Maurice Ravel: Piano Compositions and Orchestration

"Seine River" Image courtesy of Photo by Tina Phillips. Published on 26 August 2009 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Seine River” Image courtesy of Photo by Tina Phillips. Published on 26 August 2009 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Maurice Ravel has given all students of melody, composition, and orchestration a great gift by orchestrating so many of his marvelous piano compositions for symphony and ballet.  Thus, all admirers of composition and orchestration can study what came to him so naturally – that is, the ability to transform the score of a piano composition into the full harmonic texture of a symphonic work.

Ravel biographer and musicologist, Arbie Orenstein has described one of the hallmarks of Maurice Ravel’s unique compositional style:

“Perhaps the most characteristic aspect of the Ravelian melody is its mixture of tonality and modality.  Found in the work of Chabrier, Satie, and the Russian school, the combination of tonality and modality was in the air in the latter nineteenth century, adding a fresh dimension to the major-minor system.  The Dorian mode is frequently used (Balade de la Reine morte d’aimer, or the beginning of the Sonata for Violin and Cello), while the Phrygian is characteristic of Spanish music (Rapsodie espagnole and L’Heure espagnole).”  (Orenstein, 1991)

Professor Orenstein has also noted that Ravel credited two people for his development as a composer:  André Gédalge, with whom he studied counterpoint and orchestration;  and Gabriel Fauré, whose composition class Ravel was enrolled in at the Conservatoire.

“I am pleased to acknowledge that I owe to André Gédalge the most valuable elements of my technique.  As for Fauré, his advice as an artist gave me encouragement of no less value.”  (RolandManuel, “Une Esquisse autobiographique de Maurice Ravel,”  La Revue Musicale, Dec., 1938, p. 20.) (Orenstein, 1991, p. 19)

Professor Orenstein remarks that “Gedalge stressed the supremacy of the melodic line and based his teaching on the works of Bach and Mozart, all of which would influence Ravel profoundly.”  (Orenstein, 1991, p. 20)

Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte

The composition Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte (1899) was first written for piano and then orchestrated by Ravel for symphony orchestra.  It has been successful in both forms and is also tremendously popular with guitarists and jazz musicians.  The jazz ensemble Oregon has recorded it several times.  It has been performed by guitarist Laurindo Almeida and pianist George Shearing.  Its other name in the pop standard lexicon is The Lamp is Low.  Ravel “turned to Clement Marot, a poet of the Renaissance, the Protestant protégé of Margaret of Navarre.  The ‘Marot style,” medieval forms blending with a foreshadowing of the rococo, had, in French literature, become the fashion for a special kind of mannerism. ..Ravel attempted to approach the spirit of the text through allusions to the musical language of the fifteenth century.  This was one of the first steps on the road of archaism and classicism, which French artists later loved to tread so often, especially in the period between the two World Wars…Ravel early adopted these procedures in his work.  They reached their high point in 1917 in Le Tombeau de Couperin. “ (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 41)

“The essence of this spirit flavors the piano piece Pavane pou une Infante Defunte composed in 1899, which contributed so largely to the establishment of his reputation.  Here again Ravel writes an antique dance, older than the minuet or the habanera.  He moves in the courtly Spanish past of an imaginary baroque.” (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 41)

“The dance was most popular in Spain, where, in its earliest origins, it was in a slow triple meter, which, however soon yielded to duple time.  As a slow and solemn court dance it displaced the older basses danses of the Burgundian school.  It joined agreeably with the more rapid triplemeter gailliard, a coupling that forms the basis of the later suites.”  (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 42)

“Ravel adopted a slow, grave tempo; the quarter notes carry the metronome indication 54, and, on the whole, the piece has a dragging rather than a forward tendency.” (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 42) “Ravel subsequently orchestrated the pavane.  In that garb it became even more popular than in its original form for piano.  But it is not the only pavane in his output…there is a piece that came out in 1908 as the first movement in Ma Mere l’Oye, the Pavene de la Belle au bois dormante. (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 42)

