Maurice Ravel

Biography

Born: Mar 7, 1875; France   Died: Dec 28, 1937; France   Period: Romantic
Maurice Ravel was among the most significant and influential composers of the early twentieth century. Although he is frequently linked with Claude Debussy as an exemplar of musical impressionism, and some of their works have a surface resemblance, Ravel possessed an independent voice that grew out of his love of a broad variety of styles, including the French Baroque, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Spanish folk traditions, and American jazz and blues. Read more His elegant and lyrically generous body of work was not large in comparison with that of some of his contemporaries, but his compositions are notable for being meticulously and exquisitely crafted. He was especially gifted as an orchestrator, an area in which he remains unsurpassed.
Ravel's mother was of Basque heritage, a fact that accounted for his lifelong fascination with Spanish music, and his father was a Swiss inventor and engineer, most likely the source of his commitment to precision and craftsmanship. At the age of 14, he entered the Paris Conservatory, where he was a student from 1889 to 1895 and from 1897 to 1903. His primary composition teacher was Gabriel Fauré. A major disappointment of his life was his failure to win the Prix de Rome in spite of numerous attempts. The difficulty was transparently the conflict between the conservative administration of the Conservatory and Ravel's independent thinking, meaning his association with the French avant-garde (Debussy), and his interest in non-French traditions (Wagner, the Russian nationalists, Balinese gamelan). He had already established himself as a composer of prominence with works such as his String Quartet, and the piano pieces Pavane pour une infante défunte, Jeux d'eau, and the Sonatine, and his loss of the Prix de Rome in 1905 was considered such a scandal that the director of the Conservatory was forced to resign.
Ravel continued to express admiration for Debussy's music throughout his life, but as his own reputation grew stronger during the first decade of the century, a mutual professional jealousy cooled their personal relationship. Around the same time, he developed a friendship with Igor Stravinsky. The two became familiar with each other's work during Stravinsky's time in Paris and worked collaboratively on arrangements for Sergey Diaghilev.
Between 1909 and 1912, Ravel composed Daphnis et Chloé for Diaghilev and Les Ballets Russes. It was the composer's largest and most ambitious work and is widely considered his masterpiece. He wrote a second ballet for Diaghilev, La Valse, which the impresario rejected, but which went on to become one of his most popular orchestral works. Following his service in the First World War as an ambulance driver, and the death of his mother in 1917, his output was temporarily diminished. In 1925, the Monte Carlo Opera presented the premiere of another large work, the "lyric fantasy" L'enfant et les sortilèges, a collaboration with writer Colette.
American jazz and blues became increasingly intriguing to the composer. In 1928 he made a hugely successful tour of North America, where he met George Gershwin and had the opportunity to broaden his exposure to jazz. Several of his most important late works, such as the Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 and the Piano Concerto in G show the influence of that interest.
Ironically, Ravel, who in his youth was rejected by some elements of the French musical establishment for being a modernist, in his later years was scorned by Satie and the members of Les Six as being old-fashioned, a symbol of the establishment. In 1932, an injury he sustained in an automobile accident started a physical decline that resulted in memory loss and an inability to communicate. He died in 1937, following brain surgery.
In spite of leaving one of the richest and most important bodies of work of any early twentieth century composer, one that included virtually every genre except for symphony and liturgical music, Ravel is most often remembered for an arrangement of another composer's work, and for a piece he considered among his least significant. His orchestral arrangement of Mussorgsky's piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition has been wildly popular with concertgoers (and the royalties from it made Ravel a rich man). Boléro, a 15-minute Spanish dance in which a single theme is repeated in a variety of instrumental guises, has been ridiculed for its insistent repetitiveness, but it is also a popular favorite and one of the most familiar and frequently performed orchestral works of the twentieth century. Read less
Gershwin, Ravel, Debussy / O'Riley, Wordsworth, Royal PO
Release Date: 08/11/2009   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28050   Number of Discs: 1
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Mussorgsky: Pictures At An Exhibition; Ravel: Daphnis Et Chloe, La Valse / Casadesus
Release Date: 05/10/2011   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28180   Number of Discs: 1
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Ravel: L'heure Espagnole, L'enfant Et Les Sortileges / Gadelia, Gay, Oustrac, Madore, Ono
Release Date: 11/12/2013   Label: Fra Musica  
Catalog: 8   Number of Discs: 1
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Bloch: Schelomo; Voice In The Wilderness; Caplet: Epiphanie; Ravel: Kaddish
Release Date: 04/08/2014   Label: Nimbus  
Catalog: 5913   Number of Discs: 1
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Franck: Sonata For Violin & Piano; Ravel: Piano Trio / Bieber, Dinnebier, Lang
Release Date: 11/12/2005   Label: Genuin Musikproduction  
Catalog: 85512   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Concerto for Piano in G major

