Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Maurice Ravel

Ravel's Sonata for violin and piano (1923-1927) at once illustrates the composer's singular sense of instrumental color in its successful exaggeration of the differences between the violin and the piano. The Sonata's genesis was interrupted by several other compositions; their imprint is evident in the work's mixture of styles, from the blues idiom of the second movement to the perpetuum mobile finale.

Ravel felt that the violin and piano are essentially incompatible instruments, and he exploits something of this friction throughout the first movement. While a gentle lyricism pervades this Allegretto, it is frequently contrasted with sharp, angular themes and highly independent part-writing. An extended cantabile passage for the violin, superimposed over the first two themes, arrives near the end of the movement, which concludes with a three-voice fugato.

While the "Blues" movement predates Ravel's trip to the United States in 1928, the composer commented on it in the course of his visit: "To my mind, the 'blues' is one of your greatest musical assets, truly American despite earlier contributory influences from Africa and Spain. Musicians have asked me how I came to write 'blues' as the second movement of my recently completed sonata for violin and piano.... While I adopted this popular form of your music, I venture to say that nevertheless it is French music, Ravel's music, that I have written. Indeed, these popular forms are but the materials of construction, and the work of art appears only on mature conception where no detail has been left to chance."

Ravel's adoption of the blues idiom is characteristicallly stylized through the addition of bitonality and timbral enrichment, though elements from "pure" jazz, such as the use of the flatted seventh and syncopated rhythms, are also prevalent. The influence of jazz upon the composer would later be more fully manifested in his two piano concerti.

In the third movement, an Allegro perpetuum mobile, the brilliance of the violin writing is contrasted with the relative simplicity of the accompaniment. The musical discourse includes thematic references to the preceding two movements, and an abbreviated reprise of the finale's opening material is underpinned by a theme from "Blues."