Ma Mère l’Oye – Mother Goose Suite

Equally charming and exquisite is Ravel’s composition Ma Mère l’Oye first written for piano four hands and then later orchestrated by him as a symphonic suite and one more time as a ballet.  Because it was composed by Ravel as a gift for a friend’s two children to play at the piano, it was composed with the utmost simplicity in mind.  It is a composition which is relatively easy to understand as an orchestrated piece since it does not have the textual complexity of many of his other piano creations.  Ravel was a gifted composer as well as great craftsman, and in his orchestrations of all his compositions he demonstrates meticulous attention to detail as well as an inspired blending of instrumental sounds.  Ravel knew perfectly the range all the symphonic instruments and placed the notes of the original piano composition into the perfect setting and range of these instruments.  For instance, in the first movement, Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant, Ravel introduces the melody with the flute over very soft, luxurious strings.  Nothing could be more basic, simple and pure.  He then gradually includes the other woodwinds in the textures of the song’s harmonies.  Nowhere is there a more convincing blend of unique instruments than in the graceful waltz  “Conversation Between Beauty and the Beast” (Les Entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête) wherein Ravel assigns the piccolo (flute)  and the contrabass bassoon a duet.

 "Village" Image courtesy of Photo by dan. Published on 04 December 2014 Stock Photo - Image ID: 100300400 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


“Village” Image courtesy of Photo by dan. Published on 04 December 2014
Stock Photo – Image ID: 100300400 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Of the original piano composition  Ma Mère l’Oye Maurice Ravel has written:

“My intention of awaking the poetry of childhood in these pieces naturally led me to simplify my style and thin out my writing.  I made a ballet of this work, which was performed in the Theatre des Arts.  I wrote the work in Valvins for my young friends Mimi and Jean Godebski…Two children, six and seven years old, played the pieces at the premiere in Paris in 1910…It begins with the “Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty” composed in the Aeolian church mode.” (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 99

Valses nobles et sentimentales

Before he published his group of waltzes Ravel assembled a group of friends to hear the new work.  His friends were a bit stunned by his use of dissonance as melody in his composition.  His friend Tristan Klingsor referred to Ravel’s choice of tones as “pseudo-false” notes because although they made the ears “chafe” a bit, “upon examination…(they) reveal an authentic tonal source.” (Zank, 2009, p. 155) A hundred or so years later these waltzes written for the piano still manage to challenge the ear of the listener.  The cunning use of dissonance is an integral part of the melody and serves to both charm and assault the listener simultaneously.   Somehow the orchestrated versions of each of the waltzes sound less shocking to the ears.   Although why this is would be hard to explain.  Both the orchestrated versions and the solo piano versions remain popular to this day and are frequently heard in the concert hall.

A typical device of Ravelian orchestration may be noted in the second waltz.  The main melody is introduced by the flute, passed to the oboe, and completed by the strings.  The second time the same melody occurs – again, it is initiated by the flute, but this time it is picked-up by the celesta, and completed by the strings.  On the third and last time, we hear the melody, this time the flute carries it to completion.  This is a very simple, pristine, and elegant way of presenting a melody and yet always keeping it original and fresh.  Another characteristic of Ravelian orchestration is the subtle, one might almost say, subliminal use of the harp.  Ravelian harmonies incorporate the harp extensively – it has a delicate, yet profound effect on the tonal color of the orchestra.   Waltzs are a major part of the Ravelian canon.  His Valses noble et sentimentales (1912) hearalds his most acknowelged waltz – La Valse (1919-20).  In the orchestrated version of Valses noble et sentimentales the listener is already treated to the dissonate, sour, and slightly out-of-tune waltzs in the manner of Schubert or Johann Strauss which still captivate us with their melodies and rhythms.

