Maurice Ravel, a man of independent and enigmatic character, leaves behind him a pivotal and gorgeous work.
From Spanish origins to the origin of his work
Maurice Ravel was born in Ciboure, in the Basque Country, to a Swiss father and a mother of Spanish origin. The composer’s attraction to Hispanic sounds is often explained by this ancestry… but little Maurice only lived on Basque soil for a few months, his parents having moved to Paris a few months after his birth. Ravel began playing the piano at the age of seven, under the watchful eye of a father who was delighted to see one of his two sons destined for music. His successive teachers noticed his lively and creative spirit, particularly Charles-René, his harmony teacher from the age of twelve. From 1889 to 1895, he took piano and harmony lessons at the Paris Conservatory and his first works already revealed an original and assertive personality.
A scandal broke out after Ravel’s consecutive failures at the Prix de Rome
Many years later, he orchestrated one of his first compositions, the Habanera, without changing a single note to integrate it into his Spanish Rapsody (1908). Nevertheless in 1897, he chose to continue taking lessons in the composition class of Gabriel Fauré as well as in that of counterpoint and fugue and orchestration of Gédalge. From the outset, Maurice Ravel therefore produced finished works in an accomplished style, such as Pavane pour une infante morte (1899), Jeux d’eau (1901) or his String Quartet (1903), which aroused the admiration of his peers. A scandal broke out after Ravel’s consecutive failures at the Prix de Rome between 1900 and 1905. The director of the Conservatoire at that time, Théodore Dubois, was forced to resign, replaced by Gabriel Fauré. This scandal resulted in further increasing the popularity of the young Ravel. It experienced a period of intense production from 1905 until the beginning of the war. He surprised as well with Histoires naturelle (1906), melodies composed on texts by Jules Renard, as well as with L’Heure espagnol (1907), opera inspired by a light comedy treated in the style of an opera- food. Ravel abandons the concept of operatic singing inherited from Romanticism. He seeks a melody with a drawing close to the natural intonation of the language, and the text sometimes becomes more declaimed than sung.
Dance occupies a central place in Ravel’s production
On the other hand, dance occupies a central place in Ravel’s production. In 1912, the collaboration with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes gave birth to one of his masterpieces, Daphnis et Chloé. It was also for a ballet, at the request of the dancer Ida Rubinstein, that in 1928 Ravel composed his most famous work, the Boléro. During the First World War, although reformed, Ravel wanted to be hired. Admitted to the ambulance corps, he left for Verdun until the fall of 1916. In 1917, after the death of his mother, which affected him strongly, he resumed composition and produced a work in homage to his comrades who died at the front. , The Tomb of Couperin (1917). Despite the celebrity that led him to perform across Europe and then in the United States, Ravel refused to be complacent towards himself, indifferent to institutions, always faithful to his values. In 1920, when he devoted himself entirely to his choreographic poem, La Valse, he refused the Legion of Honor.
A quiet refuge in Montfort-l’Amaury
Ravel is looking for peace and quiet conducive to work in Montfort-l’Amaury, in a house called the « Belvédère ». This is where he spent most of his last years, marked by a brain disease that prevented him from writing down his latest projects. Always lucid about his condition during the four years of his illness, Ravel died on December 28, 1937 in Paris following a brain operation. Ravel is often associated with Claude Debussy. Both attracted by the Orient, their musical ideas reflect the same poetic verve and, like his elder brother, Ravel largely moves away from tonality through modality. But where Debussy marvelously plays with “fuzziness”, Ravel favors classical precision and rigor of form. He handles timbres with brio and orchestrates a large part of his works initially composed for an often virtuoso piano. Neo-classical composer with multiple influences, seduced at his beginnings by the music of Chabrier and Satie, always inspired by the Spain of his mother, curious as much about the music of the past as the music of Schönberg and jazz, Ravel s appropriates languages and sculpts a personal and modern work with the precision of a “Swiss watchmaker”.