Daphnis et Chloé
Symphonic poem or ballet? Virtuoso work for piano or orchestral showpiece? Sentimental reminiscence of Imperial Vienna or frenetic “Danse Macabre”? La Valse has at one time or another represented all of these things, and more.
Maurice Ravel was born on March 7, 1875 in the small village of Ciboure, located at the southwestern tip of France, a short distance from the Spanish border. This location in the Basque Pyrenees would be quite important to the composer and his entire output of musical creations. His mother was of Basque origin, and his father was a Swiss civil engineer. These two elements were to have a profound effect on the life and music of the composer...
DEBUSSY VS. RAVEL
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.
(This album will play automatically.)
Major Works by Ravel
L’Heure espagnole (1907-1911)
L’Enfant et les Sortilèges (1920-1925)
Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) (1911)
Daphnis et Chloé (1912)
La Valse (1920)
Rapsodie espagnole (1908)
Pavane for a Dead Princess (1910)
Mother Goose Suite (1910)
Daphnis et Chloé Suites 1 & 2 (911-1912)
Valses nobles et sentimentales (1912)
Alborada del gracioso (1918)
Le Tombeau de Couperin
Tzigane (for violin and orchestra) (1924)
Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1930)
Piano Concerto in G (1931)
RAVEL ON MUSIC
Read some famous and not-so-famous quotes by the composer, giving an idea of his views on music and musicians.
RAVEL VIDEO LINKS
Jeux d’eau (1901)
This early piano work by Ravel illustrates the composer’s highly original writing for the instrument. In the words of the composer himself, “Jeux d’eau, appearing in 1901, is at the origin of the pianistic novelties which one would notice in my work. This piece, inspired by the noise of water and by the musical sounds which make one hear the sprays of water, the cascades, and the brooks, is based on two motives in the manner of the movement of a sonata-without, however, subjecting itself to the classical tonal plan”.
One of my personal favorites by Ravel. Ravel’s mastery of harp writing is in full display here, and notice the selection of instruments chosen to accompany the harp, which also have highly independent and important parts. CYS has performed this gorgeous work with reduced orchestra. Amazing harp writing from a non-harpist!
Ravel composed the five movement Mother Goose Suite in 1910 for piano duet and orchestrated it one year later. In this lovely performance of the movement titled “Conversation of Beauty and the Beast” we hear the strong influence of Satie (see under “Ravel & His Contemporaries”), especially with regard to harmony and use of modal scales. This has long been one of the composer’s most beloved compositions.
String Quartet in F Major (1903)
Introduction and Allegrofor Harp, Flute, Clarinet,
and String Quartet (1905)
Piano Trio (1914)
Sonata for Violin and Cello (1922)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1927)
Serenade grotesque (1893)
Jeux d’eau (1901)
Menuet antique (1895)
Pavane for a Dead Princess (1899)
Ravel’s largest and longest work is Daphnis et Chloé, composed for the Ballets Russes and first performed in 1912 in Paris. Here is the final dance of the work. CYS has performed Daphnis numerous times in the past 32 years. The two Suites that Ravel fashioned from the ballet contain some of the most sublime music of the 20th century. Stravinsky called Daphnis et Chloé “one of the most beautiful products of all French music”. Here we offer the final minutes of the staged ballet.
Gaspard de la nuit (1908)
Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) for piano
four hands (1910)
Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911)
Le Tombeau de Couperin (1917)
La Valse (1920)
CYS and Ravel
CYS has a long history of Ravel performances. Among the works that CYS has performed are the following:
Dapnhis et Chloé
Introduction and Allegro
Valses Nobles et Sentimentales
Alborada del gracioso
There will be many more Ravel works to come in future seasons. Stay tuned!
The years 1914-18 saw very little music flowing from Ravel’s pen, due to the fact that he was a truck driver for the French Army. The death of his mother in 1917 was a blow that the composer never really recovered from as well. One of the few works completed was his Le Tombeau de Couperin, written to commemorate friends of the composer lost in World War I. Ravel (of course~!) orchestrated the work in 1919. Oddly enough, Ravel chose not to orchestrate the fifth and final movement-Toccata, which we spotlight here. One of the favorite Ravelian techniques is rapidly repeated notes (hence the title Toccata, from the Italian word “to touch”), and he certainly makes use of repeated notes in this movement. Perhaps this would have been a difficult orchestration assignment!
As is the case with many of Ravel’s works, this particular gem started life as a work for piano in 1904-05 and was later (1919) orchestrated by the composer. It is considered to be one of his most amazing feats of orchestration. As but one example, consider the previous video selection (Toccata) with its rapid-fire repeated notes and notice how Ravel, in Alborada del gracioso he, transcribes the rapid repeated notes from the piano to the orchestra with amazing results. Another thing to always consider when listening to Ravel is his fondness for his Basque roots, and the heavy influence of Spanish folk styles and dances.
Ravel’s most famous work and his most-often performed work as well. For Ravel, it was an experiment, and he thought that orchestras would never play it, stating that the work had “"no form, properly speaking, no development, and no or almost no modulation”. The work consists of 17 variations of the two-part melody followed by a final coda, with a never-ending crescendo of sound and texture as the work progresses. The motoric and machine-like rhythm of the accompaniment reminds us of the fact that Ravel’s father was a Swiss engineer, and Ravel had a life-long love for the mechanical aspects of life and culture. Ravel’s famous comment regarding Boléro was “I’ve written only one masterpiece - Boléro. Unfortunately there’s no music in it”.
The Piano Concerto for the Left Hand was commissioned by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm during World War I. The Concerto had its premiere in January 1932, with Wittgenstein as soloist performing with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The Concerto has given rise to a number of psychological interpretations, among them the composer’s premonition of his oncoming mental affliction or a commentary on the tragedy and uselessness of World War I. It is one of Ravel’s last works, with only two more completed compositions to follow. In this sense, it may also be a culmination of Ravel’s longstanding preoccupation , one might say obsession, with the notion of death. Enjoy this powerful performance by Yuja Wang!