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ClassicsOnline Home » RAVEL: Gaspard de la nuit / Sonatine / La Tombeau de Couperin
Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937)
Sonatine (1903 - 1905)
Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899)
Assez doux, mais d'une sonorité large
Le tombeau de Couperin - Suite (1914 - 1917)
(edited by Vladimir Sofronitsky)
Menuet antique (1895)
Gaspard de la nuit (1908)
3 poems for piano after Aloysius Bertrand
By ancestry Maurice Ravel was partly Swiss, through his father,
and, through his mother, Basque. In upbringing, however, he was completely French and
Parisian at that. Nevertheless from his father, an engineer by profession, he inherited an
admiration of mechanical precision, while from his mother he acquired his leaning towards
things Spanish, shown, above all, in his short opera L'heure
espagnole, Rapsodie espagnole, his piano piece Alborada dei gracioso, and, perhaps, towards the end
of his active life, in his composition for Shalyapin, >Don
Quichotte à Dulcinée. In a passing preoccupation with Spain he was not, of
course, alone among French composers, who, in earlier times, with less immediately genetic
or cultural justification, had sought inspiration in the traditional rhythms and melodies
of their exotic neighbour.
Ravel's early musical ambitions were encouraged by his father
and from 1889 until 1895 he studied at the Conservatoire in Paris, returning in 1897 to
enter Gabriel Fauré's composition class. By the turn of the century he had begun to
achieve some success, at least among the more progressive and discerning, and had the
sympathy of his teacher Fauré. He still failed, however, to satisfy the more academic
demands of the Conservatoire or to win the prizes necessary for promotion. His repeated
failure to win the Prix de Rome was to become something of a cause célèbre when in 1905,
now an established composer, he again failed to meet the requirements of the competition.
The resulting fracas led to the resignation of the director of the Conservatoire, the
conservative Théodore Dubois, who, born in 1837, had been a pupil of Faurés
implacable opponent, the former director, Ambroise Thomas.
In the following years Ravel continued to win friends and
enemies. Some critics remained remarkably hostile, but his achievement was undeniable and
his alleged debt to Debussy open to question, at the very least. A commission from
Dyagilev resulted in the ballet score Daphnis et Chloé,
mounted in Paris in 1912, an evocation of a very French and contemporary view of the
ancient world, and there were songs and piano music both of which notably extended the
available repertoire and explored new ground. The war, in which he served as a transport
driver, and the death of his mother in 1916, both prevented for the moment further
composition. After 1918 he slowly regained his former creative urge, with the completion
of his choreographic poem, La valse, in
1920, and work on his opera L'enfant et les sortilèges,
with a libretto by Colette, completed in 1925.
By 1928, the year of his American tour, it was apparent that
Ravel's reputation at home and abroad was very considerable. Even then, however, there
were signs of the illness that was to afflict him increasingly during the closing years of
his life, leading to his death after an unsuccessful brain operation in 1937.
The Menuet antique
of 1895 and the Pavane pour une infante défunte
of 1899 both represent Ravel's interest in the forms and texture of music of an earlier
period. The Spanish princess is mourned fortuitously in the second of the two pieces, the
title an afterthought for music of exquisite nostalgia. Both works were orchestrated and
both later served as scores for ballet.
completed in 1905, again explores in its three movements traditional forms in a harmonic
and melodic idiom characteristic of the composer. It was followed three years later by a
very different work, Gaspard de la nuit, a
set of three evocative pieces based on the prose poems of Aloysius Bertrand and written in
the virtuoso piano idiom of the earlier Miroirs
and Jeux d'eau. The Gothic literary source
on which Ravel drew, Bertrand's Fantaisie à la
manière de Rembrandt et de Callot, is quoted in the score. The first, Ondine, recalls the legend of the water-spirit, who
here begs a mortal to be her husband, but rejected disappears in a flurry of water,
streaming white down the window-pane. Le gibet
is a lurid picture of the gibbet and the hanged man, as the bell tolls from the walls of
the distant town and the setting sun paints the gallows red. The third piece, Scarbo, prefaced by a quotation from Hoffmann,
depicts the mischievous spirit Scarbo, laughing, unseen, in the shadow of the fireside
corner, spinning round the room like a spindle on a witch's distaff, and disappearing,
faint as the wax of a candle-end.
Le tombeau de Couperin was
written during the war and completed in 1917. Each of the six movements is dedicated to a
victim of the war and makes general use of forms current in the time of Francois Couperin.
The opening Prelude is followed by a Fugue, Ravel's earlier Conservatoire failure in the
study of fugue now forgotten. The Italian Forlana
had been adopted by the French before the time of Couperin, who made his own contribution
to the dance, here with something of the poignancy of the Pavane. A lively Rigaudon
leads to a gentler Minuet and a final Toccata. Le
tombeau de Couperin marks a final return to a preoccupation with the archaic,
translated into a language that is poignant as it is ironic.
The Hungarian pianist Klara Körmendi was born in Budapest and
studied under Kornél Zempléni at the Bartók Conservatory, later becoming a student of
Péter Solymos at the Liszt Academy, where she received her diploma with distinction in
1967. She enjoyed early success in a number of international competitions, before
embarking on a career that has taken her to the major musical centres of Europe, with
broadcasts in Vienna, Paris and London, as well as Basle, Cologne, Lausanne and Ljubljana.
Klara Köremendi has a wide repertoire, and has always shown particular interest in
contemporary repertoire, both Hungarian and foreign. Her recordings for Hungaroton include
music by Pierre Boulez, Olivier Messiaen, Luciano Berio and Heinz Holliger.
Last Albums Viewed
RAVEL: Gaspard de la nuit / Sonatine / La Tombeau ...