Maurice Ravel


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
Ravel: Ma mere l'oye & Le Tombeau de Couperin / Roth, Les Siecles
Release Date: 05/11/2018   Label: Harmonia Mundi  
Catalog: 905281   Number of Discs: 1
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The Best Of Ravel
Release Date: 02/04/1997   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8556673   Number of Discs: 1
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Ravel: Music For Two Pianos / Dag Achatz, Yukie Nagai
Release Date: 03/25/1994   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 489   Number of Discs: 1
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Ravel: Rapsodie Espagnole, Pavane, Etc / Kenneth Jean
Release Date: 02/15/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550424   Number of Discs: 1
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Debussy, Ravel: String Quartets, Etc / Kodaly Quartet
Release Date: 02/15/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550249   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Le tombeau de Couperin


1. Prélude
2. Fugue
3. Forlane
4. Rigaudon
5. Menuet
6. Toccata
About This Work
In this extraordinary work, which is conceived as a Baroque suite, Ravel pays homage to the rich tradition of French Baroque music for the harpsichord, as exemplified by the works of François Couperin. It was certainly not Ravel's intention to Read more imitate Couperin, or any other Baroque composer; instead, he included elements of Baroque style without altering his own unique style. While Ravel's pianism is unmistakably modern, his refined, meticulous approach to the keyboard clearly shows an affinity with the French Baroque masters. However, the word "tomb" in the title also had a deeper personal significance for Ravel, who dedicated each movement of the suite to a friend who died World War I. The manuscript is dated 1914-1917, so it is difficult to determine if any significant portions of the work were written before the war. At any rate, Ravel intended the composition as a memorial to his friends; while there are moments of lightness and humor in this music, which prompted some to criticize the composer's supposedly irreverent attitude toward death, beneath the flashes of wit one hears profound melancholy tones in the returning soldier's tribute to his fallen comrades. Dedicated to Lieutenant Jacques Charlot, who worked for Ravel's publisher Durand, the Prélude is a veritable whirlpool of sound, the sensation of fluidity created by elegantly executed triplet figurations. A triplet figure also appears in the noble, marmoreal Fugue, dedicated to Lieutenant Jean Cruppi, whose mother had played an important role in the production of L'Heure espagnole. Deceptively simple, this movement is a demanding polyphonic construction which Ravel executes with his characteristically brilliant nonchalance. The Forlane, the French variant of an old Italian dance, bears a dedication to Lieutenant Gabriel Deluc, a friend from St-Jean-de-Luz, in Ravel's native Basque region. As Vladimir Jankélévitch remarked, this noble and melancholy movement is like a lullaby. However, there is something slightly jarring and manic in this lullaby, and the manic energy turns into a nervous -- but infinitely charming -- narrative, the Rigaudon. Dedicated to Ravel's St-Jean-de-Luz friends Pierre and Pascal Gaudin, two brothers who were killed by the same shell on their first day of combat, the Rigaudon is named after an ancient Provençal dance. This movement opens with a poignant figuration, which, recurring with the power of an irresistible fixation, defines the identity of the entire piece. Ravel dedicated the Menuet to Jean Dreyfus, step-brother of the composer and critic Roland-Manuel. Unfolding with the calm pace of an unassuming narrative, this movement, despite its apparently peaceful simplicity, unveils, if only for a moment, feelings of mournful foreboding. The final movement, Toccata is dedicated to Captain Joseph de Marliave, husband of Marguerite Long and devoted admirer of Fauré's music. In this movement, the half-hidden disquietude of the entire composition finally comes to the fore. While the percussive, obsessively recurring figurations may define this movement as a composition dominated by technical demands, there are, trapped in a carapace of busy, hammering gestures, enchanting moments of quiet lyricism. Marguerite Long gave the first performance of Le Tombeau de Couperin in 1919; that year, Ravel completed his brilliant orchestration of the Prelude, Forlane, Minuet, and Rigaudon, adding splendid orchestral color to these exquisite musical creations.

-- Zoran Minderovic Read less

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