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Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture
Maurice Ravel was born in Ciboure, France on March 7, 1875 and died in Paris, France on December 28, 1937.He completed his Piano Concerto in G Major in November 1931. It runs approximately 23 minutes in performance and is scored for solo piano, flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn, clarinet, E-flat clarinet, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, trombone, timpani, percussion, harp, and orchestral strings.
Ravel began work on his Concerto in G Major in 1929, and completed it in November 1931. He intended to appear as soloist in the première, then take the work on a world tour, but his health, always delicate, was poor and worsening; instead, he conducted the première, in Paris, on January 14, 1932, with Marguerite Long at the piano. This was Ravel’s last major work; he completed only some songs before his death, in 1937.
“My only wish was to write a genuine concerto—that is, a brilliant work, clearly highlighting the soloist’s virtuosity, without seeking to show profundity,” Ravel told the press. “As a model I took two musicians who, in my opinion, best illustrated this type of composition: Mozart and Saint-Saëns.” This is obvious in the Classical three-movement form, the accessible and attractively harmonized melodies, the tight rhythmic structure, and the transparent, articulated textures. The music is quintessentially French in its orderliness and fine craftsmanship. Lyricism, grace, passion, fantasy, wit, colour—all are in perfect balance; the music never sounds overwrought or heavy-handed.
This is a remarkably eclectic concerto. The first movement, for instance, offers themes in three styles: the opening theme mimics Basque folk music; the second sounds Spanish; and the bluesy, syncopated themes that follow all but quote from Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. (There are more jazz licks in the propulsive, sarcastic finale, including trombone glissandi.) There are still other stylistic allusions—to polytonality, to Satie and Stravinsky and Prokofiev, even to a novelty instrument, the musical saw (in the long, “sliding” chain of piano trills near the end of the first movement). The slow movement is heartbreakingly beautiful—written, Ravel said, under the spell of Mozart’s gorgeous Clarinet Quintet. It begins like a lullaby, with a melody Ravel later brings back, movingly, on an English horn, with the piano contributing delicate, dreamy filigree in the upper register. Ravel does not demand fireworks from the pianist as much as poise, concentration, immaculate control, and a refined palette of tone colours. From a small, neoclassical orchestra, he gets lean, often chamber-music-like, yet still fantastically colourful sonorities.
Programme Note by Kevin Bazzana
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