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Music / Maurice Ravel

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Joseph Maurice Ravel is a French composer (7 March 1875 — 28 December 1937), best known for his Bolero, despite his considering it a minor piece of work and joking that it had "no music in it".

He's popularly considered a cornerstone of the Impressionist movement in music, along with his fellow composer, Claude Debussy, though neither of them considered themselves as Impressionists and were actually offended by the label. Nevertheless, his music contains very colourful tones and sounds, flows very freely, and is very atmospheric, suggesting to some an aural kinship with Impressionist painting. He also wrote other pieces that are best considered Neo-Classicalnote . Regardless, he's considered as one of the major figures of early 20th century classical music, and is widely popular among listeners for his lush and beautiful, yet controllednote  musical landscapes.


Notable pieces include Jeux D'Eau, Daphnis Et Chloe, Pavane Pour Un Infante Defunte, Le Tombeau De Couperinnote , and the Concerto in G for piano and orchestranote . He wasn't quite prolific, but was able to build international fame because most of his music was widely acclaimed, both by serious critics and popular listeners. One of the last great composers faithful to the old classical style, before everything classical becomes either atonal, serial or minimalist. He was also a great supporter of Jazz, considering it to be worthy of being an artful musical genre, and the national music of the United States. After the death of Debussy, he was the greatest French composer of his period.

Like his music, Ravel was reticent in nature. Interestingly known to have no (known) romantic or sexual relationships, much to the composer's chagrin and loneliness — although he was surrounded by a large circle of faithful friends and followers, who later provided support during his last four years when he was affected by a neurological illness that prevented him from playing or writing any other music. After a failed operation, he died after falling into a coma. His death was greatly and unanimously grieved in the artistic circle - a year after his death, the Revue Musicale published a special edition containing around 100 articles paying homage to the late composer.


He was also an accomplished orchestrator, considered one of the best in the history of western music; his orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky's suite Pictures at an Exhibition is arguably better known than the piano-only original.

Trope Namer for the Boléro Effect.

Tropes that apply to Maurice Ravel's life and work include:

  • All a Part of the Job: The composer volunteered for duty in World War One despite his advanced age. He was assigned the job of munitions truck driver, which frequently put him in harm's way, yet he never complained about this.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Nothing is known about Ravel's sexual orientation, though he does show up on some lists of famous homosexual composers. He assiduously concealed any details about his personal life, and though he had close personal friends of both sexes, Ravel had no known romantic relationships.
  • Avian Flute:
    • His orchestration of the piano work Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky contains a movement entitled "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks." Its scoring prominently features two flutes playing grace-note figures that ornament running oboe and bassoon passages, the whole suggesting an energetic clutch of baby chicks.
    • Mother Goose Suite (Ma Mere L'Oye) exists in versions for piano four-hands and orchestra. The second movement, "Little Tom Thumb," depicts the title character's trail of bread crumbs being eaten by birds; the orchestral version scores its cheeping bird-like music for flutes and piccolo.
  • Classical Mythology: The inspiration for the ballet (and two concert suites) Daphnis Et Chloe, based on a romance by the Greek writer Longus dating from the second century AD.
  • Broken Record: "Bolero" repeats the same two melodies again and again, with only very subtle and gradual changes in the orchestration each time around. The snare drum has it the worst, repeating the exact same two-measure pattern nonstop for the entire piece.
  • Dude, Where's My Reward?: Despite being the most talented young French composer of his time, Ravel never won the Prix de Rome prize despite applying five times, getting no closer than Second Prize (on his second try). The third and fourth times, he was eliminated in the first round because the judges suspected Ravel was making fun of them by submitting cantatas so academic in style that they came across as parodies. When he was again eliminated in the first round in his last eligible year, it was discovered that the only finalists were students of jury member Charles Lenepveu. When Lenepveu insisted this was a coincidence, it ignited a furor in the press and among other composers, including those unsympathetic to Ravel's music. It led to the forced retirement of Paris Conservatoire president Theodore Dubois and a revamping of the prize-awarding process.
  • Genre Deconstruction: The waltz genre gets deconstructed in La Valse. It really shows in the music toward the end, the waltz becoming increasingly discordant in its harmony and disjointed in its rhythm and tempo, with an ending left unresolved. Although Ravel states otherwise, you'd be forgiven to think that this is all a portrayal of 19th Century Vienna and the destruction of its cultural icon status in World War I.
  • Genre Mashup: Applies to the jazz-influenced Concerto in G for piano and orchestra, as well as the second movement of his Sonata in G major for violin and piano, titled "Blues."
  • Ironically Disabled Artist: Ravel's "Piano Concerto for the Left Hand" was commissioned by concert pianist Paul Wittgensteinnote , who had his right arm amputated after a gunshot wound in World War One. (When pianist Alfred Cortot made an arrangement of the concerto for two hands, Ravel was furious and wrote letters to every orchestra in Europe forbidding them to play it.)
  • Mundane Made Awesome: His Bolero in essence consists of two swapped-off melodies repeated over and over again in varied instrumentations for 15 minutes, over a very rigid drumbeat, but it's nevertheless one of Ravel's most popular compositions and plenty exciting.
  • Music Genre Dissonance: Ravel's music is frequently lumped together with that of Claude Debussy as "Impressionist." The latter did not consider himself as such, while Ravel thought the label applied to Debussy but not himself. Daphnis Et Chloe is the only Ravel work that arguably even fits the genre description at all.
  • Name and Name: Daphnis Et Chloe.
  • Nursery Rhyme: Forms the basis of the ballet suite Ma Mere L'Oye aka "Mother Goose."
  • Older Is Better: Like Debussy, Ravel generally avoided standard 18th and 19th century structures, though he did write pieces patterned on Baroque forms such as the suite (see Le Tombeau De Couperin, consisting of a Prélude, Fugue, Forlane, Rigaudon, Menuet, and Toccata) as well as the piano piece Menuet Antique.
  • Posthumous Collaboration: Ravel orchestrated Modest Mussorgsky's solo piano work Pictures at an Exhibition long after the latter's death. It is in fact far better known in this version than the original piano work or re-scoring attempts made by other composers are.
  • Progressive Instrumentation: Bolero starts with a flute and snare drum and keeps adding more and more instruments, until the full orchestra is playing the same melody at the conclusion of the piece.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Already showing increased signs of absent-mindness, Ravel sustained a blow to the head in a taxi accident at age 57. Not long after, he additionally began to demonstrate symptoms of aphasia and eventually stopped composing altogether. Brain surgery designed to correct the issue five years later proved unsuccessful, and Ravel lapsed into a coma and died shortly after. It is unclear what sort of malady the composer suffered from, though some form of dementia has been hypothesized.
  • Standard Snippet: Applies to Bolero of course, which has been quoted or invoked in movies such as 10 (1979) and Allegro non Troppo. His music is also clearly the model for many film scores, given their vibrant scoring and polished yet non-academic sounding melodies and harmonic language.
  • Travelogue Show: Or travelogue work, in this case. Like several French composers, Ravel found Spanish culture exotic and alluring. Examples include the orchestra works Bolero and Rapsodie Espagnol, the "Alborada del grazioso" movement from Miroirs for piano solo, and the opera L'Heure Espagnol. Other pieces explored such exotic venues as Madagascar (Chansons Madecasses), China ("Laideronnette, impératrice des Pagodes" from Ma Mere L'Oye), and the Middle East (Sheherazade).

Maurice Ravel in popular culture: