Maurice Ravel (Composer)
French, of paternal Swiss and maternal Basque descent, Ravel combined skill in orchestration with meticulous technical command of harmonic resources, writing in an attractive musical idiom that was entirely his own, in spite of contemporary comparisons with Debussy, a composer his senior by some twenty years.
Ravel wrote two operas, the first, described as a comedie-musicale, L‘heure espagnole (The Spanish Clock) and the second, with a libretto by Colette, the imaginative L‘enfant et les sortileges (The Child and the Enchantments), in which the naughty child is punished when furniture and animals assume personalities of their own.
Ravel wrote his ballet Daphnis et Chloe in response to a commission from the Russian impresario Dyagilev. The work, described as a symphonie choreographique is based on the Hellenistic pastoral novel of Longus. Ma mere l‘oye (Mother Goose), originally for piano duet, was orchestrated and used for a ballet, as were the Valses nobles et sentimentales and the choreographic poem La valse. Ravel‘s last ballet score was the famous Bolero, a work he himself described as an orchestrated crescendo.
In addition to the scores for ballet and arrangements of piano works for the same purpose, Ravel wrote an evocative Rapsodie espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody). Other orchestrations of original piano compositions include a version of the very well known Pavane pour une infante defunte (Pavane for a Dead Infanta), the Menuet antique, Alborada del gracioso from Miroirs and pieces from Le tombeau de Couperin. Ravel wrote two piano concertos, the first, completed in 1930, for the left hand only, commissioned by the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in the war, and the second, completed in 1931, for two hands.
Songs by Ravel include the remarkable Sheherazade, settings of a text by Tristan Klingsor for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, and the Don Quichotte a Dulcinee (Don Quixote to Dulcinea) songs, originally written for a film of Don Quixote in which the famous Russian bass Chaliapin was to star. Songs with piano include settings of the Jules Renard Histoires naturelles, with its instinctive sympathy with the birds and the cricket portrayed.
Ravel‘s chamber music includes the evocative nostalgia of the Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet, a violin sonata with a jazz-style blues movement, a piano trio and a string quartet. Tzigane, written for the Hungarian violinist Jelly d‘Aranyi, is a remarkable excursion into extravagant gypsy style.
Ravel was himself a good pianist. His music for the piano includes compositions in his own nostalgic archaic style, such as the Pavane and the Menuet antique, as well as the more complex textures of pieces such as Jeux d‘eau (Fountains), Miroirs and Gaspard de la nuit, with its sinister connotations. The Sonatina is in Ravel‘s neo-classical style and Le tombeau de Couperin is in the form of a Baroque dance suite.