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Irony and Sound

Irony and Sound: The Music of Maurice Ravel

Stephen Zank
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 449
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  • Book Info
    Irony and Sound
    Book Description:

    What is it about Boléro, Gaspard de la nuit, and Daphnis et Chloé that makes musicians and listeners alike love them so? Stephen Zank here illuminates these and other works of Maurice Ravel through several of the composer's fascinations: dynamic intensification, counterpoint, orchestration, exotic influences on Western music, and an interest in multisensorial perception. Connecting all these fascinations, Zank argues, is irony. His book offers an appreciation of Ravel's musical irony that is grounded in the vocabularies and criticism of the time and in two early attempts at writing up a "Ravel Aesthetic" by intimates of Ravel. Thomas Mann called irony the phenomenon that is, "beyond compare, the most profound and most alluring in the world." Irony and Sound, written with insight and flair, provides a long-needed reconsideration of Ravel's modernity, his teaching, and his place in twentieth-century music and culture. Musicologist Stephen Zank has taught at University of Illinois, University of North Texas, and University of Rochester. He is the author of Maurice Ravel: A Guide to Research.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-725-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. A Note to Readers
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This is not a book solely about irony, nor is it one about musical ironyper se.We have, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, few large-scale studies to consult; those addressing irony itself come from relatively recent times, and none pertain significantly (if at all) to music. The present inquiry, therefore, does not attempt to define, sort, or “scale” past and present efforts in using words to write about music, writing about music that incorporates words, trying to write about words as music¹ or—however intriguing—variations thereof.² Rather, in view of the phenomenon’s slim profile concerning music...

  7. Chapter One “Gentle Irony”
    (pp. 7-39)

    Among acclaimed critics and historians of theBelle époque,Louis Laloy used the above phrase to describe Ravel’s maturing musical thought in 1907,¹ as did René Chalupt, the first compiler of the composer’s correspondence, in describing his epistolary style long thereafter.² Though “gentle irony” and cognates surface repeatedly throughout and beyond Ravel’s lifetime, Norbert Albrecht’s judgment of some thirty years ago in the distinguished German literature still obtains: long after the composer’s death, irony remainsterra incognitain terms of Ravel criticism.³ To retrace responsibly within limited space we may begin with Henry Bidou’s thoughts at Ravel’s death: early biographer...

  8. Chapter Two Simple Sound: Ravel and “Crescendo”
    (pp. 40-84)

    In 1911, Victor Debay wrote an essay in the widely readCourrier musicalentitled “L’Anémie,” in which he lamented the current state of musical affairs: too much “weakness” (even decadence) manifested itself among the most promising composers of the day—Maurice Ravel, for instance, from whom one had expected so much, was entirely too preoccupied with matters of technique and most especially of “sound,” the novel explorations of which had become for him an end in itself.¹ Ravel’s career was securely established by 1911. Through considerable patience, he had managed to construct a remarkably promising career almost entirely outside the...

  9. Chapter Three Opposed Sound: Ravel and Counterpoint
    (pp. 85-134)

    The history of counterpoint in French music is rich indeed, intertwined with the teaching of harmony and the larger composition curriculum at the Paris Conservatoire.¹ Ravel’s training in the late 1890s under André Gédalge provided the foundation for an elegant and imaginative contrapuntal virtuosity, the subtleties and consequences of which merit further attention. As Roland-Manuel and Alfred Cortot (among others) recognized, the art of opposed musical sounds comprised one of the most tensile stylistic threads running through all of Ravel’s music.² As a young student, Nadia Boulanger recalled discovering the composer ofJeux d’eaudoing his exercises cheerfully, along with...

  10. Chapter Four Displaced Sound: Ravel and Registration
    (pp. 135-182)

    The question of register—a specific range of the total pitches available to an instrument—was an important aspect of orchestration taught at the Paris Conservatoire during Ravel’s youth, the more specific relevance of which, of course, is attested to in the treatises of Berlioz (1844, 1855), Gevaert (1885), and Widor (1904; modeled after Berlioz), which we know Ravel consulted frequently.¹ We know, too, that Ravel was interested in writing a treatise on orchestration,² though it was his good friend and colleague Charles Koechlin who eventually succeeded in doing so, and on a comprehensive scale.³ Ravel’s interest in the extreme...

  11. Chapter Five Plundered Sound: Ravel and the Exotic
    (pp. 183-222)

    “Plunder” may unduly unnerve, previous aspects of Ravel’s style having been more gently intertwined. Ravel’s Exotic was characterized by a wide range of unusually successful appropriations of musical “others”:¹ sensual, on occasion breathtaking, tinged with irony, parody, comedy, even tragedy, they have transcended their times and stand as puzzling musical mirrors to the great colonial conquests of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    The panorama of the musically Exotic in European culture is, of course, vast. Félicien David’s “Ode-symphonie”Le désert,of 1844, was cited as a turning point in 1889 by a critic of central importance to this (and...

  12. Chapter Six Sound and Sense: Ravel and Synaesthesia
    (pp. 223-267)

    Among many influences of Ravel’s youth were clearly those springing from Baudelaire’s “doctrine of correspondences,” or (as the phenomenon became known later) synaesthesia, the simultaneous stimulation and/or perception of different senses.¹ With deep roots in German Romanticism, synaesthesia found a culmination of consequence in the French Symbolist aesthetics of thefin de siècle.While Martin Cooper may have been correct in dubbing Debussy “supreme transliterator from one sense to another, . . . the musician who more than any other artist fulfilled Baudelaire’s theory of correspondence between the arts.”² Cooper’s certainty resembles that of Edward Lockspeiser questioned in the preceding...

  13. Chapter Seven “Secrets of Modernity”: Irony and Style
    (pp. 268-282)

    Some final associations remain between the touchstones of deception, wager, and style, and our one proposed intermediary and theoretical exemplar, inspired by Jankélévitch’s text on irony alone: that of “juggling”—of what a composer might (or might not) have been negotiating, before putting into place negations that excite to this day irony’s classic effect: “What? But how can this be so?!” To play the tables at Monte Carlo would be one thing, wagering notes in the concert hall quite another, as Roland-Manuel realized at the premiere ofL’enfant et les sortilègesin 1926. Presaging Jankélévitch’s aesthetic, he declared that of...

  14. Appendix: Ravel’s 1902 Prix de Rome Fugue
    (pp. 283-288)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 289-390)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 391-418)
  17. Index
    (pp. 419-434)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 435-439)