Recorded on 06/06/2009, uploaded on 02/08/2011
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
When Maurice Ravel set out to compose his three-movement suite Gaspard de la Nuit, he remarked that his objective was to compose a piece of music more difficult than Mily Balakirev’s Islamey. To achieve this lavish technical display, Ravel looked to the florid style of Franz Liszt, which he had also done in his earlier Jeux d’eau of 1901. The suite was composed during 1908 and premiered on January 9, 1909 in Paris by Ricardo Viñes. Ravel based each of the suite’s movements on a poem by the French poet Aloysius Bertrand, whose work he had been introduced to by Viñes. Despite his early death and little success during his career, Bertrand became and inspiration for the early Symbolist poets, and his rather dark world echoed that of Edgar Allen Poe’s. The suite’s title, which Ravel borrowed from Bertrand, is an old French expression, derived from Persia, for the Devil.
The first piece, Ondine, draws on the legend of a water nymph that bears some resemblance to Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale The Little Mermaid, and has inspired many other musical creations including operas by Tchaikovsky and Dvořák, and a prelude by Ravel’s contemporary Claude Debussy. The legend here used by Ravel, expressed in Bertrand’s poesy, however, is much darker than Andersen’s fairy tale. Ondine attempts to seduce a mortal man into fatally joining her in her kingdom at the bottom of the lake. Ravel’s musical portraiture of Bertrand’s poem begins with shimmering C-sharp major chords, darkly hued with the inclusion of a minor sixth. A delicate melody appears amidst the fluid figurations and the listener can imagine the temptations of the Ondine upon the poor poet. Much of the piece passes by in hushed, mysterious tones reflecting the murmured song of Bertrand’s poem, but slowly builds to a brilliant and scintillating climax. The florid figurations of this tone poem break only once, where the melody appears bare reflecting the “sullen and spiteful” Ondine as her entreaties are rejected, but then a dazzling cadence, her sudden “burst of laughter” leads to the piece’s quite conclusion. Joseph DuBose
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