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Ravel, Maurice (1875-1937)

Maurice Ravel

born: 7 March 1875
died: 28 December 1937
country: France

Although born in a rural Basque village, Ravel was raised in Paris and was accepted as a preparatory piano student at the Conservatoire in 1889. Whilst a full-time student, Ravel was introduced in 1893 to Chabrier, whom he regarded as ‘the most profoundly personal, the most French of our composers’. Around this time Ravel also met and was influenced by Erik Satie. In the decade following his graduation in 1895, Ravel scored a notable hit with the Pavane pour une infante défunte for piano (later orchestrated). Even so his works were rejected several times by the backward-looking judges of the Prix de Rome for not satisfying the demands of academic counterpoint. In the early years of the 20th century he completed many outstanding works, including the evocative Miroirs for piano and his first opera, L’heure espagnole.

In 1909 Ravel was invited to write a large-scale work for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, completing the score to Daphnis et Chloé three years later. At this time he also met Igor Stravinsky and first heard the Expressionist works of Arnold Schoenberg. During the First World War he enlisted with the motor transport corps, and returned to composition slowly after 1918, completing La valse for Diaghilev and beginning work on his second opera, L’enfant et les sortilèges.

From 1932 until his death, he suffered from the progressive effects of Pick’s Disease and was unable to compose. His emotional expression is most powerful in his imaginative interpretations of the unaffected worlds of childhood and animals, and in exotic tales. Spain also influenced the composer’s creative personality through his mother’s Basque inheritance, together with his liking for the formal elegance of 18th-century French art and music.

from notes by Andrew Stewart © 2010

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