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Maurice Ravel

 B i o g r a p h y

MAURICE RAVEL (Born: March 7, 1875. Ciboure, France / Died: December 28, 1937. Paris, France) French composer. Ravel is ranked with Debussy as one of the most influential composers at the turn of the twentieth century.

Maurice Ravel is often linked with his countryman Claude Debussy, and there are some important similarities in their music. Both used the rich harmonies and new scales that are usually associated with musical impressionism, and both had an interest in the exotic. But where Debussy was a sensualist, influenced by the symbolist and decadent movements, Ravel was more of a craftsman and traditionalist, creating a style that was almost neoclassical.

As so many French composers, Ravel received his training at the Paris Conservatory. After long study and five attempts to win the prestigious Prix de Rome, Ravel set off on his own. This was a time of great productivity for the composer in which he honed his craft and developed the meticulous qualities for which he would be known. One of these is his skill as an orchestrator. His most popular piece, Boléro, is in many ways a grand set of variations based on orchestration. A number of his pieces began as piano works, which he later orchestrated, and he is justly famous for a piece he didn't write, his masterful orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. He also was drawn to the music of other cultures. While he showed some interest in musical Orientalism (his Sheherazade being a fine example), his real love was the music of Spain, and he created a number of works (Rapsodie espagnole and Boléro being the best known) that have a distinctly Spanish flavor.

In the 1910s and 1920s, Ravel was influenced by the presence in Paris of the Russian Igor Stravinsky and the activities of the Ballets Russes. His music took on a sharper edge and, along with Stravinsky, returned to older principles. That resulted in what is often referred to as a neoclassical style. After World War I, Ravel traveled extensively as a conductor. He was especially appreciated in the United States, and during his visits to this country he was exposed to American jazz. This too found its way into some of his later pieces, most notably the slow movement of his sonata for violin, which incorporates elements of blues style. 

 A l b u m s

Boléro / Daphnis et Chloé / Alborada del Grazioso (Deutsche Grammophone, 1989)

with Ernest Chausson and Claude Debussy:
La Mer / Poème de l'amour et de la mer / Une barque sur l'océan (EMI Classics, 1994)