Tag Archives: Maurice Ravel

Appeal, imitation and inspiration

by guest blogger Julie Berridge

On November 7, Benjamin Grosvenor plays Mozart, Debussy, Brahms, Berg and Ravel.

Appeal, imitation and inspiration


“Teeming with dissonances” is how Brahms described the first Intermezzo in Opus 119.  In a letter from May 1893 to Clara Schumann, Brahms wondered if the piece would please her palate. He wished “they would be less correct, but more appetizing and agreeable to your taste”.  Clara must have found it appealing because she wrote back, that the piece was “grey, pearl-veiled and very precious”


Brahms’ appeal is timeless and not just for lovers of classical music.

While doing research for this post I came across a 2000 blog post about an article titled “Santana really should acknowledge Brahms”.  The writer points out the similarities between “Love of My Life,” played by Santana featuring Dave Matthews & Carter Beauford, from Santana’s 1999 album, Supernatural, and the third movement (III. Poco allegretto) from Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90.  Here is a link to the article.  Scroll down to hear audio clips of the two pieces.  What do you think?  I tend to agree with the writer. It seems audibly obvious. And both are lovely. I wonder if Santana ever did acknowledge Brahms?


On a less lovely note, the first movement of Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat Major, K.333 was performed by Frank Zappa’s back up band, the Mothers of Invention at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969. The band members did what was described as a “grotesque parody of the art of ballet dancing” as part of the “performance”.


Debussy’s L’après midi d’un faune was inspired by and is a musical depiction of a Mallarmé poem. In the poem, a faun sleeping on a sunny slope awakes from a dream and tries to realize the dream by pursuing the nymphs that he dreamt about.  After playing a soliloquy on his flute he realizes that he is unable to bring the dream to life, and he goes back to sleep.  It’s been said that Debussy found a way to break with orthodoxy when he “passed into the symbolist domain of Stéphane Mallarmé”. To Mallarmé, then we are forever grateful.

Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit is based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand which features a mermaid a monster and a corpse.  Ravel’s composition is in three movements.  Listen for the seductive whispers and cheerful laughter of Odine the mermaid, the slight swaying of the hanged man in the repeated B-flat and the frenzied appearances of the evil dwarf Scarbo, waiting to pounce and scare.  Gaspard de la Nuit was first published in 1842, one year after Bertrand’s death. The poem was reprinted in 1908 in the Mercure de France which was where Ravel may have first encountered it.


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Cuarteto Casals – Oct. 22, 2015

On October 22, we hear compositions from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, György Kurtág and Maurice Ravel.

Mozart’s String Quartet in G Major, K. 387, was completed in December of 1782. Shortly after Mozart moved back to Vienna in 1781, he met and became friends with Joseph Haydn. Haydn and Mozart often played together in an impromptu string quartet. Mozart’s six quartets including K387 were dedicated to Haydn and are thought to be his response to Haydn’s 1781 Opus 33 set.

“Hommage à Mihály András” consists of twelve brief pieces or microludes, some lasting less than a minute. The set was composed by Kurtág’ in 1977. The 12 microludes bring to mind the influences of Bartók and Webern. Dense and brief, they range from disturbing to soothing; sound bites of mood, texture and gesture. Kurtág was born in Romania in 1926. In 1946, he began his studies in Budapest, at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. There he met his wife Marta. Kurtág and Marta have played piano together and recorded many duos. Here’s a YouTube video of them playing together. They have lived in Bordeaux since 2002.

Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F major was composed in 1903, when Ravel was around 28 years old. It is Ravel’s only work for a string quartet. The four movements are sometimes melancholy and at other times zealous. Yet it seems, they are always warm and inviting. This four movement composition is often compared with a string quartet written by Debussy 10 years earlier. However, as has been noted, Debussy “opened up fresh paths” in his string quartet, whereas Ravel returned to an embrace of classical standards.

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Maurice Ravel

Many of the composers we have looked at have had a fairly difficult and traumatic life, especially in their childhood. It is refreshing to come across one who did not!

Maurice Ravel was born in March of 1875 in Ciboure, France, very near the Spanish border. His mother was Basque and his father, Swiss. At the age of three months, Ravel’s family moved to Paris but his Basque connections remained close to his heart all his life. His father, Joseph, was an inventor, creating some very important inventions including an early internal-combustion engine. This mechanically inclined father also had a love of arts and culture.

Ravel’s started piano lessons at the age of six. His family supported his interests and enrolled him in the Conservatoire de Paris, where he eventually became a piano major. While he wasn’t a great academic student, he was gifted at piano and composition. His private life is not surrounded by personal scandals. In fact, he kept his personal very private and there is no evidence of any major intimate relationships in his life. He spent most of his life in a love affair with his music, devoting his time and energy to his musical passion.

We heard Valses nobles et sentimentales with Benjamin Grosvenor in February 2014. November 2014 brought us Ravel with Simon Trpceski. On Oct 13, 2015 we will again hear Benjamin Grosvenor, this time playing Tombeau de Couperin. Oct 22, 2015 brought us Quartet in F Major with Cuarteto Casals and April 5, 2016 we had Duo Turgeon with a new arrangment for 2 pianos of the Second Suite from the ballet Daphnis and Chole.

This season we will once again be treated to Ravel with Benjamin Grosvenor playing Gaspard de la nuit on Nov 7, 2017.  We will also hear Ravel with Philip Chiu – Ma mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Suite) on Nov 28, 2017.


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