10/06/2008

Maurice Ravel: Bolero, Anyone?

Maurice Ravel is one of my favorite composers; he has written some of my favorite pieces like Bolero, Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte & Tzigane. 

Born on March 7, 1875 to a Swiss father & a Basque mother, Ravel grew up in Paris, where he studied at the Conservatoire from , 1889-95, returning in 1897 for further study with Fauré and Gédalge. In 1893 he met Chabrier and Satie, both of whom were influential. A decade later he was an established composer, at least of songs and piano pieces, working with luminous precision in a style that could imitate Lisztian bravura (Jeux d'eau) or Renaissance calm (Pavane pour une infante défunte); there was also the String Quartet, somewhat in the modal style of Debussy's but more ornately instrumented. However, he five times failed to win the Prix de Rome (1900-05) and left the Conservatoire to continue his life as a freelance musician. 

He was at his most productive during the next decade, producing various pieces for piano & the orchestra. His music can be both delicate & robust, with various textures & layers, expert manipulation of tones & the orchestral engine to create music rich with emotion & atmosphere. Among his various compositions are:
  • 2 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.
  • Shèhèrazade, settings of a text by Tristan Klingsor for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, and the Don Quichotte è Dulcinèe (Don Quixote to Dulcinea) songs, originally written for a film of Don Quixote in which the famous Russian bass Chaliapin was to star.
  • Ma mère 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.
  • 2 operas: the first, described as a comèdie-musicale, L'heure espagnole (The Spanish Clock) and the second, with a libretto by Colette, the imaginative L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Enchantments), in which the naughty child is punished when furniture and animals assume personalities of their own.
  • Ravel's last ballet score was the famous "Bolèro", a work he described as an orchestrated crescendo.
  • Tzigane, written for the Hungarian violinist Jelly d'Arànyi, is a remarkable excursion into extravagant gypsy style.
  • For piano: 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.
In 1932, Ravel sustained a blow to the head in a taxi accident. The injury was considered minor, but soon thereafter he began to complain ofaphasia-like symptoms similar to Pick's disease.In late 1937, Ravel consented to experimental brain surgery. One hemisphere of his brain was re-inflated with serous fluid. He awoke from the surgery, called for his brother Edouard, lapsed into a coma and died shortly afterwards. He is buried in Levallois-Perret, a suburb of northwest Paris.

A magnificent composer, his works truly show the beauty of romantic music & brings out emotions, subtle & passionate from his listeners. 

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