Issue 64, Vol. 4 (1999): 56,

[13] Schwab writes that when opera singers began substituting song repertoire for operatic arias, “a great rift was apparent

between some of their performing styles and that which was needed to perform the new repertoire.” See Schwab, The

   Melodie Francaise Moderne, 126.

[14] Ibid., 138.

[15] Cooper, “Claire Croiza,” 716.

[16] Edmund StAustell. “Claire Croiza, Armand Narçon, Pelléas et Mélisande, Act I.” YouTube video, 7:41. March 12,


[17] Croiza was the first female artist to be awarded the Order of Leopold for her wartime services and musical work.

See Bannerman, The Singer as Interpreter, 14.

[18] Roger Nichols, The Harlequin Years: Music in Paris, 1917-1929 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002),


[19] Baker, “Claire Croiza,” 56.

[20] Edmund StAustell. “Claire Croiza, ‘Ballad que Villon fait a La Requeste de sa Mere,’ Debussy.” YouTube video,

3:59. February 6, 2015.

[21] This specific event is fictional, but is based on critics’ high praise for Croiza’s role in Faure’s Penelope, about which

Debussy would certainly have heard. Debussy did, in fact, invite Croiza to perform his own works. See Bannerman,

The Singer as Interpreter, 13.

[22] Bannerman describes how, when she was a master class pupil of Croiza’s, Croiza would often quote Debussy’s

definition of French musical genius, “La fantaisie dans la sensibilite,” which translates to “Fantasy in sensitivity.” See

Bannerman, The Singer as Interpreter, 13.

[23] Ibid., 14.

[24] Ibid., 13.

[25] These three virtues were among the primary qualities prized in French nationalist music in the 1920s, extolled as keys to

awakening a new sense of musical identity. About this matter, Debussy wrote, “Let us purify our music! Let us try to

relieve its congestion, to find a less cluttered kind of music. Let us be careful that we do not stifle all feeling beneath a

mass of superimposed designs and motives.” See Claude Debussy, “Three Articles for Music Journals” in Morgan,

Source Readings in Music History, volume 7, The Twentieth Century, ed. Oliver Strunk (New York: W. W. Norton,

1998), 163.

[26] Jean Cocteau, although he did not agree with Debussy’s specific perspective, reached a similar conclusion that

simplicity needed to be the focus of renewed French music. He defined this necessary simplicity as “progress in

the same way as refinement.” See Jean Cocteau, The Cock and the Harlequin, 2nd ed., trans. Rollo Myers (London:

Verso, 1926), 5.

[27] Bannerman, The Singer as Interpreter, 18.

[28] Here, the speaker’s chief assertion is in like with Vincent d’Indy’s nationalist philosophy that if France was ever to

regain musical and cultural pre-eminence, it needed to redefine both its politics and its music. Charles Paul describes

how many efforts thus went underway to instill a new consciousness of national identity, compounded by corresponding

neoclassically-guided effort to awaken a new sense of musical destiny. See Charles Paul, “Rameau, d’Indy, and French

Nationalism,” The Musical Quarterly 58, no. 1 (January 1972), 46-56.

[29] Bannerman, The Singer as Interpreter, 16.

[30] Ibid., 15.