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Maurice Ravel

(1875 - 1937)

Ravel was born in Ciboure, France, near Biarritz, part of the French Basque region, on March 7th, 1875.

At age seven, young Maurice began piano lessons and, five or six years later, began composing. 

His parents encouraged his musical pursuits and sent him to the Conservatoire de Paris, first as a preparatory student and eventually as a piano major.

In his schooling in Paris, Ravel joined with a number of innovative young artists who referred to themselves as the "Apaches" (hooligans) because of their wild abandon.

The group was well known for drunken revelries.

He studied music at the Conservatoire under Gabriel Faure for a remarkable fourteen years.

During his years at the Conservatoire, Ravel tried numerous times to win the prestigious Prix de Rome, but to no avail.

Generally considered the greatest French composer since Debussy, Ravel combined skill in orchestration with meticulous technical command of harmonic resources.

He was a great admirer of Debussy's music and could hardly avoid being influenced by him.

He met Erik Satie who also had a considerable influence on his artistic development.

He eventually developed a style of his own which the critics often described as cold blooded and artificial.

In later years he based some of his finest works on the Oriental scales he had heard at the 1889 Paris Exhibition.

Ravel led a quiet life and never held an official post.

In late 1937 Ravel consented to brain surgery. One hemisphere of his brain was re-inflated with serous fluid. He awoke from the surgery, called for his brother Edouard, lapsed into a coma, and died shortly after.

He is buried in Levallois-Perret, a suburb of northwest Paris.

Ravel wrote two operas, the first, described as a comedie-musicale, L'heure Espagnole (The Spanish Clock) and the second, with a libretto by Colette, the imaginative L'enfant et les Sortileges (The Child and the Enchantments), in which the naughty child is punished when furniture and animals assume personalities of their own.

Ravel wrote his ballet Daphnis et Chloe in response to a commission from the Russian impresario Dyagilev.

The work, described as a symphonie choreographique is based on the Hellenistic pastoral novel of Longus.

Ma mere l'oye (Mother Goose), originally for piano duet, was orchestrated and used for a ballet, as were the Valses nobles et sentimentales and the choreographic poem La valse.

Ravel's last ballet score was the famous "Bolero", a work he described as an orchestrated crescendo.

In addition to the scores for ballet and arrangements of piano works for the same purpose, Ravel wrote an evocative Rapsodie Espagnole (Spanish Rhapsody).

Other orchestrations of original piano compositions include a version of the very well known Pavane pour une Infante Defunte (Pavane for a Dead Infant), the Menuet Antique, Alborada del Gracioso from Miroirs and pieces from Le Tombeau de Couperin.

Ravel wrote two piano concertos, the first, completed in 1930, for the left hand only, commissioned by the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in the war, and the second, completed in 1931, for two hands.

Songs by Ravel include the remarkable Sheherazade, settings of a text by Tristan Klingsor for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, and the Don Quichotte e Dulcinee (Don Quixote to Dulcinea) songs, originally written for a film of Don Quixote in which the famous Russian bass Chaliapin was to star.

Songs with piano include settings of the Jules Renard Histoires naturelles, portraying an instinctive sympathy towards the birds and the cricket.

Ravel's chamber music includes the evocative nostalgia of the Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet, a violin sonata with a jazz-style blues movement, a piano trio and a string quartet.

Tzigane, written for the Hungarian violinist Jelly d'Aranyi, is a remarkable excursion into extravagant gypsy style.

Ravel was himself a good pianist.

His music for the piano includes compositions in his own nostalgic archaic style, such as the Pavane and the Menuet antique, as well as the more complex textures of pieces such as Jeux d'eau (Fountains), Miroirs and Gaspard de la nuit, with its sinister connotations.



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