Misia Sert  (née Godebska) (1872 - 1950)

Half-sister of Cipa Godebski, she acquired considerable influence in Parisian musical and artistic circles. She was married three times:

Thadée Natanson, (1868-1951), co-founder of La revue blanche, the arts magazine which was published from 1891 to 1903
Alfred Edwards, (1856 - 1914), editor of Le matin
José Maria Sert, (1874 - 1945), Spanish painter who worked for the Ballets Russes, and subsequently painted works for the Palais des Nations in Geneva

In 1905, when Misia was married to Alfred Edwards, Ravel joined them for a memorable holiday on their luxury yacht Aimèe, in the immediate aftermath of the Prix de Rome scandal.

Ravel dedicated to her "Le cygne" in Histoires naturelles, and La Valse. She was an early patron of Diaghilev, and assisted Ravel in negotiations over the writing of Daphnis et Chloe. (Roland-Manuel recorded how at the first performance of Daphnis et Chloe, Ravel missed the beginning because he was more intent on presenting a gift to Misia in her box at the theatre; it was a magnificent Chinese doll.) (Colette, et al. [1939], p.148)

Click here to see Renoir's portrait of Misia Sert, held by the National Gallery, London.

Misia was a noted beauty who was painted many times: by Toulouse-Lautrec for a poster for La revue blanche in 1896, in which she is shown as a skater; by Bonnard and Vuillard; and, according to her memoirs, 7 or 8 times by Renoir, including a portrait (1904) which is now in the National Gallery, London.

It was in Misia Sert's Paris apartment in February 1920 that Diaghilev, Stravinsky, and Poulenc were present to hear Ravel and Marcelle Meyer play through the piano version of Wien for the first time. When Diaghilev rejected the score as unsuitable for a ballet, Ravel left with his score in silence. ( Poulenc, [1963]). The orchestral version of the work, renamed La Valse, was performed in December 1920. Ravel and Diaghilev never worked together again.

It is argued by David Lamaze (in various publications, and hinted on his website Le Coeur de l'horloge) that Ravel felt a lasting romantic attachment to Misia, and that this is reflected in a recurrent motif of the notes E, B, A, (or Mi-Si-La in the French solfège system) in his music, and particularly in La Valse.

Misia's colourful life, and its rapports with Mallarmé, Proust, Cocteau, Colette, Picasso, Massine, Serge Lifar, Stravinsky, Satie, Poulenc, and Coco Chanel among many others, are vividly told in the biography Misia, by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale (New York, Knopf, 1980). She also wrote her own memoirs, published posthumously as Misia par Misia (Paris, Gallimard, 1952).

www.maurice-ravel.net