In the year 1899, the year after Théodore Gouvy’s death, his sister-in-law, Henriette, wife of Théodore’s brother Alexander, contacted the German musicologist, Otto Klauwell. She asked him to write a biography of her brother-in-law, Théodore. This does not seem to be an unusual request, because while Théodore was alive, it was Henriette who became his muse, and supported his art. Alexander Gouvy had invited Théodore to come live with them in Alexander’s house in Hombourg-Haut, after the death of their mother in 1868. Because Théodore was welcomed with open arms by his brother, and his brother’s wife, this truly became a very comfortable home, as Théodore could take advantage of the shady grounds, and go for walks among the oak, chestnut, and maple trees, that filled the nearby forests. It is truly a bucolic setting.
Otto Klauwell was relatively unfamiliar of with the totality of Gouvy’s compositions, and the Forward of his biography of Gouvy, which he agreed to write, is a letter to Henriette Gouvy, in which he explains his delight and amazement at the discovery of important music. Klauwell was one of the first scholarly musicologists, which was a relatively new discipline, and the author of many books on music, music history, and even the aspects of fingering in the Beethoven piano sonatas. In performing the translation from German to English, I was mindful not to modernize the language, for to me, it contains the wonderful phrasing of turn of the century German language which, in all truth, is pure prose.
I will quote from my translation of the Forward to Klauwell’s biography:
“After long consideration, I have decided to comply with the wish that you expressed to me in the spring of 1899. I will write a biography and critical assessment of the works of your brother-in-law, Théodore Gouvy, who was immortalized in the year previous to your request. If I had had the opportunity to hear his compositions often, and if I take into account the numerous personal encounters with the kind and witty man, I still belong to the large numbers who were deprived of a more inclusive knowledge of his works. The task you have intended for me would be impossible without your warm offer to meet with you, but I, at least so far, declined to meet so that I can reach a more independent decision after your making available a large number of Gouvy’s works of all types.
“I was astonished at the unexpected treasures which offered themselves to my ear, the masterful versatility, which no one else has seen in these scores. It is a duty to bring this to the attention of musical circles so that justice may be done to so shy a composer. Théodore Gouvy belongs – and in this we are united – to the great epoch-making masters of his art because his work is not missing originality in the deepest sense of the word, the genial momentum, and the innovation of form, and the means of expression. If however, the possession of sovereign proficiency in the domination of artistic means, if personality, amiability, and wealth of invention, if a truly impressive fertility displayed in his accomplished works in which the artist’s life speaks to him was so weighty a voice, then Théodore Gouvy was one of the most summoned. His four-hand and two piano compositions, his B Major Trio, his F Major in G minor symphonies, his Sinfonietta, his Octet for Wind Instruments, his Variations for Orchestra, his choral works, Fruhlingserwachen, Iphigenie, and Polyxena – to point to some of the most outstanding – will not be spoiled by modern eccentricities, and will remain a treasure trove of pure musical, artistic enjoyment. And, to all of this – as counterpoint to his artistic creation – the awe inspiring, charming personality, through good fortune relieved of the small cares of life’s existence, to feel the urgent obligation to come to the ideal of incessant self-discipline, the rare modesty as to the estimated value of his works, while supreme in the enthusiasm for his art, offered performances striving for the respectful judgment and goodwill of his contemporaries, and their joyful reward. Already, the artist of such exemplary power – and his humanity earned it – so I say – should receive a permanent memorial as a mirror of his life’s performance, but even more so, if the art, as is here the case, is so stately a series of spirit-lifting and heart-warming masterworks.
“When I submit to you, esteemed lady, the result of my occupation with Gouvy’s life and works, and occupation which conveyed to me over a year of encouraging mental inspiration, so can I convey the heartfelt thanks for the faithful support which you bestowed on me by making accessible the desirable source materials. In the main, this material consisted of the ordering of a great number of letters to his mother, which were still available, and later, to you personally; in the intermittent but important diaries, collected programs, newspaper articles and reviews, and finally, in the irreplaceable treasures of your personal memories, which I, often enough, as you know, had to claim to control the uncertain material, and to complete the incomplete.
“That the portrayal of the first period of Gouvy’s life, i.e., up to his return from the Italian journey, supports the small and apparently unimportant incidence, far more than those in one’s later lifetime, correspond to the correct observation that magnificent outer events that lose the single meaning with increasing years, are always more suitable to throw light on the developing characteristics of a person. The further we accompany our artist on his journey through life, the more significant becomes his inner life; his works come to the foreground before the outer events, speaking eloquently for the artist’s realization to be the decisive factor to indirectly be the voice of mankind.
“I have the documentation of Gouvy’s letters, written in French, to his mother, as well as French newspaper articles, preserved in their fresh originality, in their first edition, I think, all the more legitimate at the generally spread knowledge of the French. What finally concerns me is the necessary appearance of the compositions of the master; so I tried to go to them as sparingly as possible, but I could not prevent their number from not becoming completely insignificant.
“And now it remains for me, my dear lady, to only express the wish that you do not find the picture drawn by me of the deceased far too unlike him; that you, however, in any case, have no doubts in my honest aspiration to be true to life, even where light was added to the considerable shadows.
With this wish, I greet you as
Your reverently devoted Otto Klauwell
Cologne, the end of July, 1900”
Given the fact that Gouvy spent much time in Germany, and that his works were performed in Frankfurt, Berlin, Dresden, Wiesbaden, Hallé, and Duisbourg, it surprises me a little that Klauwell was so taken by surprise. On the other hand, it certainly must be said that while Gouvy was a fine craftsman, and wrote some of the most beautiful, melodic lines in the history of music (I recommend the second movement of his Stabat Mater “Quis est homo…”), he was not necessarily an innovator. For example, while he and Liszt were good friends, he was not particularly an admirer of Liszt’s music, but clung to the music of Mendelssohn, Brahms, and his friend, Edvard Grieg. It is unfortunate that his lack of extreme popularity is often cited as an indication that his music lacks artistic merit. To those individuals, I would offer the quote from Gioseffo Zarlino (1517 – 1590), who stated in his Istituzioni armoniche: “To judge is difficult and perilous, so much the more as there is diversity in tastes: nor in hearing similar judgments should musicians despair, even if they are criticized and their compositions badly spoken of, but they should take heart and be comforted: since the number of those who have no judgment is almost infinite, and few are they who do not deem themselves worthy to number among prudent and right judging men.”
The New Colorado Festival Orchestra and I are in the process of raising money for six concerts of Gouvy’s music: piano sonatas, songs, string chamber music, woodwind chamber music, Stabat Mater and a symphony, and his Requiem Mass and a symphony.
This is the only effort of its kind in the United States, and most of the music presented in the six concerts will be United States premieres. The cost of the Gouvy Festival concerts is $190,000.00. At the conclusion of the Gouvy Festival, the New Colorado Festival Orchestra will remain in existence in order to perform the music of rarely heard composers, and music of the avant-garde. Will you please help us with a donation of at least $100.00? It will enable us to place this important and beautiful music of Théodore Gouvy before the public once again, so that we may help narrow his connections to the great composers of the nineteenth century.
Thank you very much for considering a donation.
- 1 Jan, 2014
- Posted by NCFO1312x
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