I met Madeleine de Valmalete for the first time in 1946 in Ankara, Turkey. I must have been five years old. I was then studying with Mithat Fenmen who had been a pupil of Nadia Boulanger and Alfred Cortot in Paris in the 1930s. Mr. Fenmen and Mme de Valmalete had been together at the Ecole Normale de Musique founded by Cortot.
At the time, I was playing all the music I heard by ear. Mithat Fenmen was trying to teach me in a most clever and intelligent way how to read notes. But, I could not understand the usefulness of deciphering these strange signs which reminded me of sparrows on electrical wires: it was so easy to learn everything by heart once one heard it played !!! So, I played the pieces I knew for Mme de Valmalete and I was totally charmed by her refined ways and her elegance. I remember the lovely French “clavecin” composers Couperin. and Rameau works she performed in her recital in Ankara. (for more information about Idil Biret’s childhood days when she met Mme de Valmalete in Ankara, see her mother’s memoirs on Biret’s website www.idilbiret.org)
When I turned seven I went to Paris with my parents when the Turkish Parliament passed a special to law top enable my studies abroad. My parents had sympathised with Mme. de Valmalete and we often went to her home and she came to ours. One day she came to us again for tea. As usual I played for her. Then she sat at the piano and started to play the most beautiful music I had ever heard which I learnt was Brahms. It was the Brahms Intermezzo op.117 no.1. Afterwards she played another Brahms work (either the Intermezzo op.118 no.6 or Capriccio op.76 no.2). Thanks to her beautiful playing, I had discovered this unique music which was going to play a very important part in my life (note: Idil Biret recorded the complete works for piano solo and with orchestra of Brahms in the 1990s and also performed the complete solo piano works of Brahms in a series of five recitals in Germany during the Brahms Centennial in 1997). Mme de Valmalete was a pioneer. In the early 1950s it was nearly impossible to hear Brahms works performed in France. His style was considered heavy handed, academic and too Germanic then. Next to Schumann Brahms was simply non-existing! Mme de Valmalete advised my parents to buy the recordings of Brahms piano works and concertos as I seemed to be so taken by this music. Soon I was listening to the 2nd piano concerto in the masterful version by Horowitz and Toscanini and memorising the whole concerto – both the piano and orchestra parts – including the breaks that occurred between the changes of the 78 rpm discs ( I used to stop playing where the breaks came). I played it to Mme de Valmalete to her amazement next time I met her.
Mme de Valmalete gave every year a recital in Paris at Salle Gaveau. Her distinguished playing, the lovely sound she produced from the piano, her musical intelligence were highly inspiring for the little girl I was then. One day she came accompanied by a delightful gentleman who was Mr. Delanoy, her husband. I was very fond of both of them. Mr. Delanoy was a fashion designer with an impeccable taste. I remember the lovely gowns, evening dresses that I saw during the presentations of his collections. They had an elegant flat near or on the Boulevard de la Madeleine (Rue des Capucines probably).
Mme de Valmalete always gave me her full support. In the difficult years at the Conservatoire and the strict musical upbringing of Nadia Boulanger, she would encourage me to remain true to myself. She knew the dangers of losing the inspiration and that too much knowledge could often endanger the profound originality of a being.
Recital / Paris Maison Gaveau December 15th 1928
Bach/Busoni Tocatta et Fugue en d
Schubert Impromptu en A flat
Schubert/Liszt Gretchen am Spinnrade
Mendelssohn 3 Romances; Scherzo en e
Chopin Sonate op.58
Joaquin Nin Danse Iberienne
Granados 2 Danses
Prokofieff Marche de l’Amour des trois oranges
Debussy Golliwog’s Cake Walk
Liszt Rhapsodie no.2
by Idil Biret