Louise Alvar  (1883 - 1966)

Louise Alvar (born Louise Beckman) was a Swedish soprano, and daughter of a member of the Swedish parliament, who in 1909 met the English barrister Charles Copeley Harding at the Festival of Birmingham. They married in the following year, and in 1912 they set up home in London at 14 Holland Park, W11. From 1917 Louise resumed her career with a few foreign engagements, devoted mainly to contemporary French composers, in collaboration with the author G. Jean-Aubry.

The Hardings became regular hosts to visiting musicians and writers, and in 1922 Jean-Aubry arranged for Ravel to stay with them when he came to London to make some piano-roll recordings. During this visit, a private concert was arranged at Lady Rothermere's residence in which both Ravel and Louise Alvar were among the performers. On his subsequent visits to London in the 20s and 30s, Ravel usually stayed with the Hardings, and it was there that he met various artists including Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Sir Henry Wood, and Joseph Conrad. (Jean-Aubry was the translator of the French editions of many of Conrad's works. Louise Alvar also became a friend of Conrad, and accompanied him to Hyères while he was writing "Le Frère de la Côte" [The Rover], and wanted to get information about the "presqu'île de Giens" and that area of the coast. ( Chalupt, [1956], p.196).) Among the other distinguished visitors to whom the Hardings gave their hospitality were Paul Valéry, Paul Dukas, and Manuel de Falla, who dedicated to Louise Alvar his setting of Psyché (from a poem by G. Jean-Aubry).

In January and February 1926 Louise Alvar accompanied Ravel on a tour of Scandinavia, giving recitals in Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm. On their arrival in Copenhagen, Ravel paid a tribute to her in an interview, especially praising her command of languages: "Je ne parle pas ici de sa voix, mais de son talent pour les langues. Il est incroyable de voyager avec quelqu'un comme elle: où que nous allions elle peut communiquer avec autrui. Elle sait toutes les langues, outre celle de la musique." (Berlingske Tidende 30.i.1926, (in Danish). Reprinted in translation in (Orenstein [1989], p.350).

A detailed account of Louise Alvar's life is given in "Mrs Louise Alvar Harding ou les vertus de l'ambition", by Philippe Rodriguez, in Cahiers Maurice Ravel, no 14 (2011), pp.66-83.

www.maurice-ravel.net