Alborada del Gracioso

This challenging piano piece written in 1905 was later orchestrated by Ravel for a symphonic ensemble.  It is a very challenging orchestra work.  Musicians who are normally called upon to play lyrically (woodwinds and strings) are now expected to be very rhythmic.  In fact, one might say that in this piece the rhythm is the melody.  Pizzicato strings initiate the rhythm, along with the harp, but soon the pulse is being carried by the bassoon players.  Strings are called upon to sound as if they are strumming guitars.  Castanets, timpani, snare drums are used throughout, but the trumpets, flutes and oboes carry the rhythmic pulse as well.  Just as a pianist is called upon to sometimes play in the lowest and highest ranges of the keyboard simultaneously, the Ravel orchestration combines instruments at the farthest aural ranges (for example, the bassoons playing along with tiny cymbals).  The rhythmic pulse is provided throughout the orchestral range by essentially all instruments in varying combinations.  If there is a soloist in this orchestra work, it would be the bassoon which has a very sweet and brooding melody played much in the style of some Flamenco guitar melodies.  Melody instruments are challenged to play in unusual manners (trombonists must perform quick but lengthy slurs) as part of the overall melody.  Instruments of very low register (the double-bass clarinet and the bassoon) are heard in conjunction with normally percussive instruments, but in this piece all instruments are percussive.  An alborada is an instrumental folk form in Spain played to welcome the dawn.

"Misty Landscape" Image courtesy of Photo by dan. Published on 25 November 2013 Stock Photo - Image ID: 100220235 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Misty Landscape” Image courtesy of Photo by dan. Published on 25 November 2013
Stock Photo – Image ID: 100220235 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Le Tombeau de Couperin

The orchestra composition has four movements:

  1. Prelude
  2. Forlane
  3. Menuet
  4. Rigaudon

Those in love with the dark and sweet sound of the reed instruments – the oboe, English horn, bassoon – would be hard pressed not to revere this magical, mysterious, homage to nature, the fallen dead of the Great War, and respect for the ancient forms of dance.  Le Tombeau de Couperin evokes all the rustle and sweet sounds of animals in the woods while at the same time blending together the dance rhythms of the ancient medieval courts of France.  It is the perfect composition to be listening to while reading the famous medieval French writers of courtly love and romance.  The harmonies have both an ancient and modern sound.  The piece evokes a time beyond time – a place of childhood, innocence, and fairy tales.  In it Ravel has blended the strings, muted trumpets, flutes, harp, and reeds into a single flowing rhythm of romance and wonder.

Ravel composed it in 1917 after he was released from the hospital during the time he was an ambulance driver in WWI.  He was suffering from the devastation of the war, the loss of friends, and when he arrived home in Levallois he found his mother dying as well.  Both Maurice and his brother Edouard were overwhelmed by the death of their beloved mother.  After arranging for her burial, both sons had to return to their assignments in the army.  Following his release from the army medical corps (he had been hospitalized again, this time with frost bite), Ravel was invited to recuperate at the home of his godmother, Madame Dreyfus, who lived near Lyons-le-Forêt in the famed forest of Fontainebleau.  “The psychological blows to which life had subjected him took their toll.  Grief, loneliness, war memories, terror of death and of life suddenly overcame him….He had seen friends dying around him in the bloom of their youth; and he had been obliged to bury her who embodied for him home, his origins, and his earliest musical impressions…His next work was a monumental epitaph, a collection of idealized obituaries.  He named the work Le Tombeau de Couperin.” (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 171) Ravel chose to combine the new advances in harmony with very old and antique musical forms.  The second movement (forlane) is “based on the oldest of the dance forms represented in the suite.” (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 174)  It is in the key of E minor.  The dance form dates all the way back to the Court of Burgandy.  It is set in a gently rocking 6/8 tempo.  Vlado Perlemuter, the pianist who studied with Ravel, says of the forlane that it “most faithfully affirms its allegiance to the past through the sound of its cadences, influenced by antiquity” and he notes that its ending has a “music-box” effect because the music does not slow as it comes to its conclusion. (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, pp. 176-177) Helene Jourdan-Morhange envisions a medieval knight on bended knees in solemn obeisance. (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 177)  The orchestration of the forlane is quite complex, ornate, and multi-layed compared to the orchestration of the Pavane in Ma Mere l’Oye.  Ravel demonstrates his skillful blending of woodwinds during the treatment of this piece.  The participation of the strings and the harp is an added treasure.

