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Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This new biography of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), by one of the leading scholars of nineteenth- and twentieth-century French music, is based on a wealth of written and oral evidence, some newly translated and some derived from interviews with the composer's friends and associates. As well as describing the circumstances in which Ravel composed, the book explores new evidence to present radical views of the composer's background and upbringing, his notorious failure in the Prix de Rome, his incisive and often combative character, his sexual preferences, and his long final illness. It also contains the most detailed account so far published of his hugely successful American tour of 1928. The world of Maurice Ravel-including friendships (and some fallings-out) with Debussy, Fauré, Diaghilev, Gershwin, and Toscanini-is deftly uncovered in this sensitive portrait.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17012-2
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of illustrations in the text
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Plates
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Roger Nichols
  6. CHAPTER I 1875–1902: A dandy blossoms
    (pp. 1-41)

    Of all the descriptions of Maurice Ravel, probably the most widely known is that supposedly given by Stravinsky: ‘the most perfect of Swiss clockmakers’¹ – a phrase that has annoyed more than one Ravel supporter over the years. It can, it is true, be heard as carrying connotations of obsessive accuracy and lack of feeling. But there are two reasons why even the most committed Ravelomane should take it seriously. Firstly, Stravinsky himself was no slouch when it came to putting meticulous order into his music, and indeed into his possessions. As a friend wrote: ‘Stravinsky’s writing desk resembled a...

  7. CHAPTER II 1902–1905: Testing the Establishment
    (pp. 42-65)

    To hearJeux d’eauwell played is a life-enhancing experience, but photographs of the composer himself at this time produce a rather different effect. One, from the summer of 1901, of the four Prix de Rome candidates, shows him aloof; impeccably dressed in straw boater, dark suit, striped socks and white shoes, with moustache, the kind of side-whiskers known asfavoris, a disdainful expression – and seated (?deliberately) nearest the camera. In another, taken on the beach at St-Jean-de-Luz probably the following spring, the white shoes are still in evidence, thefavorislonger, the boater replaced by a beret and...

  8. CHAPTER III 1905–1908: Mirrors, birds and the supernatural
    (pp. 66-98)

    The ten years after theaffairesaw Ravel produce well over half his output, and of these the most prolific were the three considered in this chapter. One of his examiners, Xavier Leroux, who found some good in his 1905 chorus, had mentioned in 1901 that music seemed to pour out of him in abundance, and although Ravel regarded this remark with his usual wry humour (‘a curious fact has been revealed to me: namely that I possess a melodic tap in a place which you will allow me not to specify more clearly, and that from it music flows...

  9. CHAPTER IV 1908–1911: A bold operatic Concepcion
    (pp. 99-132)

    The success ofRapsodie espagnolewas no doubt some consolation for Ravel’s disappointment at the beginning of the year overL’heure espagnole. As he told Ida Godebska,

    on 14 January I put on my Toledo voice and go off to see Carré with Bathori…. I hum even more out of tune than usual, start by breaking three notes on a tin-pot piano, let Bathori loose on the difficult arias, and we await the final decision: refused…. Impossible to impose a story like this on the innocent ears of the Opéra-Comique’s regulars. Just imagine: these lovers shut up inside clocks and...

  10. CHAPTER V 1911–1914: Nobility and sentiment
    (pp. 133-176)

    True to the fashion of Paris, Ravel’s first theatrical venture brought him more forcibly to the notice of the public than any previous work. Durand expressed his faith in the 36-year-old by bringing out the orchestral score of the opera within months of the premiere. But another premiere, at the Théâtre du Châtelet on 13 June 1911, gave Ravel notice that he was not to be the sole disturber of Parisian musical peace. We have no direct evidence of Ravel’s enthusiasm forPetrushka, but probably this was what he felt, in common with the rest of the Parisian musical world....

  11. CHAPTER VI 1914–1920: Patriotism and loss
    (pp. 177-214)

    Ravel was now thirty-nine and as healthy as ever. His health, however, was not of the patent variety that commends itself to military selection boards. His height is variously recorded as 1.65m and 1.61m (5′ 5″ and 5′ 3″), his weight, deduced from a letter of 26 September to Roland-Manuel, as 48 kg (7s. 8lb), ‘2 kilos too light. I now have hopes of the general examination of refused applicants and if that doesn’t succeed I’ll try and wangle something when I get back to Paris. Surely they’ll finish up being seduced by the grace of my anatomy. This hope...

  12. CHAPTER VII 1920–1925: Waltzing towards a love regained
    (pp. 215-270)

    Before leaving Lapras on 15 April 1920, Ravel wrote to Georgette Marnold asking her to ‘look for a little shack at least 30km from Paris’.¹ Staying with his brother and the Bonnets at Saint-Cloud or with friends was all very well in the short term, but his nocturnal habits cannot always have fitted easily into his hosts’ routine, in the same way as they discouraged marriage. He also owned furniture which either had to be stored or accommodated by his hosts: the Directoire chairs, decorated by him, had been bought in 1912 and the following year he had acquired for...

  13. CHAPTER VIII 1925–1928: Jazz, America and the joy of monotony
    (pp. 271-303)

    TheRevue musicalecelebrated Ravel’s fiftieth birthday on 7 March 1925 with a special number devoted to his music (issue of 1 April), including contributions from Casella, Klingsor, Roland-Manuel and Vuillermoz among others, as well as a brief extract fromL’Enfantin piano score (from figure 129). The general tone is understandably one of praise and celebration, but more negative comments about Ravel’s music are quoted and then refuted: overRapsodie espagnole, Jacques Rivière’s complaint that the search for immediate effects precludes unity and Pierre Lalo’s that the work, like most of Ravel’s, suffers from ‘la petitesse de l’esprit’, while...

  14. CHAPTER IX 1928–1937: Two concertos and a long farewell
    (pp. 304-347)

    The public orator of Oxford University, pleading the difficulty of saying anything illuminating in Latin about the art of music, had spoken of Ravel as one ‘who persuades all learned men that Pan is not dead’,¹ a remark of tragic irony. Although death for Ravel was still nine years away, it was already casting its shadow. Insomnia had returned after his American tour and now his natural resilience was increasingly unable to hold out against it. He suffered from fatigue and his friends noticed that he was acquiring a far-away look in the eye²– an eye that for over fifty...

  15. CHAPTER X Postlude: The pirate and the clockmaker
    (pp. 348-357)

    In Ravel’s lifetime hispudeur, his reticence and sense of delicacy, regularly led critics to decry his music as cold, impersonal, uninvolved, even the beauties of which ‘are like the markings on snakes and lizards’.¹ Seventy or more years after his death suchpudeurcan seem even more curious to a world where the most intimate of personal details are revealed on blogs and websites. But if we can agree that a desire for privacy is not a crime against the social order, it becomes easier to accept it as a bulwark guarding the most important thing in Ravel’s life:...

  16. Source abbreviations
    (pp. 358-359)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 360-389)
  18. Ravel chronology
    (pp. 390-398)
  19. Catalogue of works
    (pp. 399-402)
  20. Select bibliography
    (pp. 403-412)
  21. Index
    (pp. 413-434)