85 Facts About Maurice Ravel


Joseph Maurice Ravel was a French composer, pianist and conductor.

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Maurice Ravel is often associated with Impressionism along with his elder contemporary Claude Debussy, although both composers rejected the term.

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Maurice Ravel liked to experiment with musical form, as in his best-known work, Bolero, in which repetition takes the place of development.

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Slow and painstaking worker, Maurice Ravel composed fewer pieces than many of his contemporaries.

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Maurice Ravel was among the first composers to recognise the potential of recording to bring their music to a wider public.

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Maurice Ravel was born in the Basque town of Ciboure, France, near Biarritz, 18 kilometres from the Spanish border.

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Maurice Ravel's father, Pierre-Joseph Ravel, was an educated and successful engineer, inventor and manufacturer, born in Versoix near the Franco-Swiss border.

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Maurice Ravel was baptised in the Ciboure parish church six days after he was born.

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Maurice Ravel senior delighted in taking his sons to factories to see the latest mechanical devices, but he had a keen interest in music and culture in general.

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When he was seven, Maurice Ravel started piano lessons with Henri Ghys, a friend of Emmanuel Chabrier; five years later, in 1887, he began studying harmony, counterpoint and composition with Charles-Rene, a pupil of Leo Delibes.

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Maurice Ravel's earliest known compositions date from this period: variations on a chorale by Schumann, variations on a theme by Grieg and a single movement of a piano sonata.

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In 1888 Maurice Ravel met the young pianist Ricardo Vines, who became not only a lifelong friend, but one of the foremost interpreters of his works, and an important link between Maurice Ravel and Spanish music.

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At the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, Maurice Ravel was much struck by the new Russian works conducted by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

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Maurice Ravel won the first prize in the Conservatoire's piano competition in 1891, but otherwise he did not stand out as a student.

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In 1891 Maurice Ravel progressed to the classes of Charles-Wilfrid de Beriot, for piano, and Emile Pessard, for harmony.

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Maurice Ravel made solid, unspectacular progress, with particular encouragement from Beriot but, in the words of the musicologist Barbara L Kelly, he "was only teachable on his own terms".

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Maurice Ravel was never so assiduous a student of the piano as his colleagues such as Vines and Cortot were.

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At around this time, Joseph Maurice Ravel introduced his son to Erik Satie, who was earning a living as a cafe pianist.

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Maurice Ravel was one of the first musicians – Debussy was another – who recognised Satie's originality and talent.

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In 1897 Maurice Ravel was readmitted to the Conservatoire, studying composition with Faure, and taking private lessons in counterpoint with Andre Gedalge.

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Maurice Ravel's standing at the Conservatoire was nevertheless undermined by the hostility of the Director, Theodore Dubois, who deplored the young man's musically and politically progressive outlook.

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Maurice Ravel wrote some substantial works while studying with Faure, including the overture Sheherazade and a violin sonata, but he won no prizes, and therefore was expelled again in 1900.

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In May 1897 Maurice Ravel conducted the first performance of the Sheherazade overture, which had a mixed reception, with boos mingling with applause from the audience, and unflattering reviews from the critics.

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In 1899 Maurice Ravel composed his first piece to become widely known, though it made little impact initially: Pavane pour une infante defunte .

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Maurice Ravel dressed like a dandy and was meticulous about his appearance and demeanour.

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Orenstein comments that, short in stature, light in frame and bony in features, Maurice Ravel had the "appearance of a well-dressed jockey", whose large head seemed suitably matched to his formidable intellect.

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Maurice Ravel thought that Debussy was indeed an Impressionist but that he himself was not.

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In 1900 Maurice Ravel was eliminated in the first round; in 1901 he won the second prize for the competition.

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In 1902 and 1903 he won nothing: according to the musicologist Paul Landormy, the judges suspected Maurice Ravel of making fun of them by submitting cantatas so academic as to seem like parodies.

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Maurice Ravel was eliminated in the first round, which even critics unsympathetic to his music, including Lalo, denounced as unjustifiable.

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L'affaire Maurice Ravel became a national scandal, leading to the early retirement of Dubois and his replacement by Faure, appointed by the government to carry out a radical reorganisation of the Conservatoire.

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Maurice Ravel was in general a slow and painstaking worker, and reworking his earlier piano compositions enabled him to increase the number of pieces published and performed.

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Maurice Ravel was not by inclination a teacher, but he gave lessons to a few young musicians he felt could benefit from them.

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Manuel Rosenthal was one, and records that Maurice Ravel was a very demanding teacher when he thought his pupil had talent.

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Vaughan Williams, Rosenthal and Marguerite Long have all recorded that Maurice Ravel frequented brothels; Long attributed this to his self-consciousness about his diminutive stature, and consequent lack of confidence with women.

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Maurice Ravel was concerned that its plot – a bedroom farce – would be badly received by the ultra-respectable mothers and daughters who were an important part of the Opera-Comique's audience.

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Maurice Ravel began work with Diaghilev's choreographer, Michel Fokine, and designer, Leon Bakst.

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Maurice Ravel collaborated with Stravinsky on a performing version of Mussorgsky's unfinished opera Khovanshchina, and his own works were the Trois poemes de Mallarme for soprano and chamber ensemble, and two short piano pieces, A la maniere de Borodine and A la maniere de Chabrier.

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In 1913, together with Debussy, Maurice Ravel was among the musicians present at the dress rehearsal of The Rite of Spring.

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Stravinsky later said that Maurice Ravel was the only person who immediately understood the music.

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Maurice Ravel predicted that the premiere of the Rite would be seen as an event of historic importance equal to that of Pelleas et Melisande.

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Maurice Ravel considered his small stature and light weight ideal for an aviator, but was rejected because of his age and a minor heart complaint.

