12 May, 1930
Maman and I are anxiously awaiting your return home at vacation time. We have told the new neighbors of your talent and they look forward to a performance. And it will be the perfect time for you to meet the new director of our usine. He has treated your mother and the other secretaries most graciously and hints that he may have a position similar to theirs available for you after your graduation. How lucky for you to have such a stable and fitting opportunity to return home to after your years in Paris. And all the family working together!
Don’t forget the souvenir for Lucille; you know how jealous she is that her sister gets to live in the city.
16 May, 1930
When did I tell you I would spend my vacation at home? I did not. As a matter of fact, I cannot be away from the Conservatoire during the holiday; M. Enescu2has offered to give me three extra lessons during that time, which I cannot miss as I hope to audition for placement in orchestras in the next few months.
I thank you for the opportunity at the factory, but as you know, my ambitions lie elsewhere. As for Lucille, she has no need to be jealous. She is a perfectly capable student and is sure to have an opportunity to attend university here if she applies herself.
Tell Maman I send my regards.
20 May, 1930
Ungrateful child! Is this all you have learned at the Conservatoire? To spurn your father who has done nothing but work to give you a comfortable life full of opportunity? It was I who saw your talent when you were a young girl, I who slaved away endless hours at the factory to pay for lessons to nurture that talent, I who entrusted you to the professors at the Conservatoire that you might enjoy a few more years of musical enrichment before you settle down with your own family.
Did you think these things happened by magic? No! Only through the hard work of your mother and myself was the life you live possible.
And in return you cannot give up five days of your time to visit your family and take advantage of yet another opportunity I have arranged for you? And the excuse born of frivolity! What reason do you have to take these auditions? It is a waste of your time! Can’t you see that orchestras are not a woman’s domain? I have never witnessed here in Viroflay a professional musical ensemble among whose ranks sat a woman performer, nor do I have any desire to. I only desire my eldest daughter to return safely to her home and to get on with her life. I do hope, though, that she’ll bring some common sense and gratitude home with her.
26 May, 1930
I did not mean to offend you. Of course I am grateful for the opportunities you have given me. But they cease to be opportunities when you seek to control what I do with them. In my view, my studies at the Conservatoire do not have as their end my being a more attractive potential wife or a justification for you to brag about me to the neighbors and your chums at the factory. I came here to become an artist, and now I am ready to practice my art in the world. That is why I am taking these auditions.
And yes, father, I have seen plenty of women performing professionally. They may be less often seen in the symphony orchestra, but that is slowly changing–“slowly” not because women are incapable of the job but because the men who control these ensembles refuse to release that control in the name of collaboration, justice, and devotion to the music (rather than to self-image and pride!), all of which we would be closer to attaining if women were given the same support and consideration in their studies and auditions as men.3
Many of my professors happen to be professional female musicians as I aspire to be: for example, I have just finished today’s solfege class with Mme. Canal.4And I hear women perform every week at school and all around Paris. Just a few days ago I heard the renowned harpsichordist Wanda Landowska give a concert here at the Conservatoire; next week our very own professor Mme. Marguerite Long will present a piano recital featuring music by Debussy and Faure.5
While it may be unheard of in Viroflay, public performances given by women performers, as well as concerts of new music by women composers are quite the common occurrence here in the city. The eminent music critic Emile Vuillermoz himself has written about women’s involvement in professional musical life in his article “Le Peril rose”: he seems rather afraid we’ll take the whole thing over and leave no room for the men!
“The development of feminism, predicted by sociologists as an economic necessity, continues with logic and method […] In a few years the face of the musical universe has been transformed. We see pretty attentive profiles leaning towards the music stands of our biggest orchestras, fine white hands tensing themselves on the fingerboards of violins and cellos […] After having slid one by one into the music desks of the ‘seconds’ at the Orchestre Colonne, they will soon monopolise everything and take the place o f the principal violinist. More hard-working, more relentless than men, they will conquer in the examinations and the competitions. The Conservatoire, where they already have the majority, will become their personal property and the classes that we shall call ‘mixed’ will be those where we tolerate the presence of two or three moustache-wearers […] And in the director’s office […] Gabriel Faure will have been chased from his armchair by Helene Fleury or Nadia Boulanger…”6
He wrote this in 1912, father. I think it’s high time you confronted the fact that it is possible and socially-acceptable for a woman to pursue a career in music.