Menuet Antique

This composition is Maurice Ravel’s earliest published piano piece – published in 1895 and dedicated to his childhood friend Ricardo Viñes, who gave the first piano performance in 1901.  As Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt has pointed out, “the name is a paradoxical anachronism.  There were no minuets, at least by that name, before the sixteenth century…the ancients knew nothing of minuets and Ravel was very well aware of this.” (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, pp. 22-23) Another irony associated with this piece is that Ravel wastes no time introducing dissonances starting with the very first chord.  In addition to the ‘modern’ use of minor seconds, Ravel also builds his melodies on “the old church modes” and concludes the piece with the Mixolydian mode. (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 23)  As a concert piano piece the work is very charming and strikingly original. “With its abruptly changing dynamics, the piece requires an uncommonly experienced performer.” (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 24) Arbie Orenstein describes this A-B-A form composition:  “the use of the natural minor scale with its lowered leading tone gives a pseudo-antique touch” and it presents us with “alternating moods of brusque accentuation with gentle baneralyricism.” (Orenstein, 1991, p. 141)  Ravel transcribed this composition for orchestra in 1929 and he first performed it conducting the Lamoureux Orchestra on January 11, 1930.  The concert orchestral version is marked ‘maestoso’ and is characterized by rich and sumptuous use of strings, horns, and woodwinds.  As is characteristic of all Ravel’s orchestrations, the orchestra version is rich, deep, and transparent in tone coloring.

Habañera

In 1895 twenty year old Ravel wrote his first published works:  the Menuet antique and the Habañera, a composition for two pianos.  He later transcribed the Habañera for orchestra as the third movement of his suite Rapsodie espanole.    As has been pointed out by his student Roland-Manuel, in this early work for two pianos Maurice Ravel already demonstrates characteristics of his more mature compositions – such things as “caressing and fluent melody,” unique harmonies, compressed chords, “persistent, sustained internal pedal against which the rhythm is shattered,” cadences which appear as unique and original, and “impassioned and yet sensitive music.” (Roland-Manuel, 1947/1972 Dover Edition, p. 22)  The habañera utilizes an interesting rhythmic pattern:  “a combination of dotted eights plus sixteenths and eighths in triplets, to which an evenly measured motion in eights is added.”  (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 32)  This insinuating rhythm was popular in French music since its use in Bizet’s opera Carmen (1875).  Other composers to make use of it include many of the Spanish composers – most notably, Manuel de Falla.  Maurice Ravel was born in the Basses-Pyrenees.  His mother was Basque and spoke fluent Spanish.  His father, however, was of French-Swiss patronage.  His interest in Spanish music came from many different sources.  An early childhood friend was Ricardo Viñes who was in the same piano class along with Ravel of Charles de Bériot in 1891.  Vines was very proud to be a Catalan from Lérida.  “The boys introduced their mothers to each other.  Madame Ravel, the Basque, was delighted to meet another woman who, like herself, was not entirely at home in Paris.  They spoke Spanish to each other.  The sons played the piano together.  Vines later developed into a pianist with an individual style, a tireless champion of modern French music…” (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 21) Biographer and musicologist, Arbie Orenstein has written that “Maurice Ravel’s attachment to his mother was undoubtedly the deepest emotional tie of his entire life.  Among his earliest memories were the Spanish folk melodies sung to him by his mother, and through her, he inherited a love of the Basque country, its people, and its folklore, as well as a deep sympathy for the music of Spain. “ (Orenstein, 1991, p. 8)  When Debussy first heard Ravel’s Habañera performed he loved it and asked Ravel to lend him a copy of the score.  (Stuckenschmidt, 1968, p. 30)  Professor Orenstein points out that Manuel de Falla said of Ravel’s creation:

“The rhapsody surprised me by its Spanish character…But how could I explain the subtly authentic Hispanic quality of our musician, knowing, by his own admission, that he had but neighboring relations with our country, being born near its frontier?  I rapidly solved the problem:  Ravel’s Spain was a Spain ideally presented by his mother, whose refined conversation, always in excellent Spanish, delighted me, particularly when she would recall her youthful years spent in Madrid.” (Falla, “Notes sur Ravel,” trans. Roland-Manuel, La Revue Musicale,March, 1939, p.83)   (Orenstein, 1991, pp. 8-9)