 

About This Work
The piano was Ravel's favorite instrument, and of his two extraordinary concertos, the Piano Concerto in G major was, in his opinion, "more Ravelian." Indeed, the two works are profoundly different, but without being, as Vladimir Read more Jankélévitch observed in his book about the composer, more (or less) Ravelian than the other. Nevertheless, Ravel's opinion should not be dismissed, for it reflects his personal predilection, and, as any listener can tell, the work literally overflows with exuberance, delight, and verve. The Concerto may have been conceived in 1928, the year Ravel received his honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford. While some commentators have found the source of this Concerto in Ravel's Rhapsody on Basque themes Zazpiak bat, a project which remained unfinished, Robert de Fragny remembered that the composer had remarked that the dazzling opening theme came to him during a train ride from Oxford to London in 1928. In 1929, despite failing health, Ravel talked about a world tour on which he would perform his Concerto. While the world tour never materialized, the composer's life was sufficiently hectic, as he received a commission to compose another piano concerto, the Piano Concerto in D major (for the left hand).

Completed in November 1931, the concerto was premiered in January 1932, in a legendary performance by Marguerite Long. The sensations that this work conjures up, right from the beginning, are brightness and boundless energy. Opening with a whiplash sound, the first movement, Allegramente, proceeds rapidly, from an initial burst of light, composed of a lively piccolo tune threading through crystalline, harp-like piano figuration, to the incisive ending, traversing the many truly magical, even mysterious, moments of repose, when the piano indulges in dreamy, languid soliloquies. Delighting in the piano's expressive potential, Ravel fully employs the instrument's sonority, weaving, for example, a trill into a melody. The piano's rich and subtle discourse is magnificently matched by the orchestra, which, appearing in many guises, mimics and complements the piano, reinforcing the sensation of relentless energy by sharp, metallic, insistent statements by the trumpet. Ravel's splendid orchestration, which tempts the listener to experience this work as a brilliant, and almost self-sufficient, demonstration of sheer musical color, reflects the composer's interest in jazz, evidenced by trombone glissandi and similar effects. However, the jazz elements are profoundly Ravelian, which means that they hardly strike the listener as out of context. The remarkable second movement introduces an introspective, soulful atmosphere, seemingly quite remote from the bustle of the previous movement. A simply stated solo piano theme, of a disarming yet profoundly soulful simplicity, suggesting, perhaps, the image of a solitary promenade in the moonlight, yields to a timeless flute theme which expresses feelings of longing, sorrow, and subdued, yet clearly stated, passion. The final movement, as the piano wends its way through a series of shrieks and wails, executed by woodwind and brass instruments, affects the listener as a mounting wave of sound. A sudden, abrupt exclamation concludes the seductive cacophony of this climactic movement, and the listener experiences a desire to revisit the enchanted landscape of a musical work whose limpid formal structure contains a seemingly boundless world -- without a trace of creative fatigue or ambivalence -- of elegantly turned musical ideas.

-- Zoran Minderovic Read less

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