Ravel (1875 - 1937)

Vital StatisticsRavel

Born: March 7, 1875,Ciboure, France
Died: December 23, 1937, Paris, France
Nationality: French
Genre: 20th Century


Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects. He was one of the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music.

Ravel's piano compositions, such as Jeux d'eau, Miroirs, Le Tombeau de Couperin and Gaspard de la Nuit, demand considerable virtuosity from the performer, and his orchestral music, including Daphnis et Chloé and his arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, use a variety of sound and instrumentation. Ravel is perhaps known best for his orchestral work Boléro.

Ravel was born in Ciboure, France, near Biarritz, only 18 kilometres from the Spanish border, in 1875. Among his earliest memories were folk songs sang to him by his mother. The family moved to Paris three months after the birth of Maurice and at the age of six, Maurice began piano lessons. His earliest public piano recital was in 1889 at age fourteen.

Ravel’s parents encouraged his musical pursuits and sent him to the Conservatoire de Paris. Overall, however, he was not successful academically even as his musicianship matured and Ravel was dismissed from his Paris Conservatoire classes in 1895. He returned two years later to study composition but was dismissed again in 1900. His failure to win the Conservatoire’s main composition prize (the Prix de Rome), in five attempts between 1900 and 1905, caused a minor press scandal. By that time, he had composed the famous piano piece Jeux d’Eau and his string quartet.

In 1902 Ravel became part of the artistic discussion group known as “Les Apaches”, which included the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla and the poet Tristan Klingsor, among others. A few years later, he met and befriended Igor Stravinsky. Always outspoken, Ravel was a brilliant critic and writer, as well as musician.

From 1910 to 13 Ravel completed a one-act opera, L’heure espagnole (The Spanish hour), and Daphnis et Chloe, the largest of six ballets he composed. In 1920, the French government awarded Ravel the Légion d'honneur, but he refused it. The next year, he retired to the French countryside where he continued to write music throughout the 1920s, albeit even less prolifically. Tours of North America (1928), Europe (1932) and the premieres of Boléro and the Piano Concerto in G Major, brought him to the height of his popularity.

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