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Maurice Ravel dedicated the three songs to people who might help him to enlist.

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Some of Maurice Ravel's duties put him in mortal danger, driving munitions at night under heavy German bombardment.

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Maurice Ravel took a benign view of Les Six, promoting their music, and defending it against journalistic attacks.

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Maurice Ravel regarded their reaction against his works as natural, and preferable to their copying his style.

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Maurice Ravel had worked on it intermittently for some years, planning a concert piece, "a sort of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz, mingled with, in my mind, the impression of a fantastic, fatal whirling".

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Nichols comments that Maurice Ravel had the satisfaction of seeing the ballet staged twice by other managements before Diaghilev died.

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Maurice Ravel did not like the work but he was in sympathy with the fashion for "depouillement" – the "stripping away" of pre-war extravagance to reveal the essentials.

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Maurice Ravel commented that he preferred jazz to grand opera, and its influence is heard in his later music.

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At Le Belvedere Maurice Ravel composed and gardened, when not performing in Paris or abroad.

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Maurice Ravel's touring schedule increased considerably in the 1920s, with concerts in Britain, Sweden, Denmark, the US, Canada, Spain, Austria and Italy.

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Maurice Ravel appeared with most of the leading orchestras in Canada and the US and visited twenty-five cities.

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At an all-Maurice Ravel programme conducted by Serge Koussevitzky in New York, the entire audience stood up and applauded as the composer took his seat.

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Maurice Ravel commented that the critics' recent enthusiasm was of no more importance than their earlier judgment, when they called him "the most perfect example of insensitivity and lack of emotion".

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Maurice Ravel completed the Piano Concerto in D major for the Left Hand first.

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Long, the dedicatee, played the concerto in more than twenty European cities, with the composer conducting; they planned to record it together, but at the sessions Maurice Ravel confined himself to supervising proceedings and Pedro de Freitas Branco conducted.

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Maurice Ravel completed three songs for baritone and orchestra intended for the film; they were published as Don Quichotte a Dulcinee.

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In 1937 Maurice Ravel began to suffer pain from his condition, and was examined by Clovis Vincent, a well-known Paris neurosurgeon.

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Maurice Ravel thought a tumour unlikely, and expected to find ventricular dilatation that surgery might prevent from progressing.

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On 30 December 1937 Maurice Ravel was interred next to his parents in a granite tomb at Levallois-Perret cemetery, in north-west Paris.

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Maurice Ravel was an atheist and there was no religious ceremony.

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Maurice Ravel's music includes pieces for piano, chamber music, two piano concerti, ballet music, opera and song cycles.

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Maurice Ravel drew on many generations of French composers from Couperin and Rameau to Faure and the more recent innovations of Satie and Debussy.

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Maurice Ravel considered himself in many ways a classicist, often using traditional structures and forms, such as the ternary, to present his new melodic and rhythmic content and innovative harmonies.

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Maurice Ravel placed high importance on melody, telling Vaughan Williams that there is "an implied melodic outline in all vital music".

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Maurice Ravel's themes are frequently modal instead of using the familiar major or minor scales.

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Maurice Ravel wrote several short pieces paying tribute to composers he admired – Borodin, Chabrier, Faure and Haydn, interpreting their characteristics in a Ravellian style.

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La cloche engloutie after Hauptmann's The Sunken Bell occupied him intermittently from 1906 to 1912, Maurice Ravel destroyed the sketches for both these works, except for a "Symphonie horlogere" which he incorporated into the opening of L'heure espagnole.

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Maurice Ravel's first completed opera was L'heure espagnole, described as a "comedie musicale".

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Edward Burlingame Hill found Maurice Ravel's vocal writing particularly skilful in the work, "giving the singers something besides recitative without hampering the action", and "commenting orchestrally upon the dramatic situations and the sentiments of the actors without diverting attention from the stage".

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Maurice Ravel was accused of artificiality and lack of human emotion, but Nichols finds "profoundly serious feeling at the heart of this vivid and entertaining work".

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Maurice Ravel minutely studied the ability of each orchestral instrument to determine its potential, putting its individual colour and timbre to maximum use.

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Maurice Ravel's writing for the brass ranges from softly muted to triple-forte outbursts at climactic points.

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The critics Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe-Taylor comment that in the slow movement, "one of the most beautiful tunes Maurice Ravel ever invented", the composer "can truly be said to join hands with Mozart".

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Maurice Ravel made orchestral versions of piano works by Schumann, Chabrier, Debussy and Mussorgsky's piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition.

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Kelly remarks on its "dazzling array of instrumental colour", and a contemporary reviewer commented on how, in dealing with another composer's music, Maurice Ravel had produced an orchestral sound wholly unlike his own.

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When writing for solo piano, Maurice Ravel rarely aimed at the intimate chamber effect characteristic of Debussy, but sought a Lisztian virtuosity.

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Maurice Ravel worked at unusual speed on the Piano Trio to complete it before joining the French Army.

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Maurice Ravel's last chamber work, the Violin Sonata, is a frequently dissonant work.

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Maurice Ravel said that the violin and piano are "essentially incompatible" instruments, and that his Sonata reveals their incompatibility.

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Maurice Ravel was among the first composers who recognised the potential of recording to bring their music to a wider public, and throughout the 1920s there was a steady stream of recordings of his works, some of which featured the composer as pianist or conductor.

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Recordings for which Maurice Ravel actually was the conductor included a Bolero in 1930, and a sound film of a 1933 performance of the D major concerto with Wittgenstein as soloist.

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Maurice Ravel declined not only the Legion d'honneur, but all state honours from France, refusing to let his name go forward for election to the Institut de France.

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Maurice Ravel accepted foreign awards, including honorary membership of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1921, the Belgian Ordre de Leopold in 1926, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1928.

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