10/06/06 - ravel and gerschwin

In today's excerpt Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) tours the United States in 1927. Ravel is noted for piano virtuosic compositions such as Miroirs and Gaspard de la Nuit and for his orchestrations such as Daphnis et Chloe and his orchestral arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, notable for the effective use of tonal color, and variety of sound and instrumentation. To the general public, he is probably best known for his orchestral work Bolero, which he considered a trivial work and once described as 'a piece for orchestra without music':

"He found the New World much to his liking ... as he had to cross and recross the great spaces in the course of visiting no less than twenty-five cities and towns. ... He was mightily impressed by the Grand Canyon and other spectacular landscapes and formations. ...

"He was gratified but not altogether astonished by the reception invariably received from critics and audiences, nor was he surprised that he was widely hailed as the greatest living French composer, as he already was in continental Europe and England ... He noted without rancour that, 'Only the French journal in New York did not mention me.' ...

"He made many American friends on both sides of the musical fence: he played his violin sonata with Joseph Szigeti, and it was during this visit that he turned down George Gershwin's request for lessons on the grounds that, 'you would only lose your own spontaneity and end up writing bad Ravel!'—which brings an echo of his declaration that Vaughan Williams was the only one of his pupils who 'n'ecrit pas de ma musique.' He renewed contact with Bela Bartok, Edgard Varese and others, consorted with Paul Whiteman and more of that kidney, and spent time in Harlem listening to jazz bands. All in all, and despite the strenuous schedules, it is clear that he 'had himself a ball' in the States.

"At the end of his stay, he made a sortie south, sampling the French delights of New Orleans and its often Creole-based jazz, and delivered his lecture on 'Contemporary Music' in Houston at the invitation of the Rice Institute.' "


Burnett James


Ravel: his life and times


Midas Books


Copyright Burnett James 1983


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