Fictional Letter from Maurice Ravel on Marguerite Long’s Piano Teaching (1925)

This is a fictional letter from Maurice Ravel to a female acquaintance, who contacted him and asked for professional piano teacher recommendation for her fourteen-year-old son. In the letter, Maurice Ravel speaks highly of the French pianist and pedagogue Marguerite Long and suggests his friend to consider her as an option.  

My Dear Madame,

I was very happy to receive your letter regarding piano teacher recommendation for your son. It is my pleasure and honor to have your trust on this issue, and I would be more than willing to share with you my knowledge about French pianists and pedagogues in today’s Parisian music society. As you recalled in your letter, I did speak very highly of Madame Marguerite Long to you on several occasions, and I still believe that she would be the best option for your fourteen-year-old son for her mastery at the French style piano playing, her devotion as a pedagogue and her rich experience in working with young pupils.

My credibility of recommendation comes from my deep understanding of Madame Long as a musician, a teacher and a person. I have known and befriended Madame Long for a long time. Our earliest professional association dated back to 1910, when she kindly recommended two of her young pupils to premiere my Ma mère l’Oye at the first concert of the Société Musicale Independante [1]. In this event, I noticed her talent and professionalism in teaching, especially teaching the young ones. Since Ma mère l’Oye, we have collaborated often and successfully for concert performance of my pieces at the Société Musicale Independante, the Société Nationale de Musique, and many other musical venues both domestic and abroad. For example, I personally could not be more grateful for her premiere performance of Le tombeau de Couperin and for the fact that she brings Le tombeau de Couperin on tour for her concert audience abroad [2]. During my time working with her, I found it very easy to communicate both verbally and musically. She not only understands me quickly but also gives advices and instructions to me wisely and clearly [3]. As I believe that for a music teacher, the ability to communicate and to advise is equally important to his or her own musicianship, I would claim that Madame Long has demonstrated both skills in our professional relationship and holds all potentials to be a magnificent piano pedagogue. I believe that I am not the only musician speaking so highly of Madame Long. Besides myself and the music masters who have passed away, such as Faure and Debussy, Madame Long is also very close, both professionally and personally, to many other French composers including Darius Milhaud and Roger-Ducasse [4]. Dear Madame, if you find me speaking biasedly for my good friend and musical partner Marguerite, you could consult with my colleagues mentioned above and they will willingly prove my words and approve my recommendation.

Dear Madame, if your son studies with Madame Long, he would benefit from his studying in several aspects. Firstly and most importantly, he could inherit the so-called pearled style of playing [5], a very authentic French pianistic performing style. This style is exemplified by Madame Long: her playing is clear, simple and succinct, with no unnecessary over-expression and any bad taste. When she plays a passage of running notes speedily, her fingers move with such clarity and evenness that these notes sound like uniformly shaped pearls on a string [6]. This playing style makes her a very suitable and ideal interpreter of music of Mozart, Saint-Saëns, and other composers of French tradition including myself [7]. To pass on this style of playing, Madame Long has her ways to teach young pupils. I heard that she insists on building up strong finger technique to have clear sound and succinct articulation. Her pupils did a great deal of technique by working hard on étude and exercises by Clementi, Czerny, Stamaty, Pischna and Philipp [8]. A pianist myself (although one who would never reach Madame Long’s high level of technique skills and piano mastery), I know how important it is for young pupils and growing pianists in your son’s age to receive professional and rigorous training on basic technique. Only with solid technique, one can accomplish professional style of playing, including the French pearled style.

Studying with Madame Long will also open up enormous musical opportunities to your son as a young pianist. Madame Long is always so generous to organize and publicize recitals of her students, regardless of their ages. From my knowledge, one of the first recitals of her students took place around two or three decades ago and received favorable review from Le Monde musical, when the teacher was only in her early twenties[9]! In later student recitals, she always strives to program modern music, mostly French (for example, her pupils premiering my Ma mère l’Oye, as I mentioned earlier). These recitals have received much attention from the Parisian music society and great reviews from newspapers including Le Figaro [10]. She also corresponds with conductors and tries to put her excelling students on stage to perform with orchestra. I heard that several months ago she was working with conductor Gabriel Pierné from Orchetre Colonne for her pupils to play J. S. Bach’s Three-Piano Concerto [11]. I have never heard of such effort and devotion of any piano pedagogue to promote his or her students before! I assume that if your son works hard under Madame Long’s instruction, he will soon enjoy the same opportunities to play in public student recitals, to perform or premiere contemporary works, to receive attention from music critics and to even perform in higher-class venues as professional soloist. How exciting! Of course, if he would like to apply for the Conservatoire, his chance of getting in would increase too as he would have been studying with Madame Long already [12].

