Yves Ramette

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At the age of 7, Yves Ramette begins studying musical theory with his father (who directed an « École Professionnelle Supérieure »). At 14, while he is in High School, he continues his training in Harmony. Then, in Beauvais, he learns playing the violin with Robert Duforestel as well as the piano.

In 1941 he enters the National Superior Conservatory of Music of Paris, where he studies Harmony with Jacques de la Presle, Counterpoint and Fugue with Simone Plé-Caussade, the piano with Lélia Gousseau and Lazare Lévy, the conducting with Eugène Bigot. Meanwhile, at the « École normale de musique de Paris », he got the First Prize of Composition in 1945 in the class of Arthur Honegger.

About these years, Yves Ramette writes in his memories:

“a huge amount of work, because I set myself to study the compositions of all the Great Masters from Bach to Stravinsky… and Honegger, whose I was the disciple”.

From 1945 onwards, Georges Jacob, chapel master at the Parisian church Saint-Ferdinand-des-Ternes, teaches him the organ. Yves Ramette writes: « At this time, I didn’t know that I would become the chapel master and organist of this church… and that it would last more than thirty years » (Yves Ramette becomes the chapel master of this church in 1952).

He also teaches Counterpoint, Fugue and Composition at the Schola Cantorum (Paris) from 1947 to 1953. He has to convince the director of the Schola Cantorum to let him create a class of Harmony, because Yves Ramette states that « learning Counterpoint without a strong knowledge of Harmony is illusory ».

In 1948, his Symphony No. 1 is premiered in Bruxelles by conductor Franz André. In 1950, both his Symphonies No. 2 and No. 3 are premiered by Daniel Sternefeld, in Bruxelles and in Luxembourg. In 1952, his Prelude, Fugue and Postlude wins a prize at the Composition Competition organized by Radio Luxembourg. With the composers Luc Ferrari (1929-2005), Bozidar Kantuser (1921-1999) and Pierre Migaux (1925-2006), Yves Ramette creates in 1953 the Groupe 84, which aims to make discover the great classical works of their time. The French premiere of Bela Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion occured during one of the concerts organized by the Groupe 84.

His fourth, fifth and sixth symphonies are all premiered abroad, just like his first three ones: the 4th in 1951 and the 5th in 1957, both in Bruxelles by Daniel Sternefeld; the 6th in 1964, in Netherlands, by André Rieu (father of the famous violinist).

In spite of these successes, Yves Ramette never achieved to interest French musical associations. He states: “no French orchestra ever commissioned me a symphony or wished to perform one of my works… just as if I didn’t exist!”. Actually, since the 1950s, French cultural ministeries and official bodies support only serial, dodecaphonic, experimental music… but Yves Ramette keeps composing in his personal post-romantic style.

In 1996, he writes to French minister of Culture, Philippe Douste-Blazy: « During my numerous travels abroad, in Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Italia and elsewhere, I have always encountered a warm welcome and a tasteful respect. That’s why I can’t stand the absolute silence of French musical official bodies. I consider this as a personal offense. There’s only one trendy word to describe this state of fact: exclusion. Concerning a French artist who works on his art in a selflessly way, who works hard knowing that once a work is finished, the target is still far, who seeks to keep a total independence from all schools, sects, clans, whose main purpose is to keep his liberty, I wonder if nowadays, all the “flaws” of this artist aren’t the exact cause of his exclusion ».

From 1960 onwards, Yves Ramette must resolve to compose exclusively for his two favorite instruments: the organ and the piano. Among his major instrumental works: Concerto for organ solo (1964), Ermia, poem for organ (1971), Pour une nuit de Noël, triptych for organ (1983), Three Etudes for piano (1987), Piano Sonatas No. 1 & No. 2 (1991 and 2001), Pour un bal imaginaire, for piano (1999).

He founded the mixed choir “Vox Ardens”, promoting sacred and profane choral music of the great classical, romantic and modern masters. Between 1968 and 1987, Yves Ramette and his choir gave numerous concerts in Paris and elsewhere in France. Yves Ramette composed several works especially for this choir : Salve Regina for soprano solo, mixed choir and organ (1982), Psalm 116 for soprano solo, mixed choir and organ (1982), Christus, cantata for mixed choir and organ (1983)…

In 1990, disagreeing with religious authorities on the suppression of great sacred music and the introduction of a vestigial liturgy, Yves Ramette resigns from his position as chapel master and organist of the church Saint-Ferdinand-des-Ternes. In 1997, he writes « Grandeur et Décadence d’une tribune », a book in which he evokes his career as a composer and organist. The last sentence is a quote of politician and writer Georges Clemenceau: « A people finds its joy and its serenity in music. The quality of its music proves its degree of civilization. »

In 1997, during a concert, Yves Ramette meets American pianist Eric Himy, who will play and record many of his compositions on the labels MMC and Navona Records. Between 2013 and 2016, Navona Records released eight CDs of Yves Ramette’s piano, organ, chamber and orchestral works. Yves Ramette passed away on June 2, 2012, aged 91.

English and French texts by Corentin Boissier