Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Maurice Ravel

During the first decade of the twentieth century, Maurice Ravel was one of the leading figures in the most extensive expansion of the piano's technical and expressive means since the music of Liszt. If Ravel's Jeux d'eau (1901-02) is the first hint of the composer's foray into this remarkable, uncharted pianistic territory, then it is the suite Miroirs (1904-05) and Gaspard de la nuit (1908) in which the new style really crystallized. Miroirs is, as its title would seem to indicate, a group of "reflections" on various isolated glimpses of reality.

"Noctuelles" (Nocturnes or Night-Moths) is a piece of great rhythmic flexibility that incorporates extensive cross-rhythms and frequent meter changes. The extremely fluid opening is followed by a contrasting bit based on a syncopated pedal tone on F. Soon, the essence (if not the letter) of the opening is reprised, and the piece ends with a juxtaposition of the minor and major third scale degrees.

In "Oiseaux tristes" (Sad Birds) Ravel said that he was trying to evoke "birds lost in the torpor of a dark forest during the hottest summer hours." A syncopated triplet rhythm provides rather static support for the fragmentary birdcalls; some of the more energetic birds squawk forte, while the background never rises above a very quiet dynamic. A glistening cadenza paves the way for a final, somber musing on the opening repeated E flat gesture.

"Une barque sur l'océan" (A Boat on the Ocean) is based on a highly evocative, one-measure motivic cell that poses a gentle eighth note gesture in the right hand against rushing arpeggios in the left. The piece is both the longest and most difficult in the set, as the arpeggios soon take on far more imposing dimensions and the right hand is forced to join with the left in their execution. In the hands of a capable pianist, the texture positively shimmers.

"Alborada del gracioso" (Serenade, or Aubade, of the Jester) is in the composer's Spanish vein and has certainly become better known in the composer's popular orchestration. The piece is in three main sections; the rapid repeated notes and sweeping glissandi (in parallel fourths, no less) of the outer two sections require strong hands and supple wrists.

"La vallée des cloches" (The Valley of the Bells) is really a reincarnation, at least in spirit, of Ravel's early two-piano piece Entre cloches (1895). Bells sound all around, first as octave G sharps and then, in imitation of the complex overtone structure of actual bells, as increasingly complex sonorities.