Could it be said that Ravel composed in the shadow of Debussy? Their names so frequently trip off the tongue together that it’s too easy to ignore their differences. While there were similarities in their musical language – both used ‘added-note’ harmonies and melodies often more like oriental arabesques than Romantic tunes – the 13 years that separated them were crucial. Debussy began composing around 1880, while Ravel didn’t really get going until the mid-1890s. How the musical climate had changed in the interim!
Piano-playing was at the centre of Ravel’s musical life during his teens. At the age of 13 he had met Ricardo Viñes, the pianist who was later to become the champion of much piano music by both Debussy and Ravel. Together, they played Chabrier’s Trois valses romantiques to the composer.
Across the turn of the century, Ravel sporadically studied with Fauré and began a spectacularly unsuccessful pursuit of the Prix de Rome, awarded by the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. Reading between the lines, his attitude to his formal teaching seemed entirely the opposite of Debussy’s: while the latter composer was a rebellious challenger, Ravel seemed more in pursuit of classical perfection.
Indebted to Chabrier, his first lasting piece was the Pavane pour une infante défunte for piano (1899, later orchestrated). More groundbreaking was his piano piece Jeux d’eau (1901), which he wrote when he was 26 and which vied with Debussy’s ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ from the first book of Images for the honour of inaugurating the new Impressionist piano style.
He began to turn his attention to a wide variety of forms: the opulent oriental orchestral songs of Shéhérazade date from 1903, the same year in which he finished his String Quartet, a work which, like the Sonatine for piano (begun the same year), shows two opposite sides of his musical personality: the one sybaritic and hedonistic, the other Classical, formal and restrained. Somewhere between the two lies the delightful sound-world of the Introduction and Allegro for harp and chamber group.
Another talent of Ravel’s was his virtuosity in pastiche, which he used to great effect, especially in his two operas: L’heure espagnole (1907–9) parodies both Spanish music and Offenbach, while the delightful L’enfant et les sortilèges (1920–25) is a self-confessed parade of pastiches of all kinds of music, including ragtime.
Association with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes resulted in the opulently orchestrated Daphnis and Chloë (1909–12), with its masterly depiction of a sunrise. Amid deteriorating health Ravel, in his fifties, produced his two piano concertos as well as his bestseller, Boléro, which he flippantly described as a ‘piece for orchestra without music’.
Profile © Richard Langham Smith
- Clips (20)Latest ClipRavel: Gaspard de la nuit
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- Ravel: Gaspard de la nuithttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02nr9b7.jpg2015-05-25T10:25:00ZWith Inon Barnatan (piano). Live from Wigmore Hall.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p02s5p4xSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 23 mins
Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit
- Ravel: Shéhérazadehttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02kn0nw.jpg2015-05-07T09:58:00ZWith Nicole Cabell (soprano) and Simon Lepper (piano). Recorded live at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p02qv798Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 16 mins
- Ravel: Piano Concerto in Ghttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p02k0gmq.jpg2015-02-14T13:54:00ZJonathan Swain has some tough decisions to make as he explores the available recordings of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G to make a personal recommendation.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p02k0gmySelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 48 mins
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
- Watch an analysis of Ravel's Piano Concerto in Ghttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p023062b.jpg2014-07-17T08:57:00ZStephen Johnson discusses Ravel's Piano Concerto in G with Roger Muraro and the BBC NOW.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p023062gSelected ClipSelected ClipVideo 19 mins
Watch an analysis of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G
- Ravel: Piano Concerto in Ghttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01tnls1.jpg2014-07-09T09:27:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide,Tom Service talks about Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p022h2ddSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 3 mins
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
- Ravel: La Valsehttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p022g13t.jpg2014-07-08T16:51:00ZWilliam Mival surveys recordings of Ravel's La Valse and makes a personal recommendation.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p022g14qSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 50 mins
Ravel: La Valse
- Ravel: Daphnis and Chloehttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01vxqpr.jpg2014-07-04T16:05:00ZIn this Proms Music Guide, Sarah Walker talks about Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p0225md3Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 4 mins
Ravel: Daphnis and Chloe
- Rhythmhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01zv1px.jpg2014-05-27T09:14:00ZLeonard Slatkin explores ways of listening to a basic element of music: rhythm.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01zv1qkSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 42 mins
- Foxtrotshttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01tnl2m.jpg2014-05-26T16:19:00ZCharles Hazlewood explores classical foxtrots for orchestra.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01zt70fSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 50 mins
- Fairy Taleshttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01zt6lf.jpg2014-05-26T15:53:00ZCharles Hazlewood discusses various fairy tales set to music.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01zt6lkSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 hour
- Maurice Ravelhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01zh1jr.jpg2014-05-21T09:23:00ZDonald Macleod explores Ravel's life and music.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01zh1kfSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 48 mins
- Ravel: Piano Concertoshttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01yx8f4.jpg2014-05-11T12:37:00ZStephen Johnson explores two contrasting Piano Concertos.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01yx8f5Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 47 mins
Ravel: Piano Concertos
- Ravel: Mother Goosehttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01yx565.jpg2014-05-11T11:07:00ZStephen Johnson and the BBC SSO explore Ravel's Mother Goose.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01yx577Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 30 mins
Ravel: Mother Goose
- Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuithttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01snnqb.jpg2014-05-11T10:54:00ZStephen Johnson considers the piano music of Maurice Ravel.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01yx4k1Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 hour 15 mins
Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit
- Ravel: Alborada Del Graciosohttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01w8cdy.jpg2014-03-26T15:29:00ZRob Cowan provides a personal recommendation from the available recordings of Ravel's Alborada Del Gracioso, 'The Jester's Dawn Song'.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01w8cf1Selected ClipSelected ClipAudio 42 mins
Ravel: Alborada Del Gracioso
- Watch an analysis of Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Handhttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01s944g.jpg2014-02-14T15:21:00ZStephen Johnson analyses Ravel's piano concerto with pianist Roger Muraro and the BBC NOWhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01s931qSelected ClipSelected ClipVideo 26 mins
Watch an analysis of Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand
- Ravel: Violin Sonata - Preview Cliphttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01g8lp9.jpg2014-01-02T10:57:00ZListen to an excerpt from Ravel's Violin Sonata.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01p2t0qSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 min
Ravel: Violin Sonata - Preview Clip
- Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole - Preview Cliphttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01g8lp9.jpg2013-12-17T12:06:00ZListen to an excerpt from Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01nkh5kSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 min
Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole - Preview Clip
- Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe – Suite No. 2 - Preview Cliphttp://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p01g8lp9.jpg2013-12-16T16:07:00ZListen to an excerpt from Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe – Suite No. 2.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p01nhn0kSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 min
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe – Suite No. 2 - Preview Clip
- Ravel: Boléro (Preview Clip)http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/240x135/p017rsr8.jpg2013-04-18T15:14:00ZA preview clip of Ravel's Boléro.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/6fdd3b3e-1ea6-4da9-8d6f-8f8de01c133a?clipfocus=p017wgpsSelected ClipSelected ClipAudio 1 min
Ravel: Boléro (Preview Clip)
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