La Revue musicale (Paris, 1920-1940)

La Revue musicale


Prepared by Michel Duchesneau and Marie-Noëlle Lavoie,
Assisted by Marie-Hélène Breault, Élisabeth Reid, Camille Rondeau and Danick Trottier
6 volumes (2013)

La Revue musicale [REV] was published monthly in Paris, with brief interruptions of one to three months in the late summer, from November 1, 1920 to April 1940: eleven annual issues from 1920 to 1931, ten issues from 1932 to 1936, and nine issues from 1937 to 1940.. The journal was printed in a consistent format: 19.5 cm by 25.5 cm, and consisted on average of ninety-six pages for regular issues and 128 pages for special issues, with additional unnumbered pages for illustrations, musical supplements and advertisements The journal was printed in two separate runs: the first and most extensive run printed on paper of ordinary quality; the second printed on luxurious vellum paper, and distributed exclusively to the journal’s subscribers. Annually, the journal published an index of the previous year’s issues. There were more than 1,300 subscribers and a total of approximately 3,000 copies were printed for every regular issue, while special issues were printed in even higher numbers.

La Revue musicale was founded at the instigation of the musicologist Henry Prunières (1886-1942) with the purpose of engaging with the profound transformations in musical culture of the period, publishing articles with historical perspectives, and serving a pedagogical mission that followed the general trend in France to foster musical knowledge and appreciation.

Despite serious health problems that worsened by the end of the 1930s, Prunières directed the journal until November 1939, with the assistance of the music critic André Cœuroy, editor-in-chief, until 1936, and later by the composer and music critic Robert Bernard, editor-in-chief and co-managing editor from 1937 to 1939, and managing editor from December 1939 until the outbreak of the Second World War.

Prunières is considered an important specialist in seventeenth-century French and Italian music. He studied music history with Romain Rolland at the Sorbonne from 1906 to 1913, and defended – and then published – his doctoral dissertation on “Italian opera in France before Lully.” Beginning in 1930, Prunières supervised the production of a complete edition of Lully’s works and a biography on the composer. However, he did not confine the content to strictly musicological subjects. A “friend of Stravinsky, Alban Berg, Milhaud, and biographer of Monteverdi and Lully” he conceived La Revue musicale as a project that could bring together related disciplines with diverse styles, genres, and aesthetics, such as dance and literature. This integrative and interdisciplinary conceit was proclaimed in the subtitle of the journal from its very foundation: “International monthly journal of early and modern musical art.”

La Revue musicale’s regular issues contain two large sections, the first with five or six leading articles. The range of subjects broached in the first section of the journal is exceptionally wide: many articles on aesthetics, repertory, and performance issues relating to early music, as was as to contemporary music. As a result of his particular sensitivity to internationalism, Prunières pays special attention to musical debates occurring outside as well as inside France’s borders. The journal contains several important articles that not only paint an exceptional portrait of the musical world and the ideas circulating within France, but also deal with musical creation in an international context. Moreover, these articles deal in depth with issues of musical language and aesthetics, such as modernity, polytonality, the reception of Schoenberg’s atonal and twelve-tone music, neoclassicism, as well as the influence of jazz and technological developments such as gramophone recording, cinema, and radio on musical creation.

La Revue musicale contains a remarkable collection of articles on then contemporary composers (Dukas, Debussy, Hindemith, Ravel, Satie, Stravinsky, Caplet, Roussel, Milhaud, and Honegger), while also presenting its readers with prominent articles on early music, thus making an important contribution to the public’s knowledge and the development of its taste for this repertory. Several articles are devoted to editions of early music, the publication of correspondence, and the historical study of composers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (for example, Mouret, Rameau, and Lully). The considerable investment in expanding knowledge and appreciation of early music significantly influenced the new generation of composers of the 1920s and 1930s, as they enjoyed increasing access to the music of the past and its attendant aesthetic theories. The journal often focuses on specific topics such as ballet (Diaghilev’s Ballets russes), the relationship between music and literature (for example, the special issues on Ronsard and Goethe), and the present state of music in the world (“Géographie musicale 1931” [Musical Geography, 1931] and “La musique dans les pays latins” [Music in Latin Countries].

Entitled “Chroniques et notes” [News and notes], the second section of La Revue musicale is a collection of news and reviews; the rich assortment of concert and operatic reviews furnishes the readers with an extraordinary account of musical life in Paris, the French provinces and abroad (Austria, Germany, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, the United States and Japan). This second section also includes reviews of books, music journals, and the press (up until 1930), as well as editions of music; to these are added, from 1926, reviews of recordings (written by Prunières and his son Michel), and, from 1936, radio programs and sound films.

The journal’s musicological content and the elaboration of aesthetic theories may be considered key factors in the definition of “neoclassical” music that was of such importance in France during this period. REV tends to promote a sense of modernity that went beyond the staunch nationalism that characterized the French musical milieu before the First World War, while also forging links between early music and contemporary music through their juxtaposition within the journal. In doing so, a network of influential contributors soon flourishes in the journal. In addition to correspondents from around the world (including North and South America, Japan, the Soviet Union, and most European countries), the journal draws on the expertise of a diverse group of contributors: music critics (Émile Vuillermoz, Boris de Schloezer, Raymond Petit), musicologists (Norbert Dufourcq, René Dumesnil, Armand Machabey, Marc Pincherle, Lionel de La Laurencie, Georges de Saint-Foix), composers (Georges Auric, Gustave Samazeuilh, Suzanne Demarquez, Charles Koechlin, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Alexandre Tansman), performers (Wanda Landowska, Ernest Ansermet, Alfred Cortot), and literary figures (Paul Claudel, Gabriele d’Annunzio, André Gide, André Suarès, and Paul Valéry).

Between 1920 and 1940, the journal produced thirty-seven special issues devoted to particular topics and composers, including issues on Claude Debussy and “La jeunesse de Debussy” [Debussy’s Youth], “La musique contemporaine russe” [Contemporary Russian music], “Wagner et la France” [Wagner and France], “Ronsart et l’humanisme musical” [Ronsart and musical humanism], Ravel, Beethoven, and Liszt. There are eighty-one musical supplements in REV, some of which consist of unpublished music, commissioned specifically with relation to the content of an issue. This is the case of those works that make up “Tombeau de Claude Debussy” [Claude Debussy’s Tomb].

La Revue musicale is distinguished through its polished appearance and rich iconography. A collector of early music prints and manuscripts, Prunières often draws on the images and engravings from his own collection to illustrate the pages of the journal. As an art connoisseur, however, he does not limit himself to the reproduction of old works, but acquires permission to use drawings of costume designs and stage décor for ballets and operas, including those by Léon Bakst and Pablo Picasso. Prunières also commissions several engravings by contemporary artists (Valdo Barbey, Maxime Dethomas, Démétrios Galanis, Jean Émile Laboureur, and Jean Lebédeff) for special issues and articles on modern composers. Antoine Bourdelle, Jean Cocteau, André Derain, Raoul Dufy, and Fernand Ochsé figure among the journal’s illustrators.