A Resu­mé of the 20th Century – 2000 Back to the Future

Maurice Ravel

Born March 7, 1875, in Ciboure, Basses Pyrenees Died December 28, 1937, in Paris

When Ravel was three months old his family moved, from the Basque region where he was born, to Paris, where at the age of seven he began to study the piano. In 1889 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he spent fifteen years, proving himself an exceptional student. He wrote his first composition, a piece for the piano, in 1893; his first success came with the Pavane pour une infante defunte, written in 1899.

Tzigane, rapsodie de concert (1924) Tzigane, a concert rhapsody, was written for and dedicated to the Hungarian violinist, Mme. Yelly d’Aranyi, in 1924. The work is so deeply imbedded in Hungarian Gypsy folklore and music, that those who knew Ravel’s fondness for musical satire wondered if the work might not have been intended as a parody of all the Liszt-Hubay-Brahms-Joachim schools of Hungarian violin music. Yet Herbert Antcliff assures us that Ravel was sincere: "He has gone right to the origin of all good music, to the traditional tunes and feelings of the people who care nothing for artifice and convention." The work is even more impressive due to the fact that it is written so idiomatically correct, yet the composer never played the violin in his life.

Tzigane begins with the violin alone, playing lento in a long introduction, similar to a cadenza, or free fantasia, ending with trills in double stops. Then a definite rhythm sets in, punctuated here and there by pauses and occasional piano interludes, all in true gypsy character. This section is written in graphic imitation of the native Hungarian instrument, the cymbalum (which is best described as a harp on its side, which is played by tiny hammers). Toward the close of the piece, the tempo becomes increasingly faster, the violin part providing the accumulative excitement of a perpetual sixteenth-note rhythm, cut off abruptly by incisive chords at the end.

Courtesy of Columbia Artists Management Inc.

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