Recorded on 06/11/2006, uploaded on 06/27/2011
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
In 1900, Maurice Ravel joined a group of young, like-minded musicians, artists and writer called Les Apaches. The group met regularly at the homes of Paul Sordes and Tristan Klingsor, and came to include such other prominent names as Igor Stravinsky and Manuel de Falla. Les Apaches, which obviously refers to the Native American tribe, also had the additional meaning of “hooligans” in French and was coined by Ricardo Viñes to describe the group as “artistic outcasts.” Viñes would premiere several of Ravel’s piano works, including his Miroirs, which the composer dedicated each of its five movements to a member of Les Apaches.
Miroirs was composed during 1904-05 and given its premiere in 1906. Meaning “Reflections,” the work demonstrates the development of Ravel’s technique as a composer of piano music, which had first leapt into maturity in his 1901 piece, Jeux d’eau. Ravel’s treatment of the vast possibilities of the piano was simultaneously inspired by the florid style of Franz Liszt and the most profound advancement in piano technique since that great virtuoso’s time. This style came to be a cornerstone of French Impressionism and even influenced Ravel’s older contemporary, Claude Debussy.
The first piece of Miroirs is “Nocturelles” and dedicated to the poet Leon-Paul Fargue. Ravel was more influenced by the traditions of classical music that preceded him than many of his contemporaries, and these elements can often be found in his music, albeit interpreted and applied in new and imaginative ways. An undulating compound meter is present throughout much of the piece, reminiscent of one of the key features of the Chopin nocturne. Yet, here in Ravel’s interpretation, this underlying rhythm is pitted against contrasting duple rhythms, irregular meters, and of course, the work’s overall skittish tempo that is far faster than any Chopin would have utilized. Combined with Ravel’s highly chromatic musical language, Nocturelles is marked by a feeling of mystery and colored with the dusky hues of eventide. A slower episode emerges during the course of the piece, turning the mood towards a brief period of solemnity, and features a repeated-note motif that sounds like the distant tolling of a bell. Following this brief respite, the energetic music of the beginning is reprised and leads the listener to the movement’s effervescent conclusion. Joseph DuBose
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