Ravel’s style — elegant, and refined — was highly influenced by eighteenth classicism (e.g., Mozart) and the early French keyboard composers (e.g., Couperin). Stravinsky once described Ravel as a “Swiss watchmaker”, due to Ravel’s attention to detail. Ravel wrote: “I never put down a work until I have made absolutely certain that there is nothing about it that I could improve”.
Such an aesthetically focused style matched Ravel’s personality: he was described as a “social dandy”, and was always fashionably dressed. “Has it never occurred to them that I may be artificial by nature?”, he once retorted.
Menuet sur le dom d’Haydn (Minuet on the Name of Haydn)
This miniature was written in 1909 for the hundredth anniversary of Haydn’s death. It was first published in the January 1910 edition of La Revue Musicale of the Société Internationale de Musique alongside other tributes by Debussy, Dukas, d’Indy, Hahn and Widor. All were based on a musical “code” of Haydn’s name. In German, H is B -natural, and Y and N are obtained by cycling the notes of A-G in code through the alphabet:
After Vavilov’s death a copy of the score was distributed by organist Mark Shakhin, with an arrangement being made Oleg Yanchekno which was recorded by Irina Arkhipove in 1987.
Menuet Antique (Old Minuet)
Ravel was a student at the Paris Conservatoire when he wrote the Menuet Antique in 1895. It was one of his first published works. The Menuet exhibits the development of Ravel’s style schools of thought in France academia at the time: that based in counterpoint (Vincent d’Indy & Albert Roussell: following the line of Beethoven and Wagner), and the new school focusing more on harmonic colour and effect (Chabrier, Fauré, Satie, Debussy).
Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Deceased Infant)
In 1925, when visiting the interpretation course at L’École Normale in Paris, Ravel said “Do not attach to the title any more importance than it has. Do not dramatize it. It is not a funeral lament for a dead child but rather an evocation of the pavane which could have been danced by such a little princess as painted by Velasquez at the Spanish court”. After hearing a young pianist play the work, he said “The next time remember that I have written a ‘Pavane for a deceased princess’ and not a ‘Deceased pavane for a princess’.”
II. Mouvt de Menuet
The first movement of Ravel’s Sonatine was written for a competition held by an
arts magazine called Weekly Critical Review in 1903. The competition stipulated
that the first movement of the work be no longer than seventy-five bars. Ravel’s
movement was the only entrant, but it was 84 bars long (or 112 if repeats are included) and was disqualified (the company was also about to go broke!). Nevertheless, Ravel did go on and complete the Sonatine in 1905.
© Greg Smith, 2009