La Valse

Nearly one hundred years after it was written and first performed, La Valse remains an enigma.  Is it a fond homage to the Viennese waltz?  Is it a critique and parody of the cultural naivety that led a whole generation of young European men to their tragic deaths?  Is it sentimental and smaultzy or is it a meditation on obsession and death?   Some pianists play the piece with subtle sensuousness while others work it into a maelstrom of furry and violence.  Some conductors lend it the elegant grace of a by-gone era while others rend it apart.  Some pianists and conductors do both.   While there are as many interpretations as there are recordings (and probably a whole lot more), one thing seems abundantly clear.  It is a composition (both orchestral was well as pianistic) not for the faint-of-heart.  Practitioners of this performance piece must have a vision and a goal in performing it.  One cannot play it “middle-of-the road” or be ambivalent about how it should sound.  It demands a vision and a firm conviction in execution of its intricacies.  Without conviction and vision (not to mention extreme technical skill) the performer, whether orchestra conductor or soloist, will flounder and suffer excruciating failure.  As hard as the solo piano piece is, the four-hand version is perhaps even more daunting because the two pianists must not only be at the highest level of their craft but they must have an almost perfect sense of empathy and extra-sensory anticipation of the other artist’s every thought and mood.  For all these reasons, the orchestral transcription of Ravel’s piano piece is a masterpiece at the highest level of his skill.  Its dense harmonies and swirling rhythms require a well disciplined and well rehearsed orchestra by a conductor who can keep the music clear, precise, and lucid even as the music verges on the precipice.  For a lengthy discussion of thematic and musical nuances of this marvelous composition the reader is encouraged to consult Stephen Zank’s Irony and Sound:  The Music of Maurice Ravel.  (University of Rochcester Press, 2009)  The Section “Irony and Style:  Mixed Planes” (pages 73-84) provides the main thinking on all the ambiguities and complexities of Ravel’s unique tribute to the waltz.

As we know, the piece begins with very low register notes on the piano or by the bassoons in the orchestra version. These notes sound especially sinister on the piano.  Soon the clouds of ominous threat seem to clear as the first strains of the waltz are taken-up.  In the orchestra version, this is provided by the violins and strings.  The beautiful waltz theme seems to dispel anxiety and provide a sense of pleasure and relaxation.  However, as the music builds to crescendo, the drums and open brass instruments come in loud with even crashes of cymbals.  Is this military music?  Has the Viennese orchestra of Johann Strauss been sub-planted by a military band?  Now, the low bassoon tones sound again…mixed with the strings…and then the orchestra builds to another crescendo…and the trumpets (Military trumpets? Or civilian?  Is there a difference in mid-1800’s Austro-Hungarian Empire)  Swirling resumes along with huge crescendos with drums, strings, cymbals…it appears that the sounds of polite civilian dance orchestra and military band music are all merged into one universal waltz.

 "French Countryside" Image courtesy of of dan. Published on 17 October 2009 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


“French Countryside”
Image courtesy of of dan. Published on 17 October 2009 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Art and Skill of Orchestration

The more one becomes acquainted with the orchestrations Ravel created for his piano pieces the more the listener becomes aware of the tremendous creativity and originality of Ravel’s use of the various orchestra instruments.  A startling example is the way Maurice Ravel uses the flutes as a percussion instrument at the climax of one of his compositions.  It is standard practice for composers to think of the drums and cymbals for the climatic end of a symphonic work.  After all, they are percussion instruments, are they not?  But Ravel’s originality was to combine the timpani and the flutes instead.  The arpeggios that appear in his piano works are sometimes replicated by the harp and at other times by the pizzicato strings.  It is not uncommon for an instrument which is carrying the melody to be interchanged by a different instrument almost seamlessly.  A more striking case is when a wind instrument is the source of the melody while the strings are the accompaniment, only to have the reverse occur later in the piece.  Ravel skillfully has instruments exchange roles with great finesse.  Trumpets can fill in where flutes and strings were the predominant soloists, and a blend of woodwinds (oboe and English horn)  transform into flutes and brass (muted trumpets.)  This seemless transformation of orchestral sounds is a hallmark of Ravel’s scoring.

