I first heard about Alain-Fournier while doing research on one of my favorite composers, Maurice Ravel. I was researching Ravel’s 1928 American tour at the Minnesota History Museum. I later turned over my findings to the Ravel museum in Montfort L’Amaury, near Paris. This museum was Ravel’s home until his passing in 1937, and I have visited it several times and developed a friendship with the curator, which is what motivated my work on researching newspaper accounts on Ravel’s only American tour.
One of the things I came across was an interview Ravel gave in Texas where he mentioned he was thinking about writing a symphonic poem based on his favorite French novel, “Le Grand Meaulnes.”
Subsequently, I learned from a French guitar student of mine that this novel is the “Huck Finn” of French literature. In other words, a coming of age novel.
The author, (Alain-Fournier), died tragically at the beginning of World War One in combat at the age of 27. He had just completed and published his first (and only) novel in 1913, which was the year prior to his death.
The backstory of this novel, and author, and Ravel’s interest in it prompted me to seek out an English translation. I could not find one.
About 5 years ago, I played several gigs in Paris, and while there I finally found a small volume of this book in the famous book store on the Left Bank called Shakespeare and Company.
Sylvia Beach, an American, opened this still existing tiny shop in 1919. It was a meeting place for the likes of Hemingway and Joyce. In fact, Beach personally published “Ulysses,” the epic novel by James Joyce.
After having mislaid this book for a couple of years I stumbled on it last week in a rather startling way, and I took as a sign that I need to read it. I start this endeavor soon and I will get back you on what I find–and if indeed this is the French “Huckleberry Finn.”
As I have said before in this space my favorite hobby is to study the work of classic pianists of the past.
The “somewhat” distant pianists of the past I have looked at encompass Cortot, Lipatti, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Schnabel, Rachmaninoff, Godowsky, Hofmann, etc.
The more recent past include Gould, Ashkenazy, and “Sigi”.
Born in Bulgaria and migrating to America during WW2 Europe’s troubled waters to eventually study in New York, his story is a harrowing one.
He even befriended the great American pianist William Kapell, who died tragically young in a plane crash in 1953, but who left a great legacy which has been preserved in a great box set by RCA.
At any rate, “Sigi” has all of the attributes I value highly in a musician. He displayed great clarity, articulation, precision, and passion.
His recording of the Rachmaninoff Preludes are to “die for.” And I never use a term like that lightly.