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8.550173 - RAVEL: Bolero / Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 1 / Ma Mere L'oye
Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937)
Maurice Ravel, in common with other great composers, uses a musical language that is instantly recognisable, whether in the sparer textures of music that recalls classical and earlier traditions, in his innovative writing for the piano or his colourful use of the modern orchestra. He was born in Ciboure in the Basses Pyrenees in 1875, the son of an engineer of Swiss ancestry and a mother who came from the Basque country. From his father he acquired an interest in things mechanical and a certain meticulous precision in his music and in his personal habits, while from his mother he inherited an affinity with Spain and a familiarity with the language of that country, an element reflected in some of his compositions.
Ravel entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1889, but was to fail to win there the distinction and the necessary prizes that his abilities deserved. He withdrew in 1895 but returned in 1897 to study composition with Gabriel Fauré, a sympathetic teacher, who had succeeded Massenet at the Conservatoire the year before, after the death of his implacable opponent Ambroise Thomas.
By the early years of the present century Ravel had begun to earn a reputation for himself as a composer, in spite of the hostility of certain critics. He was to fail, however, to win the Important Prix de Rome, the rejection of his final entry in 1905 causing a public scandal that led to the resignation of the director of the Conservatoire, who was succeeded by Fauré. Instead he continued to gain ground against his opponents in the musical and critical establishment, and in 1909 was commissioned by the Russian impresario Sergey Dyagilev to write the score for the ballet Daphnis et Chloé, staged in 1912.
During the war years Ravel served as a transport driver, his lack of weight excluding him from the more active form of military service he would have preferred. Illness and the death of his mother in 1916 both diminished his activity as a composer, but by 1920 he had completed, at the prompting of Dyagilev, the choreographic poem La Valse and had started work on the operatic collaboration with Colette that resulted in the delightful L'enfant et les sortileges, in which elements of Ravel's various interests combine.
The death of Debussy in 1918, followed six years later by the death of his teacher Fauré, left Ravel as the leading French composer in the eyes of his contemporaries. There were to be various commissions and the establishment of an international reputation that brought him honour abroad and the offer of the Légion d'honneur at home, a distinction he rejected. His career was tragically shortened by the increasingly debilitating effects of what was later diagnosed as Pick's disease. He died in 1937 after an unsuccessful brain operation.
Ma mère l'oye was originally written as a suite of Mother Goose nursery tales for piano duet to entertain the children of Ravel's friend Cipa Godebskl. It was orchestrated and extended as a ballet score in 1911, the year after its composition. The suite opens with Sleeping Beauty, followed by Hop-o'-my-thumb, with his trail of breadcrumbs leading through the forest. Laideronette is Empress of tiny oriental insect-musicians. Thereafter Beauty converses with the Beast, and the work ends in a fairy garden.
The ballet Daphnis et Chloé was eventually completed in 1912 and is described as a choreographic symphony. The story of the work is taken from the Hellenistic writer Longus and concerns the abduction of the shepherdess Chloé by pirates and her eventual rescue by her lover Daphnis. The first of the two suites derived from the complete ballet opens with a Nocturne, in which nymphs dance after the defeat in dance of the rival of Daphnis. The Interlude precedes the appearance of a band of pirates, whose war-like dance concludes the suite.
The Valses nobles et sentimentales were originally written for piano and orchestrated in 1912 as a ballet for Natalia Trouhanova. The eight short dances, modelled on the example of Schubert, were, for the purposes of ballet, given the title Adelaide or Le langage des fleurs, with a story to match, and evoke a nostalgic feeling for a world that was passing, even in their apparently triumphant bitter-sweet conclusion.
Ravel wrote the orchestral tour de force Bolero in 1928 for the dancer Ida Rubinstein, describing it on one occasion as an orchestrated crescendo and on another as "une blague" and yet again as "vide de musique". It is based on the insistent drum rhythm of an invented Spanish dance and won immediate popularity.
Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Kenneth Jean made his European debut in 1980 at the International Festival of Youth Orchestras in Aberdeen, Scotland and has since returned regularly. Other orchestras he has conducted Include the St. Louis Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra of the Swiss Radio, Park Theatre Orchestra of Stockholm, the Belgrade Strings and the South West German Radio Orchestra of Baden-Baden at the Donaueschingen Festival of Contemporary Music. He was awarded the 1983-84 Leopold Stokowski Conducting Award by the American Symphony Orchestra. He has conducted that orchestra on various occasions, including a subscription concert in Carnegie Hall.
From 1979 until 1985 Kenneth Jean served as Resident Conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Previously, he was the Conducting Assistant of the Cleveland Orchestra for two seasons.
He has recorded works by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Falla, Albniz and Ravel for Naxos, and Chinese contemporary works for HK.
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