b. Cilboure, France/ March 7, 1875
d. Paris, France/ December 28, 1937
Maurice Ravel was born to a Basque mother and a Swiss father who was very musical, a successful industrialist, and an inventor. Ravel’s father settled the family in Paris, where he contributed significantly to the development of two-stroke gasoline engines. Young Maurice became fascinated by elegantly functioning machines, particularly miniature clockwork mechanisms.
Ravel entered the Paris Conservatory at age 14. He was an outsider at the Conservatory, and between terms he always felt the need to renew himself by returning to his Basque roots and native soil.
Compared to other great composers of his time, Ravel’s body of work was small. He wrote meticulously crafted manuscripts in a slow, painstaking manner. Igor Stravinsky referred to Ravel as the “Swiss Watchmaker,” a reference to the intricacy and precision of his works.
The Piano Concerto in G Major was one of Ravel’s last compositions. It was written after a highly successful tour of the United States and Canada in 1928. In America, he had visited the jazz scene in New Orleans and met George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. Gershwin performed Rhapsody in Blue at a party for Ravel. Gershwin’s composition, which so successfully merges jazz idioms with classical orchestral structures, was an inspiration for Ravel’s concerto.
The concerto is written in three movements. The first movement begins with the crack of a whip and continues at a frenzied pace. Listen for both jazz and Basque influences. The second movement, the famous adagio, is the principle reason this concerto is so popular with audiences. This achingly beautiful and serene movement took months to compose as Ravel agonized over each note. He confessed later that its composition “almost killed” him. The concerto concludes with a short, jazzy movement filled with dazzling effects before the dramatic ending.
Programme note by Dave Whiting ©
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