Ravel (1875 - 1937)

Piano Concerto G major (22')

Maurice Ravel was born in the Basque Country, a region that spans the France-Spain border, famous from its distinctive culture and language. His family, however, soon moved to Paris, where he spent most of his time. At the age of fourteen, he entered the Paris Conservatoire, the most prestigious institute of music in France, and studied piano with Eugène Anthiome. Ravel also studied composition with Gabriel Fauré, one of the most prominent nineteenth century French composers, with whom Ravel developed his creative skills and sharpened his artistry. After graduating from the Conservatoire, he absorbed the latest music trends in Paris and composed such masterpieces as Sonatine (1903-1905), Piano Trio (1914), and the ballet Daphnis et Chloé (1912).

In 1928, Ravel traveled to the United States and stayed for four months. He conducted his own orchestral works in thirty-one concerts, receiving enthusiastic public acclaim. Furthermore, while in America, Ravel encountered the new, emerging music called jazz, whose energetic rhythms excited the Frenchman. In New York, he met the young George Gershwin, a Broadway songwriter and the composer of the Rhapsody in Blue, a piece of “Symphonic jazz” written four years prior to Ravel’s arrival in the city. Ravel’s influence from American jazz was apparent in such pieces as the Violin Sonata (1922-1927) and the Piano Concerto in G-major. Happy with the success of his U. S. concert tour, Ravel planned a return visit. He started composing a new piano concerto with which he would be touring around big cities, appearing as the soloist and the conductor of his music. While writing the concerto, however, Ravel was commissioned another piano concerto by the Austrian Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm during World War I. Ravel discontinued the G-major Concerto for a while and worked on the new Piano Concerto for Left Hand. Upon completing the Left Hand Concerto, the composer went back to the G-major concerto and completed it in 1931.

Ravel has been considered a modernist. His music uses sophisticated and intricate harmonies. Many people relate such harmonic language with that of the twentieth century impressionist composer Debussy. Additionally, Ravel’s sensitive but eloquent use of orchestral color is unparalleled. On the other hand, Ravel has been considered classicist, due to his adherence to fresh and crisp melodies and clear-cut forms, both typical of master composers of the eighteenth century.

The Piano Concerto in G-major is in three movements. The first movement opens with a whip-crack, followed by a theme played by the piccolo. The second movement is a quiet, serene waltz. The finale is characterized by the perpetual motion figuration on the piano at the beginning; the whole piece ends with a big thump in the bass drum.

[Akihiro Taniguchi]