“Ravel’s orchestral technique was the fruit of long years of study, incessant questioning of performers, much experimentation, and innumerable rehearsals.  He was intrigued by the seemingly limitless resources of the modern orchestra, and his scores indicate a natural extension of each instrument’s technical resources and range, careful attention to the linearity of each part, and the seeking out of fresh combinations of timbre.  He was particularly sensitive to rhythmic and coloristic subtleties in the percussion section and wrote for the harp with marked skill.  The brass family, on the other hand, is generally treated in a relatively traditional fashion.  It would appear that within the limit of human capability and efficacy of writing, any instrument may assume any role, and here the Ravelian elements of surprise and even paradox came to the fore.” (Orenstein, 1990, p. 23)

Enthusiasts of the orchestra harp have a champion in Ravel, as he features it and uses it liberally in most of his orchestra transcriptions and compositions.  Perhaps one reason for this is Ravel’s fondness for ancient music, medieval and renaissance forms in which the harp was an essential instrument of the period.  The harp is used frequently to add coloration to the orchestra score.  In the Spanish-influenced pieces it has a rhythmic role and a coloration role.  In the transcriptions which combine older musical forms with modern harmony the harp evokes an earlier era.

Ravel’s Transcription of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition

Perhaps the most well-known orchestration of a piano score done by Ravel was of a composition not his own.  It is Modest Moussorgsky’s idiomatic piano piece entitled Pictures at an Exposition. In 1923 the reknown conductor Serge Koussevitzky commissioned Maurice Ravel to apply his talents of orchestration to rendering Pictures into a symphonic work.  Ravel happily obliged as orchestrating piano works was a technical skill he possessed and a task he truly enjoyed.  This eccentric piano piece is at times lugubrious, bombastic, charming, tender, scary, exuberant, witty, and frivolous.  The commission to orchestrate it would have crushed a lesser talent, but in fact, this commission is the crowning achievement of all Ravel’s orchestrations.  To this day, perhaps more people know “Pictures” by the Ravel transcription than they do as a concert piano piece.  And it is Ravel’s symphonic orchestration of the work which has solidified Mussorgsky’s composition in the annals of most popular classical compositions.  The Ravel orchestration enhances the original work and provides the needed variety of shading and harmonic textures which is a challenge for most pianists and only a few such as Vladimir Horowitz have been able to represent as a piano tour-de-force.  Ravel’s choice of instruments is original but totally in keeping with Mussorgsky’s intentions.  For instance, Ravel uses wood blocks, celeste, harp, and percussion for the exotic sections of the suite such as “Gnomus,” Catacombae” and “La grand porte de Kiev.”  Many symphony conductors such as Sir Georg Soti have expressed their belief that Ravel’s choice of alto saxophone for the leading melody voice in the “Old Castle” section was a stroke of genius.  Ravel uses the technique that he developed in orchestrating his earlier works of having the ostinato pedal-point of the “Old Castle” provided by the strings (especially the double-basses) while the melody is carried by the woodwinds – and then, as the piece continues the melody is gently shifted to the strings (especially the violins) as the deeper woodwinds provide the ostinato.  This orchestration technique is consistent with Ravel’s use of the right and left hands in his piano compositions where either hand or both can carry the melody, and the transition between melody and accompaniment is seamless.

