The Full Works Concert - Thursday 22 August 2013: Ravel

Tonight's Great Composer is the highly complex creator of Bolero, the Frenchman Maurice Ravel.

This evening's Great Composer is Maurice Ravel whose music contains a fascinating depth of passion, experimentation and exoticism. He was a meticulous craftsman, the creator of some of the most exquisite music ever composed. 

Our concert tonight begins with the enchanting Menuet antique, written after Ravel left the Conservatoire in 1895 and devoted himself to writing music. It's played tonight by the Lyon National Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

In 1928, Ravel made a very lucrative, four-month long, 25-city concert tour of the U.SA. He went with Gershwin to hear jazz in Harlem and also visited New Orleans. His admiration of jazz caused him to include some jazz elements in a few of his later compositions, especially the two piano concertos. The Piano Concerto in G was always intended to be a frivolous work, kicking off as it does with a whip-crack. The work is filled with Gershwin-esque jazzy idioms. The beautiful second movement is to die for. ‘How I worked over it bar by bar!’ said Ravel. ‘It nearly killed me!’

Tzigane is a rhapsody for violin and orchestra commissioned by and dedicated to the great-niece of the influential violin virtuoso Joachim. The name of the piece is derived from the generic European term for gypsy, although it does not use any authentic Gypsy melodies.In Ravel's day, the term gypsy did not so much refer to the Roma people rather a kind of musical exoticism. The work clearly demonstrates Ravel's ability to imitate the late Romantic style of violin showmanship promoted by such composer-virtuosi as Paganini and Sarasate.

The Pavane pour une infante defunte was written as a piano piece for Princesse Edmond de Polignac, whose father was Isaac Singer, the famous sewing machine manufacturer. Ravel was at pains to point out that, despite the title, the piece is not a funeral lament for a dead princess but ‘rather an evocation of the pavane that might have been danced by such a little princess as painted by Velazquez.’

We also hear tonight Maurice Ravel himself playing his Jeux d'Eau, a piece that was inspired by the noise of water, spraying, cascading and rippling in brooks.

Ravel originally wrote Ma mère l'oye as a piano duet for two children - Mimi and Jean Godebski, aged 6 and 7. Ravel dedicated this work for four hands to the children. The five pieces where were later orchestrated are: Pavane of Sleeping Beauty, Little Tom Thumb, Little Ugly Girl - Empress of the Pagodas, Conversation of Beauty and the Beast and The Fairy Garden.

Ravel spent World War I as a truck driver stationed at the Verdun front. The war caused him such deep distress that a number of important projects never came to fruition. He did manage however to complete Le Tombeau de Couperin, with each movement dedicated to a friend who died in the war.

The Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major which ends our concert was composed by Ravel between 1929 and 1930, concurrently with his Piano Concerto in G. It was commissioned by the Austrian pianist, Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm during World War I. Although at first Wittgenstein did not take to its jazz-influenced rhythms and harmonies, he grew to like the piece.


Ravel: Menuet Antique
Leonard Slatkin conducts the Lyon National Orchestra

Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major
Piano: Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Pierre Boulez conducts the Cleveland Orchestra

Ravel: Tzigane
Violin: Maxim Vengerov Antonio Pappano conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra 

Ravel: Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte
Charles Dutoit conducts the Montreal Symphony Orchestra 

Ravel: Jeux d’Eau
Piano: Maurice Ravel

Ravel: Ma Mere l’Oye (Mother Goose Suite)
Myung-Whun Chung conducts the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra

Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin 
Seiji Ozawa conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand 
Piano: Krystian Zimerman
Pierre Boulez conducts the London Symphony Orchestra