The process of awarding the famous Prix de Rome resembled a difficult school exam.
In the earlier stages, contestants were grilled on counterpoint and harmony.
At the end of the competition, they worked in seclusion to produce an operatic scene on a text that had been chosen by committee.
Throughout its history, the award was frequently criticized for stifling creativity, particularly in cases where experimental composers failed to win.
The so-called “Ravel Scandal” even led to a changeover in the administration of the Paris Conservatoire.
People couldn’t believe that a composer with early masterpieces like the beautiful piano solo Jeux d’Eau could lose the award five times in a row!
But Ravel was in good company. Eighty years earlier, the iconoclastic Berlioz had failed to win the award for four straight years.