Sunday, 4 March 2012

Composer series: Ravel

If you've followed anything I've posted on the web about music you might know that my absolute all-time favorite composer is Maurice Ravel. This is the first in what will hopefully be a short series of posts about various classical composers.

The first time I was aware of hearing a piece of Ravel was during the Sydney International Piano Competition in 2008. I distinctly remember looking up what the piece was on the SIPCA website because it made such an impression on me. It was Une barque sur le ocean from Miroirs, played by a very good pianist whom I've since seen in recital, Hoang Pham.
After I'd heard it, Une barque sur le ocean haunted me for days on end. I remember having it stuck in my head one night and not being able to sleep because it was so beautiful.
I don't recall specifically looking into Ravel's music after this incident (I have no idea why I didn't, but there you go.) However, over the years I found that I would often hear a work of transcendental (to use a fancy but very apt word) beauty on the radio or somewhere else, and when I discovered what it was, it would turn out to be Ravel.

At this point I still tended to get Debussy and Ravel confused, so whenever I heard a piece which I identified as impressionist in style, I wasn't sure who the composer was. But the fact is, those 'transcendental' pieces, when I heard them, always turned out to be by Ravel. The more I got to know of Ravel's works, the more I realised how completely different his compositions were to those of his contemporary, and that Ravel touched something in me that Debussy couldn't. (I'm inclined to write a whole separate post on the comparison between these two composers, as I find it fascinating.)

Listening to Robert Casadesus's Complete piano works of Ravel ensured I became familiar with every piece of piano music Ravel ever wrote, and Youtube has helped me to discover the rest of his compositions. I have also read a biography of Ravel that is quite interesting because it is arranged chronologically into chapters documenting what he wrote during certain years (although I was annoyed that Tzigane, the incredible virtuosic work for violin, only got a very brief mention!) If you're interested in reading it, the biography is called Maurice Ravel: Variations on His Life and Work by Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt (Translated from the German by Samuel R. Rosenbaum.)

Finally, here are of some of my favorite pieces of Ravel, with links to recordings on Youtube (I didn't embed them because it was going to make this post too long.) In each case I chose my favorite interpretation of that specific work, and I've chosen to link to my favorite movement where I couldn't find a complete version of a suite (you should be able to find the rest of the movements in the related videos.) All of the piano works on this list I have at least tried to play...I kind of have this dream of recording the complete Ravel piano works one day - I don't know if it will ever happen.

Jeux D'eau
Le Tombeau de Couperin
Gaspard de la Nuit
Ma Mere L'Oye
Piano Trio (please watch all of the videos for this!)
Trois Chansons

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