From the archives: Monthly feature

A recommendation by Maurice Ravel

From the archives
A recommendation by

Ravel (February 2012)
The Noske family, ca. 1880

(March 2012)
J.S. Bach: receipt, 1731
(April 2012)
J. and F. Giese, cellists
(May 2012)
Berlioz: a letter from
Rome (June 2012)
Alsbach: Album amicorum
(July 2012)
A violinist-aviator (1913)
(August 2012)
Mozart: letter (Milan 1770)
(September 2012)
Whose portrait?
(October 2012)
F. Nieuwenhuysen (1783)
(November 2012)

Alexander Voormolen (1895-1980) was a composition student of Johan Wagenaar at the Utrecht music school. The young composer’s career took off in a very promising way, when his Valse de ballet was performed by the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1916. The French conductor Rhené-Bâton performed his Prélude pour La Mort de Tintagiles in Scheveningen in the same year. This conductor urged Voormolen to continue his studies in Paris. There he came under the guidance of Albert Roussel, but Maurice Ravel too was helpful,introducing him to music publishers Rouart, Lerolle & Cie. When Voormolen started looking for a job in his home country, Ravel provided him with a recommendation to Johan Wagenaar, then director of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague.

St Cloud 6/7/19

Monsieur le Directeur,
vous devez estimer
sans doute aussi bien que moi,
la véritable musicalité de l’art
délicat de Woormolen.
Pourtant, sa modestie le
porte à croire qe mon opinion
pourrait l’aider à obtenir
[p. 2]
la sitation qu’il ambitionne
au Conservatoire de La Haye.
Je suis donc heureux de
témoigner ici ma sincère
sympathie artistique pour ce
compositeur si heureusement
doué et ma conviction de
l’excellente influence qu’il
[p. 3]
ne pourrait manquer d’exercer.
Je vous prie de croire,
Monsieur le directeur, à
l’expression de mon sentiment
le plus distingué,

Maurice Ravel

St Cloud 6/7/19

Mr. Director,
No doubt your esteem
for the true musicality
of Voormolen’s delicate art
is as high as mine.
And yet his modesty makes him
believe that my opinion could be
of some help in obtaining

[p. 2]
the position he desires at
the Conservatory of The Hague.
Gladly therefore I express
my sincere artistic
sympathy with this so
happily gifted composer,
and the conviction
that his influence can be
[p. 3]
none other than excellent.

Yours truly,

Maurice Ravel

When Voormolen knocked on his former teacher's door, carrying this note in his pocket, Wagenaar had only just changed his post in his beloved Utrecht for the directorship of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. For some reason Voormolen’s application had no effect. He did however settle in The Hague in 1923, and fulfilled from 1938 till 1955 the position of librarian at the conservatory.

Voormolen’s music has become more ‘Dutch’ during these years. Though his earlier compositions were considered modern and French in orientation, later works such as the two orchestral suites Baron Hop (1924, 1931) and the orchestral nocturne Eline (1957) show nostalgic, neoclassical and neoromantic tendencies.

The letter here reproduced is in the Johan Wagenaar archive. In the Voormolen archive a few other notes by Ravel are preserved, as well as letters from other Parisian contacts, such as Florent Schmitt and Albert Roussel.

Alexander Voormolen Archive»
Johan Wagenaar Archive »

Voormolen in Paris, 1917.
According to a note on the back
of this photograph he lived
next to Ravel.