Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


Haiku Wednesday: Unraveling Ravel: More than Bolero



There’s no music in it.” So
Said Maurice Ravel.

When you mention Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), the first thing that comes to mind is Bolero.  And for most folks, that’s the only thing.  But on more than one occasion Ravel made deprecating comments about this piece.  He told Arthur Honegger, “I’ve written only one masterpiece – Bolero.  Unfortunately there’s no music in it.”1  At the premiere, when a woman in the audience shouted, “Rubbish!” he said, “That old lady got the message!”2

Whether Ravel was being facetious or not, there’s more to hear.  Ravel was known for composing a piece for piano, and then adapting it for orchestra; such works include Pavane pour une infante défunte (piano version here, orchestra version here) and Le tombeau de Couperin (piano; orchestra).

Ravel also composed music for the ballet Daphnis et Chloé.  Apparently there were numerous disputes between choreographer Michel Fokine and Ravel.  Ravel wrote, “I have to tell you that the last week has been insane: preparing a ballet libretto for the next Russian season.  [I’ve been] working up to 3 a.m. almost every night.  To confuse matters, Fokine does not know a word of French, and I can only curse in Russian.  Irrespective of the translators, you can imagine the timbre of these conversations.”3

I would not have wanted to be that interpreter.

Other Ravel works to check out include his fiendishly difficult piano piece Gaspard de la nuit, and his post-war masterpiece La valse, which is labeled a choreographic poem for orchestra. The link here is to Glenn Gould’s compelling piano solo transcription.  For somewhat lighter fare, see Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole, in which he reflects the flavor of Spanish music through his own unique lens.

Ravel’s own performances of his music survive in piano rolls created in 1913 and 1922, which have subsequently been translated to LP and CD format.

The Wikipedia entry on Maurice Ravel contains great detail on Ravel’s life, and is heavily annotated and documented (read the notes, they’re very interesting and entertaining).

Oh, and I suppose you might want to hear Bolero.  Well, I couldn’t make up my mind which link to include.  So here’s a sparkly, silky version by André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra, and here’s a flashmob video of a youth orchestra in jeans in Algemesí, Spain.  Enjoy!


  1. Nichols, Roger, Ravel. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011, p 301 via Wikipedia.
  2. Nichols, Roger, Ravel Remembered. London: Faber and Faber, 1987, pp 47-48 via Wikipedia.
  3. Morrison, Simon, “The Origins of Daphnis et Chloe (1912)”, 19th-Century Music, 2004, p 54 via Wikipedia.


B@ch’s blog

I was reading a post on Schubert in Jeremy Denk’s blog (another here) when I got to thinking.  What if classical composers had blogs?

Schubert would almost certainly be writing his from a pub with wifi, and given the sheer volume of songs that he produced, he probably would have been a prolific blogger.  The question is, how many people would hide him on Facebook due to his dark postings?

Bach probably wouldn’t have had time to blog, with those weekly cantatas he had to write, and all those children.  He might have been more of a microblogger.  @JSBach “This Sunday: Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen.  Don’t miss it! #bachcantata #SDG”.  SDG is Soli Deo Gloria [Glory to God alone], which Bach wrote on his compositions.

Mozart would most definitely be Not Safe For Work (NSFW), judging from the contents of his occasionally lewd and scatological letters.

I’d love to see Beethoven take on a troll (or would he just turn a deaf ear to him…sorry, bad joke).  Anyone who can write a piece with the title Rage over a Lost Penny could take down a cranky poster.  Here’s a blisteringly fast performance by Evgeny Kissin.

If Schoenberg could restrict himself to a 12-tone row, he could handle the Twitter character limit (I can’t–maybe you’ve already noticed; in my profession I get paid by the word, and it shows).

Can you imagine Glenn Gould’s blog?  It would be a perfect venue for his unique perspectives, interactive, and yet not.  Comments would probably be turned off.

I wonder if the pattern of their words would be reminiscent of their music, if the ebb and flow of phrases would match the cadence of their characteristic musical phrases.

Whose blog would you love to read?