Stamp of the Month: December 2017

Monaco 12.11.1975

Maurice Ravel

The French composer Joseph-Maurice Ravel was born in Ciboure on March 7, 1875. He died in Paris on December 28, 1937. In December 2017 his death marks the 80th time.
Ravel began playing the piano at the age of seven years and has already received lessons in harmony when he was 13. In 1889 he began his musical studies at the Paris Conservatory with the target to become a pianist. However, since he several times failed in the midterm exams, he had to leave the master class in 1895. He joined the composition class of Gabriel Fauré in 1897. Although he also did not finish this studies with a degree, Ravel very soon made himself a name as a composer.

Ravel composed mainly chamber music and piano works. The contemporary audience responded very differently to Ravel’s works. Most concertgoers preferred conservative, harmonious pleasing works and often were overwhelmed with Ravel’s unfamiliar harmonies and rhythmic changes. However, many critics expressed sympathy for his new ideas.

The “Boléro” is Ravel’s best-known and most frequently performed work. It was written as a ballet music for the dancer Ida Rubinstein and was considered in the first performance on 22.11.1928 with thunderous applause. Ravel himself was suspect about the success of the work, which he described as “a simple orchestration exercise”. Almost dismissively, he once said: “My masterpiece? The Boléro, of course. Too bad that it contains no music”.