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Ravel's music was innovative, though he did not follow the contemporary trend towards atonality, as pioneered by Schoenberg. Instead, he applied the aesthetics of the new French school of Chabrier, Satie, and particularly Debussy. Ravel's compositions rely upon modal melodies instead of using the major or minor scales for their predominant harmonic language. He preferred modes with major or minor flavors; for example, the Mixolydian instead of the major scale, and the Aeolian instead of the harmonic minor. As a result, there are virtually no leading tones in his output. Melodically, he tended to favor two modes: the Dorian and the Phrygian. Following the teachings of Gédalge, Ravel placed high importance on melody, once stating to Vaughan Williams, that there is "an implied melodic outline in all vital music."
In no way dependent on exclusively traditional modal practices, Ravel used extended harmonies and intricate modulations. He was fond of chords of the ninth and eleventh, and his characteristic harmonies are largely the result of a fondness for unresolved appoggiaturas, such as in the Valses nobles et sentimentales. He was inspired by various dances, his favorite being the minuet, composing the Menuet sur le nom d'Haydn in 1908, to commemorate the centenary of the death of Joseph Haydn. Other forms from which Ravel drew material include the forlane, rigaudon, waltz, czardas, habanera, passacaglia, and the boléro.
He believed that composers should be aware of both individual and national consciousness. For him, Basque music was influential. He intended to write an earlier concerto, Zazpiak Bat, but it was never finished. The title is a result of his Basque heritage: meaning 'The Seven Are One' (see Zazpiak Bat), it refers to the seven Basque regions, and was a motto often used in association with the idea of a Basque nation. Instead, Ravel abandoned the piece, using its nationalistic themes and rhythms in some of his other pieces. Ravel also used other folk themes including Hebraic, Greek, and Hungarian.
Ravel has almost always been considered one of the two great French impressionist composers, the other being Debussy. In reality Ravel was much more than an Impressionist (and in fact he resented being labelled as such). For example, he made extensive use of rollicking jazz tunes in his Piano Concerto in G Major in the first and third movements. Ravel also imitates Paganini's and Liszt's virtuoso gypsy themes and technique in Tzigane. In his À la manière de...Borodine (In the manner of...Borodin), Ravel plays with the ability to both mimic and remain original. In a more complex situation, A la maniere de...Emmanuel Chabrier/Paraphrase sur un air de Gounod ("Faust IIème acte"), Ravel takes on a theme from Gounod's Faust and arranges it in the style of Chabrier. He also composed short pieces in the manner of Haydn and his teacher Fauré. Even in writing in the style of others, Ravel's own voice as a composer remained distinct.
Ravel considered himself in many ways a classicist. He often relied on traditional forms, such as the ternary form, as well as traditional structures as ways of presenting his new melodic and rhythmic content, and his innovative harmonies. Ravel stated, "If I were called upon to do so, I would ask to be allowed to identify myself with the simple pronouncements made by Mozart ... He confined himself to saying that there is nothing that music cannot undertake to do, or dare, or portray, provided it continues to charm and always remain music." He often masked the sections of his structure with transitions that disguised the beginnings of the motif. This is apparent in his Valses nobles et sentimentales – inspired by Franz Schubert's collections, Valses nobles and Valses sentimentales – where the seven movements begin and end without pause, and in his chamber music where many movements are in sonata-allegro form, hiding the change from developmental sections to recapitulation.
From his own experience, Ravel was cognizant of the effect of new music on the ears of the public and he insightfully wrote:
On the initial performance of a new musical composition, the first impression of the public is generally one of reaction to the more superficial elements of its music, that is to say, to its external manifestations rather than to its inner content…often it is not until years after, when the means of expression have finally surrendered all their secrets, that the real inner emotion of the music becomes apparent to the listener.
His own composing method was craftsman-like and perfectionistic. Igor Stravinsky once referred to Ravel as "the most perfect of Swiss watchmakers", a reference to the intricacy and precision of Ravel's works. Ravel, who sometimes spent years refining a piece, said, “My objective, therefore, is technical perfection. I can strive unceasingly to this end, since I am certain of never being able to attain it. The important thing is to get nearer to it all the time.”
More specifically he stated:
”In my own compositions I judge a long period of conscious gestation necessary. During this interval I come progressively, and with growing precision, to see the form and the evolution that the final work will take in its tonality. Thus I can be occupied for several years without writing a single note of the work, after which composition goes relatively quickly. But one must spend much time in eliminating all that could be regarded as superfluous in order to realize as completely as possible the definitive clarity so much desired. The moment arrives when new conceptions must be formulated for the final composition, but they cannot be artificially forced for they come only of their own accord, often deriving their original from some far-off perception and only manifesting themselves after long years.”
