Maurice Delage (1879-1961) was a French composer and pianist who showed a profound interest in the music and culture of the Far East. Delage began his study of music and composition during the post-Romantic period which was a time of great change. New musical and artistic thoughts were being experimented with, especially by composers and artists who were thought to be very radical and extreme in the directions that they were following. There were different schools of thought that were slowly being introduced from areas other than the dominance of France, Russia, Germany, Flanders, and Bohemia. This was a time for Spain, England, the United States, and India to influence the ending of one era and the beginning of another.
Maurice Delage was a student of Ravel and a member of "Les Apaches," an assemblage of 14 musicians, artists, and writers (hooligans) who met weekly to discuss and commiserate about the culture and politics of the 1900s. From the music and culture of Europe, Delage turned to a more exotic sound in his works after being influenced by his travels to India and the East. Ravel's "La vallée des cloches" from Miroirs was dedicated to Delage while the rest of the collection was inscribed to the members of Les Apaches.
Musical Techniques of Delage
One of the techniques that Maurice Delage especially learned from Ravel was the manner in which dynamics and tempo were used to color a composition. For example, in Ravel's Bolero, Ravel uses the same melody repeatedly yet each time one hears it, it is performed a bit louder. Thus, the composer creates colorful and exciting changes with dynamics alone. Another technique that Ravel used was inputting the harmonic resources of the Spanish culture into his Rapsodie Espagnole ("Spanish Rhapsody"). Such ethnomusicological musical ventures gave much impetus to Delage's interest into other cultures through music. Finally, in the composition Tzigane, Ravel made a side excursion into the gypsy style of music and composed the piece for a Hungarian violinist.
With these fine examples of compositions involving multi-cultural music, Delage learned about the power and interest in other cultures through music and thus embarked on many ethnomusicological ventures. Delage experimented with the art of dynamics and tempo in his earlier pieces; however, he was remarkedly drawn to the exoticism of the music of the far east because of his fascination with new and different tonal, tempo, and dynamic colorations.
Maurice Delage's best known piece is Quatre poèmes hindous (1912-13) which exhibits his fascination of the culture and music of India. His Ragamalika (1912-22), based on the classical music of India, is also significant in that it calls for a "prepared piano." The score specifies that a piece of cardboard be placed under the strings of the B-flat in the second line of the bass clef to dampen the sound, imitating the sound of an Indian drum.
The Legacy of Delage
Maurice Delage was not known as a prodigious composer nor a musician who could write quickly and easily, yet, he displayed an extraordinary capacity for integrating music as a universal language. This became apparent in his works which reflected the cultures and traditions of non-European peoples. The work "Quatre poemes hindous," which was written for piano and a vocalist, and also for violin, viola, cello, and vocalist, displayed his interest in the civilizations of India and the East and his impetus to share these insights with those from a western culture. Through such works in which he improvised Indian tonalities and harmonies within a western format, European appreciation of another culture was facilitated through the music of Maurice Delage.
- Rodriguez, Philippe. Maurice Delage, ou, La solitude de l'artisan. Genève: Editions Papillon, 2001. ISBN 9782940310081
- Stravinsky, Igor, and Robert Craft. Stravinsky, selected correspondence. London: Faber and Faber, 1982. ISBN 9780571117246