Maurice Joseph Ravel


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Ravel, Maurice Joseph

 

Born Mar. 7, 1875, in Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées; died Dec. 28, 1937, in Paris. French composer. Honorary doctor of music, Oxford University (1928).

Ravel’s father came from Switzerland; his mother was of Spanish-Basque descent. Ravel graduated from the Paris Conservatory, where he studied with A. Gédalge (counterpoint) and G. Fauré (composition). While he was a student he created works that revealed his talents. He won fame for his Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Spanish Princess, 1899), a piano piece. Influenced by E. Chabrier, E. Satie, and C. Debussy, as well as by N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov and M. P. Mussorgsky, Ravel developed the principles of impressionism in his works, as is most fully reflected in his works for the piano (Jeux d’eau, 1901; Miroirs, 1905; and Gaspard de la nuit, 1908), as well as in the ballet Daphnis et Chloé (1911; choreography by M. Fokine; staged 1912, Paris).

Spanish melodies and rhythms are encountered in a number of works by Ravel, who was constantly attracted by Spanish music. Among these works are the Rapsodie espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody, 1907), a masterpiece of orchestral composition; the opera L’Heure espagnole (The Spanish Hour, 1907; staged 1911, Paris); Bolero (1928), a very popular orchestral work; and many compositions not directly associated with Spanish themes. Ravel also had a proclivity for old and contemporary dances, as well as for jazz rhythms. Dance rhythms pervade the Valses nobles et sentimentales for piano (1911), the Rapsodie espagnole, the operas L’Heure espagnole and L’Enfant et les sortilèges (1925, Monte Carlo), and the choreographic poem La Valse (1920). The influence of jazz is reflected in the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1927), the second movement of which is entitled “The Blues,” and in the Concerto for Piano (left hand) (1931), written for the Austrian pianist P. Wittgenstein, who had lost his right hand during the war.

An unsurpassed master of orchestral works, Ravel also created remarkable works in other genres. His innovations in musical declamation are important (for example, the Histoires naturelles for voice and piano, with texts by J. Renard, 1906, and the vocal parts of the opera L’Heure espagnole). Ravel’s music combines precise color with vivid melodic lines and elegant notation of sounds with definite rhythm and austere form. Ravel simplified the manner of presenting musical concepts, but he remained true to the national, classical ideals—clarity of style and a sense of measure and beauty. Mussorgsky’s Pictures From an Exhibition (1922) was transcribed for orchestra by Ravel.

During World War I (1914–18) the composer served as a volunteer at the front. As a unique tribute to his friends who died in the war, he wrote the piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin (1917), each part of which is dedicated to one of his friends. Ravel toured extensively as a pianist and conductor. In 1928 he conducted his own works in the USA. During the last few years of his life he was virtually unable to work, owing to a serious disease of the brain.

Brilliant and original, Ravel’s optimistic creative work is profoundly humanistic. Ravel and Debussy are France’s most important 20th-century composers.

REFERENCES

Tsypin, G. Moris Ravel’. Moscow, 1959.
Ravel’ ν zerkale svoikh pisem. Compiled by M. Gerar and P. Chalupt. Leningrad, 1962. (Translated from French.)
Krein, Iu. Simfonicheskie proizvedeniia M. Ravelia. Moscow, 1962.
Krein, Iu. Kamerno-instrumental’nye ansambli Debiussi i Ravelia. Moscow, 1966.
[“Raveliana.”] Sovetskaia muzyka, 1962, no. 12.
Al’shvang, A. Proizvedeniia K. Debiussi i M. Ravelia. Moscow, 1963.
Shneerson, G. Frantsuzskaia muzyka XX veka, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1970.
Roland-Manuel, A. Maurice Ravel. Paris, 1948.
Landowski, W. M. Ravel, sa vie, son oeuvre. Paris, 1950.
Long, M. Au Piano avec M. Ravel. Paris, 1971.

I. A. MEDVEDEVA