Maurice Ravel

Deborah Mawer

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
Maurice Ravel

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Maurice Ravel (b.1875–d.1937) was one of the foremost French composers of the first half of the 20th century. He spanned a generation between that of Claude Debussy (b.1862–d.1918), and Erik Satie (b. 1866–d. 1925), and that of the neoclassical Groupe des Six. Ravel’s early years were spent in Paris, but in 1921 he moved outside the capital to Montfort-l’Amaury. Although he enjoyed the company of various friends, he never married and always struggled to overcome his mother’s death in 1917. His late years were marked by neurological decline, which prevented creativity beyond the song-setting Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (1933). Ravel’s aesthetic combines two traits that seem almost contradictory: meticulous, controlled craftsmanship, plus exquisite sensuousness and sometimes wild—even destructive—forces. In his youth especially, he was influenced by the French Symbolists and “correspondences” between the arts, as in Sites auriculaires (1897) and Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé (1913). He was also intrigued by the literature and constructive approach of Edgar Allan Poe, as exemplified apropos the poem “The Raven.” In his composing, almost always at the piano, Ravel was fastidious and private; orchestration, in which he demonstrated immense skill, constituted the second part of his creative process. His output is notably small in comparison with contemporaries like Igor Stravinsky (b. 1882–d. 1971). During “La Belle Epoque” preceding World War I, his music embodied qualities of so-called impressionism, such as in his exotic ballet Daphnis et Chloé (1912) or the lush, Spanish-inspired Rapsodie espagnole (1907). Later repertory exhibits a warm neoclassicism, heard in the French prototype Le Tombeau de Couperin (1917). La Valse (1920) and Boléro (1928) also reveal Ravel’s neoclassicism: drawing on closed dance forms, both works are highly original in exploring, exploiting, and ultimately destroying their underlying frameworks. These works also hint at another Ravelian fascination—with machines and mechanisms. A connected facet is inspiration from jazz and popular music, which further characterizes the neoclassical style. Two piano concertos (1930 and 1931), Tzigane (1924), and the “Blues” of the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1927) illustrate this eclecticism. Among the largest of Ravel’s undertakings is the operatic fantasy L’Enfant et les sortilèges, composed 1920–1925 to a text by Colette.

Article.  10357 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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