Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Penn and Teller, Debussy and Ravel…two names that always seem to go together, right?  And yet Debussy and Ravel were very different composers, with diverging aesthetics and views on music and life.  In this special addition to Conductor’s Corner, I review the two composers and their lives, as well as their outlook on art, successes, works, and personal thoughts on life and art.   Enjoy!

Debussy vs. Ravel

BORN

CLAUDE DEBUSSY

Paris Conservatory 1872-1887   Wins Prix de Rome 1884 with his cantata L’enfant prodigue. Teachers include Marmontel (piano) and Guiraud (composition)

MAURICE RAVEL

Paris Conservatory 1889-1905  Tries five times to win Prix de Rome—NOT successful. Teachers include Gabriel Faure and Andre Gedalge (composition and counterpoint)

DIED

ANCESTRY

SCHOOLING & TEACHERS

INSTRUMENT

HARMONY

MUSICAL AIMS & AESTHETICS

FORM

ORCHESTRATION

TYPICAL QUOTE

AWARDS

FIRST GREAT INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS

DIVISIONS OF CREATIVE OUTPUT

CAUSE OF DEATH

IMPORTANT WORKS:
Operas

IMPORTANT WORKS:
Orchestra

Wanted to create a music free from traditional academic rules, as well as create an antidote to the heavy Wagnerian influence dominant in France at that time. Was Symbolist in outlook: vagueness, understated, discrete

Stated musical aim was “technical perfection”. Sought to create highly polished works of the utmost perfection (hence his relatively small output). Stravinsky called him “The Swiss Watchmaker”. Favored conciseness and clarity.

Wagner, Palestrina (from stay in Rome), non-Western musical influences (such as gamelan, from 1889 World Expo in Paris), Russian Nationalist composers (especially Mussorgsky), Chopin

Mozart (his idol, revered above ALL other composers), Chopin, non-Western musical influences, Liszt, Russian nationalist composers, Chabrier, Satie

piano

piano

1862

1875

1918

1937

French

Father:  Swiss

Mother:  French Basque (area near the Spanish Border)

Used static harmony, diatonic saturation, chromatic mediants, modal scales, pentatonic scales, whole-tone scales, tritone relationships (VERY important in Debussy: they help break down the tonal system), non-functional coloristic harmony, high tertian harmony

Many of the same characteristics as Debussy, who influenced Ravel greatly (Debussy was 13 years his senior), but also including the following:

---jazz harmony and idioms

---bitonality

---exceedingly complex tertian harmony (altered)

Hated traditional form and sought new forms for many of his works. Only late in life did he return to some of the standard forms (highly modified)

Used the accepted and inherited musical forms (sonata, concerto, etc). Was essentially a “miniaturist”

Highly individual. Unusual combinations of instruments and colors. Completely without precedent.

Regarded as one of the supreme orchestrators of the 20th century or ANY century. Was influenced by Richard Strauss. Brilliant orchestration, bright, exceedingly virtuosic.

“I love music passionately, and because I love it I try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it.”   “Discipline must be sought in freedom….Give ear to no man’s counsel but listen to the wind that tells in passing the history of the world.”

“There are in fact two types of music: that which pleases and that which is boring.”  “Complex but not complicated”   “My own music is, quite simply, nothing but Mozart.”

French Legion of Honor (accepted it)

French Legion of Honor (refused it)

Afternoon of a Faun, first performed in 1894

L’Heure espagnole (The Spanish Hour)

opera—first performed in 1911

  1. 1900-1920  from early works through Daphnis et Chloe. Lush, rich music. Large orchestras, splashy color

  2. 1922-1931 a leaner, more LINEAR approach to writing, more austere, economy of means. Use of jazz, bitonality, reduced orchestration

  1. early works up to 1900 (Nocturnes for Orchestra, 1900)

  2. middle period of greatest achievements, including Pelleas et Melisande, La Mer, etc. 1901-1911

  3. late period 1912-18, most advanced experimental writing (Jeux, ballet, 1912)

Rectal Cancer

Ataxia (inability to coordinate voluntary muscular movements), and aphasia (difficulty in speech and a partial loss of memory) leading to a delicate brain operation in 1937 which induced a semi-coma from which he never awoke

Pelleas et Melisande (1902)

L’Heure espagnole (1911 fp)

L’Enfant et les Sortileges (1925)

Rhapsodie espagnole (1908)

Pavane pour une Infante defunte (1910)

Mother Goose (1911)

Valses nobles et sentimentales (1912)

Alborado del gracioso (1918)

Le Tombeau de Couperin (1919)

La Valse (1920)

Bolero (1928)

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1894)

Nocturnes (1900)

La Mer (905)

The Martyrdom of St. Sebastien (incidental music) 1911

Images (1905-1912)

Jeux (1912)

Daphnis et Chloé (1912)

String Quartet (1903)

Introduction and Allegro for Harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet (1905)

Piano Trio (1914)

Sonata for Violin and Cello (1922)

Violin Sonata (1927

String Quartet (1893)

Three late Sonatas for mixed instruments (1915-17)

Jeux d’eau (1901)

Sonatine (1905)

Miroirs (1905)

Gaspard de la nuit (1908)

Le Tombeau de Couperin (1917)

Suite bergamasque (1890)

Pour le Piano (1901)

Estampes (1903)

Images (1905)

Children’s Corner (1908)

Preludes (Book 1: 1910   Book 2: 1913)

Etudes (1915)

Pelleas et Melisande

Daphnis et Chloé (1912)

MANY songs and some important cycles

MANY songs and some important cycles

IMPORTANT WORKS:
Ballet

IMPORTANT WORKS:
Concertos

IMPORTANT WORKS:
Chamber

Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1930)

Piano Concerto in G Major (1931)

Premiere Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra (1911)

Sacred and Profane Dances for Harp and String Orchestra (1904)

IMPORTANT WORKS:
Piano

IMPORTANT WORKS:
Songs

WORK GENERALLY ACCEPTED AS GREATEST MASTERPIECE

INFLUENCES