30 May, 1930
‘Possible’ does not mean ‘appropriate’,’ easy’, or ‘advisable’. Even I, a man, and no less talented a musician than you when I was your age, realized the futility of pursuing a career as a pianist. How could I possibly have supported you, your sister, and your mother on the only sporadic engagements I would have found? Thank goodness I was sensible enough to listen to my own father and find a dependable job at the factory. Please come home (and down to earth first!) so that you can focus on securing a more reliable source of employment. We are counting on you: my job at the factory may be steady, but I myself will not last forever.
4 June, 1930
Now I have proof! How fortunate that I stayed in Paris during the holiday. Last night I attended a concert the report of which I am sure will convince you to support my attempts at a career in music.
After classes finished yesterday, a friend invited me to the Salle d’lena to take in a charity concert. Knowing nothing about the event but having no other obligations, I told her I would go along. When I arrived, I learned that the selections were to be directed by one Jane Evrard.7
A fellow violinist, Mme. Evrard attended the Paris Conservatoire just like yours truly–though she began her studies when she was only 12 years old! But this female conductor was not the only woman on stage: the entire orchestra was made up of women!
Your friend Vuillermoz must have been in the audience; in today’s paper he wrote, “The initiative taken by Jane Evrard, excellent violinist, accomplished and hard-working musician is intelligent and reasoned.” 8
This ensemble is unique in Paris–no other string orchestra exists in our city! 9
The timbres and textures it produces are surprisingly distinct from that of a full symphony orchestra, and all of the repertoire they performed was new to my ears. Along with under-performed works by Lully and Couperin, the ensemble premiered a Valse Romantique by Marguerite Roesgen-Champion and Yvonne Desportes’ Suite de Danses–yes, if you can believe it, father, music written by women composers.10
10 June, 1930
I have the most exciting news! Jane Evrard has announced that she will be traveling with the same ensemble I heard to several towns surrounding Paris! After playing a concert in Belleville tomorrow evening, they will be travelling to Versailles…and on their way will play a concert at your factory in Virolay! All you have to do is stay late at work on the 13th of June to hear their performance.11
Please go, and tell Maman and Bernadette to join you there. You won’t regret it!
16 June, 1930
It’s true: I was well-impressed to see an orchestra entirely filled with female instrumentalists.
I cannot say it was a flawless performance; Mme. Evrard, with her exaggerated gestures, seemed too intent to please, too focused on controlling the musicians instead of leaving the work to Haydn’s writing. In the Serenade, for example, which on its own is so easy and naturally rhythmic, Mme. Evrard marked the time quite rigidly.12
But you are right, my dear, her endeavor helps me imagine you performing in such an ensemble in the celebrated halls of Paris! Still, hers is only one example. Besides, what I would like most is to see you at all. When can you visit?
19 June, 1930
Oh please, Pére! Would you really have been so concerned with the subtleties of Evrard’s movements if she were a male conductor? You remind me of the critics who, in reviewing the concerts led by Nadia Boulanger, have nothing to say beyond that outstanding musician’s appearance.13In any case, though Evrard leads the way for women performers like myself, every woman who embarks on this path must share her own unique talents and ideas. Surely I can benefit and learn from Evrard and her orchestra without becoming a robotic or “controlling” performer.
And now–the best news–I may have a real chance to influence the performances Mme. Evrard leads: Evrard is officially organizing her ensemble as l’Orchestre feminin de Paris and is holding auditions within the month! The extra tutoring I received during the vacation is sure to pay off now.
