In 1904, Ravel entered an international competition for the first movement of a Sonatine
for piano, sponsored by an Anglo-French magazine, the Weekly Critical Review
. But with bankruptcy looming, the competition was cancelled and he was left as the sole entrant. Curiously, Ravel’s movement was longer than the specified 75 bars—usually he stuck to the rules of any game he chose to play. Then he decided to complete the Sonatine
, and two other movements were finished by August 1905. At the first Paris performance given by Gabriel Grovlez on 31 March 1906, one critic voiced what was to become a perennial complaint about Ravel’s music, that it was well written and charming, but lacking in emotion. Against this, the opening interval of a descending fourth grew to be a ubiquitous Ravel fingerprint—at the end of his opera L’enfant et les sortilèges
it is set to the word ‘maman’, according to many of Ravel’s friends the only person he ever truly loved. The emotion is there, but has to be sought. Only with the finale does sheer technique obtrude, Ravel instructing that it be played ‘without prudence or mercy’.
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2011