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8.550424 - RAVEL: Rapsodie Espagnole / La Valse / Daphnis et Chloe
Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937)
The French composer Maurice Ravel inherited from his mother, of Basque origin, a strong interest in Spain, tempered by the precise attention to detail inherited from his father, a Swiss-born engineer. Spanish influence appeared in the first of his two operas, L'heure espagnole, in the piano piece, published in 1905 as part of Miroirs, Alborada del gracioso, in the famous Habanera and indeed in the very choice of title for the enormously popular Pavane pour une infante defunte. Later in life the ballet tour de force Bolero provided an opportunity for virtuosity of orchestration, with a Spanish flavour, and one of his last compositions was the setting of three Don Quixote songs for a film in which the Russian singer Shalyapin was to star.
The Rapsodie espagnole was completed in 1908 and consists of four movements, the evocative Prélude à la nuit, Malaguena, Habanera, based on an earlier work for piano, and Feria. This was Ravel's first major orchestral work, a demonstration of his originality and of his gifts as an orchestrator. The music moves from the stillness of night to two characteristic Spanish dances and a final Spanish fiesta.
The Pavane pour une infante defunte was originally a piano piece, written in 1899. Its title, chosen, it seems, after the piece had been written, couples a Spanish element with a nostalgia for the past very typical of the turn of the century. Ravel orchestrated the piece in 1910, when it was used for a ballet.
The poème choréographique La Valse was written in response to a commission from Sergey Dyagilev, who rejected the work. Completed in1920, it was eventually used in the theatre in 1929 by Ida Rubinstein's company, with choreography by Nijinsky's sister and designs by Benois. Coming as it does after the final dissolution of the Habsburg Empire, La Valse seems again to suggest a vanished world, the mysterious evocation of an epoch that was gone, a masque in the imagination of an Edgar Allan Poe.
The symphonie choréographique Daphnis et Chloé is based on the Hellenistic novel by Longus, a Greco-Roman writer about whom nothing is known. His pastoral romance, set on the island of Lesbos, deals with the love, forced parting and final happiness of the shepherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé, abducted by pirates, but eventually united again with Daphnis, their union a subject of general rejoicing, under the inspiration of the shepherd god Pan. Ravel drew two orchestral suites from the original score, the second of them in 1912, the year in which Dyagilev's Ballets russes performed the work at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, with designs by Bakst, choreography by Fokin and the two title roles danced by Karsavina and Nijinsky. The scandal surrounding the latter's performance in his ballet using Debussy's pastoral L'apres-midi d'un faune overshadowed Ravel's ballet, which lacked the necessary ingredients of a succes de scandale, while celebrating again a long-vanished world, evoked in vivid and moving orchestral colours, subtly enhanced by the use of an added chorus.
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