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Maurice Ravel

(1875 - 1937)

French composer, pianist and conductor. He is often associated with impressionism along with his elder contemporary Claude Debussy, although both composers rejected the term. In the 1920s and 1930s, Ravel was regarded as France’s greatest living composer, both nationally and internationally.

Born to a music-loving family, Ravel attended France’s premier music college, the Paris Conservatoire; he was not well regarded by its conservative establishment, whose biased treatment of him caused a scandal. After leaving the Conservatoire Ravel found his own way as a composer, developing a style of great clarity, incorporating elements of baroque, neoclassicism and, in his later works, jazz. He liked to experiment with musical form, as in his best-known work, Boléro (1928), in which repetition takes the place of development. He made some orchestral arrangements of other composers’ music, of which his 1922 version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is the best known.

As a slow and painstaking worker, Ravel composed fewer pieces than many of his contemporaries. Among his works to enter the repertoire are pieces for piano, chamber music, two piano concertos, ballet music, two operas, orchestral music, and eight song cycles; he wrote no symphonies and only one religious work (“Kaddish”), which is merely an arrangement of pre-existent Hebrew liturgical melodies. Many of his piano pieces also exist in the form of orchestrations made years after their original conception. Some of his piano music, such as Gaspard de la nuit (1908), is exceptionally difficult to play, and some of his complex orchestral scores, such as the music for the ballet Daphnis et Chloé (1912), require great conducting skill to realize successfully.

Ravel was among the first composers to recognize the potential of recording to bring their music to a wider public. From the 1920s, despite limited technique as a pianist or conductor, he took part in recordings of several of his works; others were made under his supervision.

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