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Maurice Ravel

Ravel's tiny Prélude (1913) is one of just a handful of pieces for piano that fill the gap between two of the composer's masterworks for the instrument, the Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911) and Le tombeau de Couperin (1917). Ravel wrote the Prélude for use as a sight-reading test at the Paris Conservatoire, and as such it is one of the composer's shortest and easiest works to play. Just twenty-seven bars long, the Prélude has understandably found a home in the student repertory. Still, it is more than just a learning piece, and in capable hands can be woven into a very effective and atmospheric poem. Clearly in in the key of A minor, the Prélude is filled with the composer's favorite seventh and ninth chords; a few startling chromatic shifts of harmony also pop up from time to time. While the work presents little in the way of technical challenge beyond a few simple hand crossings, a sensitivity to nuance is necessary to avoid sentimentality on one hand or mere mechanism on the other.

Perhaps the most interesting historical element to the Prélude is the fact that the Conservatoire requested it from Ravel less than a decade after expelling the composer for failing to win any of its various prizes in composition.