As for the viability of the ensemble, as I wrote before, there exists no other of its kind in Paris! L’Orchestre feminin not only provides opportunities for young female performers to begin their careers, it creates its own niche through its uniqueness as a string orchestra, ensuring that it will attract audiences and dedications from modern-day composers. Vuillermoz agrees with me, too. Since that first concert I attended, he has written of l’Orchestre feminin:
This orchestra has a neat originality and responds to a definite need. Firstly, it is the only string orchestra that we possess […] There is a whole series of light and heavy works which need this specialised ensemble […]. Furthermore, Jane Evrard frankly poses the problem of women’s work in the domain of the musical ensemble. In place of infiltrating one by one into our male orchestras, the women are brought together here and loyally place in full light their personal effort. Here is an honest and courageous gesture […].14
Wish me luck on my audition. Perhaps on my next visit I will be accompanied by 30 new orchestral friends!
Looking forward to seeing you,
1 Oxford Music Online, s.v. “Neveu, Ginette,” Accessed 2 November, 2015. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/19801?q=Ginette+Neveu&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit
Although Ginette Neveu’s age, career, and familial circumstances do not align with many of the characteristics of the protagonist I present in these letters, I borrow Neveu’s name here as an example of another successful Parisian musician who also happened to be a woman. Ginette Neveu was born in Paris in 1919 to a musical family; she played her orchestral premiere at the age of seven, commenced her studies at the Paris Conservatory at age 11, and beat out David Oistrakh to win the International Wieniawski Competition in 1935 at the age of 15, an honor which initiated her international touring career. Neveu died in a plane crash in 1949 at the age of 30.
2 Oxford Music Online, s.v. “Neveu, Ginette,” Accessed 2 November, 2015. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/19801?q=Ginette+Neveu&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit Ginette Neveu studied with George Enescu.
3 Laura Ann Hamer, “On the conductor’s podium: Jane Evrard and the Orchestre féminin de Paris,” The Musical Times 152 (2011): 99, accessed 3 October 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23037975. “The importance of the Orchestre feminin de Paris for professional female instrumentalists should not be underestimated, as the provision of their own orchestra removed the contemporary difficulties associated with female players auditioning for the professional male-dominated orchestras by directly providing them with their own performance platform. The Orchestre feminin de Paris increased the visibility of professional female performers during the interwar period, thereby increasing their acceptance by both the musical profession and the concert-going public.”
4 Oxford Music Online. “Canal, Marguerite,” accessed 5 October, 2015. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/04710?q=marguerite+canal&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit. The dates are approximate: Canal taught at the Conservatoire for a year in 1919, then returned in 1932.
5 Oxford Music Online. “Long, Marguerite [Marie-Charlotte],” accessed 2 November, 2015. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/16948?q=Marguerite+Long&search=quick&pos=1&_start=1#firsthit. Long taught at the Conservatoire from 1906 to 1940.
6 Emile Vuillermoz, ‘Le Peril Rose’, Musica, 11 (1912), 45. Quoted in Laura Ann Hamer, “Musiciennes: Women Musicians in France during the Interwar Years, 1919-1939,” 183. PhD dissertation, Cardiff University, 2009. ProQuest U584377.
7 Hamer, “On the Conductor’s Podium,” 82-83. Evrard made her first appearance as conductor on 3 June, 1930 at the Salle d’lena.
8 Emile Vuillermoz: “Orchestre feminin de Jane Evrard,” L’Excelsior, 12 December 1932, 4. Quoted in Hamer, “On the Conductor’s Podium,” 83-84. “L’initiative prise par Jane Evrard, excellente violoniste, musicienne accomplie et travailleuse infatigable, est intelligente et raisonnee […]”Again, the dates are not exact: the letters are written in 1930, but Vuillermoz did not publish this review until 1932. In fact, this was written after the official formation of the Orchestre feminin. At the June 3, 1930 concert that “Lucy” attended, the ensemble did not officially market itself as such.
