Fictional Letter from Paul Pierné to Gabriel Pierné [June 1929]

June 4, 1929
Dear Gabriel Pierné,

Congratulations on finishing another fine orchestral season with the Concerts Colonne! I attended a couple concerts and enjoyed them immensely! What a wonderful and well-run organization you have carried forward from that which Édouard Colonne began. I hope you know you’re one of the most powerful men in Paris’s musical scene after the war and I’m proud to call you my cousin. Allow me to get straight to the point. I have written a brand new symphonic poem and am extremely excited to have an orchestre début it, hopefully sooner rather than later, though I know you are in the midst of a busy recording tenure with the French Odéon company.[1] Though audience numbers have suffered when unpublished works are played, having the Concerts Colonne premiere this work soon would be the best option, both for you and me because it is in line with what the orchestra has done that has been successful! Let me explain.

This piece fits in with the artistic endeavors of what the Concerts Colonne and Paris (dare I say Europe in general) are already doing. The group has a history of playing works primarily in the classical style, performing works by the likes of Wagner, Strauss, Brahms, and rediscovering Berlioz. On the other hand, plenty of turn-of-the-century French composers are also played: Bizet, Saint-Saëns, Lalo, Massenet, and Ravel.[2] Concerts Colonne has a tradition of being open to both classics and new music that is varied, progressive, and musically stimulating. In fact, some people say new works are heard constantly here compared to across the pond in America.[3] My piece is an average length but would be a nice addition to the middle of a program. Concerts are known to be quite lengthy anyways.[4]

I know you have concerns with unpublished music, as you mentioned,
The public has no curiosity about music. They wish to know nothing besides Beethoven, Wagner, and Berlioz. They only fill the concert halls when they can hear the classics or musical acrobatics by artists of renown. The inspired young composers and their original attempts do not interest them. That is why our concert societies put so few unpublished works on their programs. Every time they do so they play to half empty halls.[5]
Though my new piece is not yet officially published, I think it would be well received. In the 1927-1928 season, Concerts Colonne gave 44 concerts, 22 of which included first performances.[6] From what I know about your orchestre, given its excellence and reputation for including new music, if my piece is paired with appropriate pieces, it could be a stunning program that audiences are sure to love! In addition, the orchestre has played my pieces in the past, so my name would not be new to concertgoers. Remember perhaps the most memorable collaboration, the symphonic poem “Nuit évocatrice” that was premiered in January of 1924.[7]

I dread talking about the bane of an artist’s existence, money, but it must be done. You let it be known that the 48 concerts and 72 rehearsals of last year’s season brought section leaders only 2,000-3,000 francs, which is below the union rate. Musicians’ wages have certainly not kept up with inflation.[8] This is unacceptable and we (composers, musicians, and others in the industry) need to work to increase the musicians’ wages and the orchestre’s profits, though the Concerts is not in financial difficulty by any means. I strongly suggest one way to do this is to raise the ticket price, even slightly. The price of your seats are half that of a theater production so receipts of a concert never reach a high figure, even when there’s a packed house, unfortunately. Although for comparison, Colonne brought in one million francs in the 1925-1926 season, which was almost twice that of the Lamoureux of Pasdeloup Concerts![9] Of course, there are costs to me as well in producing a new work. It’ll cost me about 800-900 francs to make copies of my piece, but I believe it will be financially worth it.[10]

Now on to discussing the more practical matters of putting on the show that will bring in a large audience to increase profits! The Concerts Colonne typically gives concerts at 5:00 on Saturday evenings, and that sounds like a fine plan to me.[11] By not having a Sunday concert, this allows the musicians to also play in the theater matinee, which you know they love to do (mostly for the pay). Your seat prices are not exorbitant, but regardless whether you raise the ticket prices or not, I think we should offer students free tickets to the concert, as is often done.[12] Obviously, this would encourage a younger audience to attend and hear this new music.

Regarding where to have the program, I considered bringing you to a different venue outside of the city, but I know the long-standing history the group has with the Théâtre du Châtelet. To remove them from there would almost be like taking away part of the organization’s identity. It’s a well-known, beautiful, and fairly large venue, so it’s a perfect house for the concert. In addition, having the orchestre perform in a different venue would incur travel costs.

Not to gossip, but a couple of years ago, the Concerts Colonne was temporarily under threat because their lease on the Châtelet was running out.[13] However, I hear you’ve resolved that issue so there’s nothing for us to worry about, correct? Also, I realize Maurice Lehmann became the new director for the Théâtre last year and he’s partial to operettas, but there haven’t seemed to be any problems with this turnover.[14] Please let me know if there are any concerns I should know about.

My only concern with this agreement is that I hope people do not think badly of us or my piece because we’re related. You know that’s not the reason why I’m approaching you with this request, but rather because of the group’s distinction and quality. I trust you to interpret my music in a reasonable fashion to bring it to life. I’d be honored to continue our musical relationship and remain associated with your well-respected long-standing orchestre.

Just as Colonne’s founder was inclined to improve public taste, so we must also continue working towards this endeavor.[15] My piece would be the best for you and your orchestra to premiere this season, and if this letter hasn’t convinced you of that, I don’t know what will. Please confirm your agreement to perform my new work. Thank you for viewing the score copy included.

Paul Pierné

Masson, Georges. “Pierné, Gabriel.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 26, 2015,
[2] Théâtre du Châtelet. ‘History’. Last modified 2015. Accessed October 26, 2015.
[3] Gilman, Lawrence. “A Musical Tramp Abroad.” The North American Review (1821-1940) 218, no. 813 (08, 1923): 265. n.p.
[4] Gilman, n.p.
[5] “Current Opera Novelties in Paris — Musical Activities in Many Lands.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Dec 20, 1925. X8.
[6] Nichols, Roger. The Harlequin Years: Music in Paris, 1917-1929. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. 54.
[7] Musical Geography of 1920s Paris Data Spreadsheet.
[8] Nichols 54-55.
[9] Prunieres, H. (1926, Nov 07). Among the Musicians of France. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
[10] “Current Opera Novelties” X8.
[11] Musical Geography Spreadsheet.
[12] Brody, Elaine. Paris: The Musical Kaleidoscope, 1870-1925. New York: G. Braziller, 1987. 173.
[13] Nichols 55.
[14] Théâtre du Châtelet website.
[15] Davies, Laurence. César Franck and His Circle. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1970.

Bibliography of Additional Sources:
Griffiths, Paul. “Pierné, (Henri Constant) Gabriel.” The Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 26, 2015,

Isabel, Morse Jones. “Paris Sends to America New Records of Franck.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Dec 06, 1931.