In June 1895, the twenty-year-old Maurice Ravel’s Conservatoire professor Émile Pessard described his harmony exercises as ‘exact’—Pessard lived on until 1917, perhaps long enough to blush at this judgment. At all events, in the exam in the summer of 1895 these exercises weren’t exact enough for the jury and Ravel had to leave the institution, before returning as a member of Fauré’s composition class in January 1898. In the meantime, he began a Violin Sonata in A major, but got no further than the first movement. This information comes from a note he sent to the violinist Paul Oberdoerffer in June 1929, consisting of the opening violin phrase and a dedication to him ‘in memory of the 1st performance of the uncompleted first sonata (18…)’. Oberdoerffer went on to teach violin at the Conservatoire and wrote light music for his instrument with titles such as Chinoiserie
and La petite fleur de mon jardin
. Ravel’s single movement, in sonata form, juxtaposes modal writing, as at the opening, with more chromatic harmonies, including two passages of downward sliding chords that sound like Delius. The joins may not always be totally convincing, but there is no mistaking Ravel’s way with a lyrical idea.
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2011