9 Hamer, “On the Conductor’s Podium,” 85.
10 Hamer, “On the Conductor’s Podium,” 86-89. Though the pieces I’ve cited were not performed on the 3 June, 1930 concert, they were played by the Orchestre feminin during its existence. The pieces I mention represent two types of music that Evrard intentionally sought to promote: early French music, especially obscure and sometimes unpublished works written specifically for string orchestra, and new compositions written by French composers of the day. Evrard commissioned music by women composers such as Roesgen-Champion and Desportes, though apparently not in preference to music by male composers (89).
11 Hamer, “On the Conductor’s Podium,” 94-95. Near the end of its existence (mid-1940s), the Orchestre feminin undertook a series of educational and social justice-oriented performances throughout Paris and surrounding towns (including Belleville and Versailles). These programs included involvement in Jeune France, an organization whose aim was to “educate deprived young men and women in vocational schools and colleges through cultural activities,” which led to performances at vocational schools, in youth centers, and for unemployed young women (94). In 1943 (the years, again, do not quite match up with Ginette’s story), Evrard led the orchestra as they performed at factories throughout France. In her article, Hamer includes an interview Evrard gave to Actes in which Evrard explains her reasoning for these factory concerts:
“If we no longer go to [factory workers], it is that already, there are more than 40,000 members of the Jeunesses musicales who attend the biggest concerts given at the Opera or the Palais de Chaillot. I would like to realise the same miracle with the factory workers. Fatigued by a long day of labour they can only go to music with difficulty, therefore music must go to them at their place of daily work. Music speaks directly to the heart of men, it is the company of their joy and their sadness, it helps them to live, to be aware of themselves, to better love the others with whom they move, to better accomplish their duty too. It introduces into existence an element of order and harmony which is a powerful factor of spiritual elevation and of social peace.”
(“Si nous n’allons plus a eux, c’est que maintenant, ils sont plus de 40.000 membres des jeunesses musicales qui vont assister aux plus grands concerts donnes actuellement soit a l’Opera, soit au Palais de Chaillot. Je voudrais realiser le meme miracle avec les ouvriers. Fatigues par une longue journee de labeur ils peuvent difficilement aller a la musique, aussi la musique doit elle les rejoindre sur le lieu meme de leur travail quotidien. La musique parle directement au coeur de l’homme, elle est la compagne de son bonheur et de sa tristesse, elle l’aide a vivre, a prendre connaissance de lui-meme, a mieux aimer les autres dont elle se rapproche, a mieux accomplir son devoir aussi. Elle introduit dans l’existence un element d’ordre et d’harmonie qui est un puissant facteur d’elevation spirituelle et de paix sociale”) (95).
12 Florent Schmitt, “Les Concerts,” review in Le Temps, 14 May 1932. Bibliotheque nationale de France, accessed October 5, 2015. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k2487827/f3.item.r=jane%20evrard.zoom#.
13 Jeanice Brooks, “Noble et grande servante de la musique: Telling the Story of Nadia Boulanger’s Conducting Career,” The Journal of Musicology, 14 (1996), 94-95. Boulanger “burst onto the international conducting scene” in the 1930s (92), so it is plausible Ginette would have known Boulanger’s name in 1930. However, the review I am referencing here, an example of the many reviews that analyzed Boulanger’s physical appearance (which in fact deemphasized her femininity, in contrast to Evrard), appeared almost a decade later (1939), so Ginette would not have heard these exact words: “ Mlle Boulanger walked out onto yesterday’s stage with a flat-heeled, businesslike stride wearing a plainly cut black beaded dress and an air of quiet confidence, confirmed by a pair of austere nose glasses. Fiftyish, her hair is dark and streaked with gray. Her face is firm-lipped and resolute, but engagingly sweet and intelligent in expression” (95).
14 Emile Vuillermoz: “Orchestre feminin de Jane Evrard,” L’Excelsior, 12 December 1932, 4. Quoted in Hamer, “On the Conductor’s Podium,” 83-84 and Hamer, “Musiciennes,” 49-50.