Recorded on 06/09/2010, uploaded on 12/21/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
The year 1909 marked the 100th anniversary of Franz Joseph Haydn’s death. As a homage to the great composer, the International Music Society invited several composers, including Debussy, Ravel, d’Indy, Dukas and Widor, to compose pieces for the occasion. Ravel’s Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn uses Haydn’s own name to create the principal melodic idea of his piece in memory of the Austrian composer. It is perhaps not among the most well-known work in Ravel’s oeuvre, but it is nonetheless a curious and interesting tribute to “Papa Haydn.”
The idea of representing a name through the use musical pitches was by no means new. J. S. Bach used his own name in some of his compositions by using the pitches B-flat, A, C and B (in Germany, B is used for B-flat and H for B-natural), thus spelling B-A-C-H. Schumann used the name of the German town Asch as the main motivic material of Carnaval, translating it into the musical pitches A-flat, C and B (As being the German notation for A-flat). Brahms, in his Third Symphony, represented his personal motto “Frei aber froh” (Free but happy) with the pitches F, A-flat and F. Messiaen also used musical pitches to represent the letters of the alphabet to create a hidden musical code in some of his works. To represent Haydn’s name, Debussy, Ravel and d’Indy created a table in which the letters of the alphabet starting with “I” correspond to a musical pitch. By their system, “Haydn” becomes the five-note motif: B-A-D-D-G.
One can imagine that the composition of this diminutive minuet was a great delight for Ravel. Unlike his contemporary, Debussy, Ravel was more mindful of the traditions of the great composers before him and had held a fascination of the older forms since his student days at the Paris Conservatoire. Though the music of the minuet is certainly not outright Classical, its form is influenced by the music of the 18th century and its gestures are vaguely reminiscent of Haydn himself, albeit fused with the distinct musical language of Ravel. A mere fifty-four measures long, Ravel finds ample ways to present the musical motif of Haydn’s name. Many of these are explicitly marked in the score, even transformations by means of inversion and/or retrograde, which are cleverly given away by the orientation of the letters. Joseph DuBose
This brief piece for piano was written in September 1909 as part of an Hommage à Joseph Haydn, commissioned by Jules Écorcheville for a magazine called the Revue musicale de la S.I.M. Other composers who participated by providing music for the publication were Debussy, Paul Dukas, Reynoldo Hahn, Vincent d'Indy, and Charles-Maria Widor. The letters of Haydn's name are converted to the theme B-A-D-D-G. Jason Peterson
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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