Many of his most innovative compositions were developed first as piano music. Ravel used this miniaturist approach to build up his architecture with many finely wrought strokes. To fill the requirements of larger works, he multiplied the number of small building blocks. This demonstrates the great regard he had for the piano traditions of Couperin, Scarlatti, Mozart, Chopin and Liszt. For example, Gaspard de la nuit can be viewed as an extension of Liszt’s virtuosity and advanced harmonics. Even Ravel’s most difficult pieces, however, are marked by elegance and refinement. Walter Gieseking found some of Ravel’s piano works to be among the most difficult pieces for the instrument but always based on “musically perfectly logical concepts”; not just technically demanding but also requiring the right expression.
Ravel’s great regard as an orchestrator is also based on his thorough methods. He usually notated the string parts first and insisted that the string section “sound perfectly in and of itself”. In writing for the other sections, he often preferred to score in tutti to produce a full, clear resonance. To add surprise and added color, the melody might start with one instrument and be continued with another.
Because of his perfectionism and methods, Ravel’s musical output over four decades is quite small. Most of his works were thought out over considerable lengths of time, then notated quickly, and refined painstakingly. When a piece would not progress, he would abandon a piece until inspired anew. There are only about sixty compositions in all, of which slightly more than half are instrumental. Ravel’s body of work includes pieces for piano, chamber works, two piano concerti, ballet music, opera, and song cycles. Though wide-ranging in his music, Ravel avoided the symphonic form as well as religious themes and forms.
Ravel crafted his manuscripts meticulously, and relentlessly polished and corrected them. He destroyed hundreds of sketches and even re-copied entire autographs to correct one mistake. Early printed editions of his works were prone to errors so he worked painstakingly with his publisher, Durand, to correct them.
15.Pianist and conductor
Though a competent pianist, Ravel decided early on to have virtuosi, like Ricardo Viñes, premiere and perform his work. As his career evolved, however, Ravel was again called upon to play his own piano music, and to conduct his larger works, particularly during a tour, both of which he considered chores in the same mold as "circus performances". Only rarely did he conduct works of other composers. One London critic stated "His baton is not the magician's wand of a virtuoso conductor. He just stood there beating time and keeping watch." As to how his music was to be played, Ravel was always clear and direct with his instructions.
16.Transcriber and orchestrator
Ravel was and is a leading figure in the art of transcription and orchestration. During his life Ravel studied the ability of each orchestral instrument carefully in order to determine its possible effects while being sensitive to individual color and timbre.Ravel regarded orchestration as a task separate from composition, involving distinct technical skills. He was always careful to ensure that the writing for each family of instruments worked in isolation as well as in the complete ensemble. While he disapproved of tampering with his own works once completed, orchestration gave him the opportunity to view works in a different context. Among the most famous of his orchestral transcriptions is his own Le Tombeau de Couperin (1917) of which he orchestrated the Prelude, Forlane, Minuet, and Rigaudon movements in 1919. The orchestral version clarifies the harmonic language of the suite and brings sharpness to its classical dance rhythms. Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is best known through its orchestration by Ravel. In this version, produced in 1922, Ravel omits the Promenade between "Samuel" Goldenberg und "Schmuÿle" and Limoges and applies artistic license to some particulars of dynamics and notation as well as putting forth the virtuoso effort of a master colourist throughout.
Ravel was always a supporter of young musicians, through his society and associations and through his personal individual advice and his help in securing performance dates. His closest students included Maurice Delage, Manuel Rosenthal, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Alexis Roland-Manuel and Vlado Perlemuter. Ravel modeled his teaching methods after his own teacher Gabriel Fauré, avoiding formulas and emphasizing individualism. Ravel's preferred way of teaching would be to have a conversation with his students and demonstrate his points at the piano. He was rigorous and demanding in teaching counterpoint and fugue, as he revered Johann Sebastian Bach without reservation. But in all other areas, he considered Mozart the ideal, with the perfect balance between "classical symmetry and the element of surprise", and with works of clarity, perfect craftsmanship, and measured amounts of lyricism. Often Ravel would challenge a student with "What would Mozart do?" and then ask the student to invent his own solution.
Though never a paid critic as Debussy had been, Ravel had strong opinions on historical and contemporary music and musicians, which influenced his younger contemporaries. In creating his own music, he tended to avoid the more monumental composers as models, finding relatively little kinship with or inspiration from Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Hector Berlioz, or Franck. However, as an outspoken commentator on the Romantic giants, he found much of Beethoven "exasperating", Wagner's influence "pernicious" and Berlioz's harmony "clumsy". He had considerable admiration for other 19th century masters such as Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Schubert. Despite what he considered its technical deficiencies, Ravel was a strong advocate of Russian music and praised its spontaneity, orchestral color, and exoticism.
18.List of compositions by Maurice Ravel
This is a list of compositions by Maurice Ravel. The compositions are arranged by the catalogue numbers which were assigned by the musicologist Marcel Marnat according to their dates of composition.
By catalogue number
Assez vif, très rythmé
Vif et agité
Mouvement de menuet
La flûte enchantée
Une barque sur l'océan (orchestrated 1906)
Alborada del gracioso (orchestrated 1918)
La vallée des cloches
«Chasse aux mots» column on La Nouvelle cuisine in the March 2015 issue of Le Canard déchaîné, pp. 3 Be sure you can understand and...