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Maurice Ravel

biography

“Actually there are only two types of music, the one types finds appeal and the other is boring.“    Maurice Ravel

The French composer was born in Ciboure, Brasses-Pyrénées, on 7 March 1875, and died in Paris on 28 December 1937. He was one of the most original and sophisticated musicians of the early 20th century. His instrumental writing – whether for solo piano, for ensemble or for orchestra – explored new possibilities, which he developed at the same time as (or even before) his great contemporary Debussy, and his fascination with the past and with the exotic resulted in music of a distinctively French sensibility and refinement. In 1889 he gained admission to Eugène Anthiôme’s preparatory piano class at the Conservatory.

After winning first price in the 1891 piano competition, Ravel progressed to Charles Bériot’s piano class and Emile Pessard’s harmony class. Although he made reasonable progress and was encouraged by Bériot, he failed to win any prizes and was dismissed from his classes, leaving the Conservatory in 1895. Ravel returned to the Conservatory in 1897, studying composition under Fauré and counterpoint under Gédalge; he later described both teachers as crucial influences on his technique and musicianship.

Although he produced some substantial works during this period, he won neither the fugue nor the composition prize and was dismissed from the composition class in 1900. He remained with Fauré as an auditor until he left the Conservatory in 1903.

After Debussy’s death in 1918, Ravel was generally regarded as France’s leading composer. Recognition by the French state led to his being offered the Légion d‘Honneur in 1920, a decoration he publicly refused. But this new?found status had the result of alienating him from some of his colleagues, in particular from Satie and the younger generation, including some of "Les Six."

Ravel emphasized his isolation by moving 50 km west of Paris, to "Le Belvédère" in Montfort?l‘Amaury, where he lived with his cats and was looked after by his housekeeper until his final illness. Prominent among the few musicians to which Ravel gave advice in matters concerning composition and instrumentation were Maurice Delage, Ravel’s biographer Roland Manuel, conductor and composer Manuel Rosenthal and composer Germaine Tailleferre. The latter had studied together with Arthur Honegger and Darius Milhaud at the Paris Conservatory and moved in the circles with often assembled in Ravel’s garden in the summer and which Ravel himself dubbed the “Ecole de Montfort". Ravel’s success abroad helped to consolidate his reputation at home.

Although he had first visited Britain in 1909, most of his tours took place in the 1920s and early 1930s. The four?month North American trip in 1828 was arguably the most success-ful. In 1932 he was involved in a car accident and was injured slightly. From that moment his condition worsened, and he was diagnosed as suffering from ataxia and aphasia.

Despite receiving rest and travelling to Spain and Morocco in 1935, Ravel was sometimes unable even to sign his name. A few laboriously written letters reveal his frustration at being incapable of committing to paper the music in his head. He died in Paris just nine days after undergoing brain surgery.

The violinist Hélène Jourdan?Morhange, rehearsed the Duo Sonata dedicated to the memory of Debussy together with the cellist Maurice Maréchal for the premiere on 6 April 1922. She made the following remark to the composer:

“The cello is to sound like a flute and the violin like a drum! I’m sure it is fun to compose this sort of thing, but only very few virtuosos are going to perform it!” Laughing, Ravel replied: “All the better! Then at least I will not be tortured to death by amateurs!”

book tips

Arbie Orenstein: "Maurice Ravel, Leben und Werk."
Philipp Reclam, jun., Stuttgart, 1978.

Theo Hirsbrunner: "Maurice Ravel, Sein Leben - Sein Werk."
Laaber-Verlag, 1989.
O




 
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Maurice Ravel 
                     






 

 

 

 

 





 

 


 


In the garden of "Le Belvédère".
In back Honegger and Tailleferre, in front Maurice Ravel ca. 1921