Interpretation and Recommended Listening

Author Arbie Orenstein has provided a very useful appendix in his A Ravel Reader – Correspondence: Articles: Interviews.  New York, Columbia University Press, 1990.  All admirers and students of Maurice Ravel’s music are encouraged to consult Appendix F Historical Interpretations (1911-1988) authored by Jean Touzelet (pages 526 – 600).  This appendix provides valuable information about pianists and conductors who personally knew Maurice Ravel and in some cases studied with him.  Many of the artists listed had friendly and professional relationships with the composer and they knew his thoughts about his compositions.  They also were complimented and encouraged in their performances of his creations.  Eighty-seven artists are listed in the discussion.  Pianists include: Robert Casadesus, Gaby Casadesus, Alfred Cortot (both Ravel and Cortot were classmates at the Conservatoire), Marguerite Long, and Vlado Perlemuter (who studied all Ravel’s compositions with Ravel).  Conductors listed include:  Albert Wolff, Arturo Toscanini, and Ernest Ansermet (he conducted the premiere of La Valse.  Ravel deemed it “perfect”), Wilhelm Furtwängler, Serge Koussevitsky, Pierre Monteux (he conducted the Ballet Russe Production of Daphnis et Chloe in 1912), Charles Munch (he conducted at a Ravel Festival at Salle Pleyel in the presence of the composer), Paul Paray (Paray conducted La Valse in the presence of the composer.  Ravel said to Helene Jourdan-Morhange “that’s not it at all, but it’s magnificent.”), and many others.  We are fortunate that so many soloists and symphony conductors who knew Ravel personally also recorded his works for posterity.  It is extremely valuable and fruitful to have their recorded versions to consult in addition to all the new artists, orchestras, and symphony conductors who perform the works of Maurice Ravel today.   Many concert pianists and symphony conductors have devoted a great part of their professional life to learning to interpret and convey the layers of meaning in Ravel’s compositions.  For this reason, the listener will be richly rewarded by seeking out the essential artists who have made a study of Ravel’s art.

Arkivmusic.com lists 899 recordings currently available for Ravel’s compositions for either orchestra or piano.  The number of recordings in this category of Ravel’s oeuvre is enormous.  So many, in fact, it would take several dozen articles this size or larger to do justice to even a small number of these available recordings.  For this reason, one must encourage listeners to use their own skill and personal preferences, sustained by some investigation, to find the recordings that best meet the listener’s own tastes.  The technical skills of performers past and present as well as the scientific advancements in recording since Ravel’s time make finding remarkable interpretations of Ravel’s piano/orchestra compositions a very enjoyable task.  Nevertheless, some recordings are so good they must be mentioned.  Therefore, here is a very short list of some remarkable recordings:

Alicia De Larrocha, piano.  RAVEL  Columbia LP M30115:  Alborada Del Gracioso, Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, Gaspard de la Nuit.

Ruth Laredo, piano.  RAVEL –LAREDO  Columbia Masterworks LP 36734:  La Valse, Prelude, Menuet Sur Le Nom D’Haydn, Sonatine, Miroirs.

Seiji Ozawa – Boston Symphony Orchestra.  MAURICE RAVEL  Deutsche Grammophon 2530 752:  Ma Mère l’Oye, Menuet antique, Le Tombeau de Couperin.

Pascal Rogé, piano.  RAVEL PIANO WORKS  London Double Decker CD.  13 piano compositions (including the four-hand version of Ma Mere l’Oye, with second pianist, Denise-Françoise Rogé)

Angela Hewitt, piano.  RAVEL:  COMPLETE SOLO PIANO MUSIC  Hyperion CDA67341/2.

Charles Munch – Boston Symphony Orchestra.  RCA Victor Red Seal LM-1984.  BOLERORapsodie Espagnole, La Valse.

Christoph Von Dohnányi – Cleveland Orchestra.  Teldec CD D125380.  RAVEL – BOLEROAlborad del Gracioso, La Valse.

Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire, pianos. Deutsche Grammophon CD 001363602. SALZBURG: La Valse

Vlado Perlemuter, piano.  Nimbus Records, Vol. 1&2, NIM 5011.   MAURICE RAVEL:  PIANO WORKS.

Charles Dutoit – Montreal Symphony Orchestra.  London-Decca Digital CD 410 254-2.  RAVEL:  Ma Mère l’Oye, Pavane pour une Infante Défunte, Le Tombeau de Couperin, Valses Nobles et Sentimentales.

Sources

Orenstein, A., 1990. A Ravel Reader – Correspondence, Articles, Interviews. New York, Oxford: Columbia University Press.

Orenstein, A., 1991. Ravel: Man and Musician. New York: Dover.

Roland-Manuel, 1947/1972 Dover Edition. Maurice Ravel. New York: Dover.

Stuckenschmidt, H. H., 1968. Maurice Ravel: His Life and Work. Translated from the German by Samuel R. Rosenbaum ed. Philadelphia, New York, London: Chilton Book Company.

Zank, S., 2009. Irony and Sound: The Music of Maurice Ravel. First ed. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press (Eastman Studies in Music).

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