My dear Madame, I have spoken sufficiently about the benefits to study under Madame Long and told you about her exceptional characteristics in piano teaching: her ability to perform in and to teach great piano playing style and her tremendous devotion to promote her students are rare to find among her teaching colleagues. I would like to add one last good characteristic about Madame Long, that she has more experiences working with students of your son’s age than others. As you might have heard of, Madame Long experienced a hard time for her promotion in the Conservatoire. The Conservatoire Council kept her waiting from 1907, when the first opening of the professorship of Classe Supérieure occurred, until 1920 [13]. The major reason, unluckily and irritatingly, is because of Madame Long’s gender [14]. However, during the extra years when she stayed at the lower class to teach younger pupils, she gained more educational experiences and insights of dealing with them than her colleagues did. Madame Long herself also enjoyed working with them very much [15]. For this reason, Madame Long may be a better choice for your teenage son than any other her colleagues in the Conservatoire.      

Dear Madame, please let me know whether you would like to get in personal contact with Madame Long for your son’s piano education. I would be more than happy to introduce you to her, and I am very sure that you will find her very kind and ideal as a piano teacher.

Yours sincerely,

Maurice Ravel  

May 05, 1927 [16]

Author: Xuan He

[1] Cecilia Dunoyer, Marguerite Long: A Life in French Music, 1874-1966 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 94.

[2] Dunoyer, Marguerite Long, 81.

[3] See Chapter Six “The 1930s: Marguerite Long and Maurice Ravel” in Cecilia Dunoyer’s Marguerite Long for more information on Long and Ravel’s relationship.

[4] Dunoyer, Marguerite Long, 49 and 100.

[5] Charles Timbrell, French Pianism a Historical Perspective. 2nd ed. (Portland, Or.: Amadeus Press, 1999), 94.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. See recordings of Marguerite Long for her performance on W.A Mozart, Violin and Piano Sonata No.35 in A major, K526, movement III, Jacques Thibaud and Marguerite Long and Maurice Ravel, Piano Concerto in G major, Marguerite Long and Georges Tzipine (1952)

[8] Timbrell, French Pianism, 93.

[9] Le Monde musical reviewed the student recital on March 15th, 1898, claiming that “Mlle Marguerite Long gave a recital of her students, which included no fewer than forty-six numbers. We wish we could have heard every one of them, because the teaching is quite remarkable”. Dunoyer, Marguerite Long, 16.

[10] Le Figaro reported on March 15th, 1923, that “the recital given by Marguerite Long’s Premier Prix laureates of 1922 was a genuine festival of contemporary music. It emphasized once more the teaching, always keenly intent on serving the music of today, practiced by one of our best interpreters of contemporary music”. Dunoyer, Marguerite Long, 112.

[11] See Gabriel Pierné’s letter to Marguerite Long on December 13th, 1926. Dunoyer, Marguerite Long, 113.

[12] Dunoyer, Marguerite Long, 108.

[13] Dunoyer, Marguerite Long, 39 and 82.

[14] Ibid, and Marguerite Long, At the Piano with Fauré (New York: Taplinger, 1981), 39-48. For more information of gender discrimination and women’s inferiority in the music world of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, see George P. Upton, Woman in Music (Chicago: A. C. McClurg and Company, 1899), 187-206 and Carol Neuls-Bates, “1820-1920: Women as Concert Artists and in Opera.” in Women in Music: An Anthology of Source Readings from the Middle Ages to the Present (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Edwards Brothers, 1996).

[15] Dunoyer, Marguerite Long, 40.

[16] This date is chosen randomly for no particular reasons.

Full Bibliography

Dunoyer, Cecilia. Marguerite Long: A Life in French Music, 1874-1966. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

Long, Marguerite. At the Piano with Fauré. New York: Taplinger, 1981.

Mozart, W.A. Violin and Piano Sonata No.35 in A major, K526, movement III. Jacques Thibaud and Marguerite Long.

Neuls-Bates, Carol. “1820-1920: Women as Concert Artists and in Opera.” in Women in Music: An Anthology of Source Readings from the Middle Ages to the Present. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Edwards Brothers, 1996.

Ravel, Maurice. Piano Concerto in G major. Marguerite Long and Georges Tzipine. 1952.

Timbrell, Charles. French Pianism a Historical Perspective. 2nd ed. Portland, Or.: Amadeus Press, 1999.

Upton, George P. Woman in Music. 6th ed. Chicago: A.C. McClurg and, 1899.