One of my all-time favourite paintings: Monet’s “The Artist’s Garden at Giverny“, which comes to mind when I hear the music of Ravel.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I associate music with certain types of food (I am always thinking about food); sometimes I see music in terms of choreography and dance; then there are the times I associate visual art with music. Impressionistic music always makes me think of the visuals.
Maurice Ravel’s music was considered Impressionistic, meaning tones were blended and moods were suggested, based on reaction to a subject, as opposed to outright stating what the subject is. Tonalites are unclear and ancient modes were also used for a timeless quality.
In the case of fellow composer Claude Debussy, whose music is so rich and lush, I think of Pierre-August Renoir, whose brush strokes are as equally full-bodied. When I hear the music of Maurice Ravel, whose music shimmers and is exquisitely blended, I think of Claude Monet, whose paintings seem to blend right before your eyes, as though, in the case of his paintings of the Gardens of Giverny, you’re walking and observing the light flickering over the flowers.
The two composers are compared a lot, and considered the two main Impressionist composers. They were friends but eventually broke off the friendship, likely because of all the comparisons from the music community, and for a perceived rivalry between the two. Music notables took sides, making claims about one composer’s superiority over the other, and discussing which composer was really the main influence over the other. The final straw came when Debussy left his wife, Lilly, for another woman. Ravel (ever the gentleman) and some friends swooped in to the rescue, providing Lilly with some financial assistance. Debussy wasn’t impressed, but he couldn’t really object, could he?
Alfred Cortot, a towering figure known for his interpretations of French music in the 20th century, plays “Jeux d’eau”. Often translated as “Fountains” or “Playing water”, Ravel inscribed the score with “River god laughing as the water tickles him.” The music is as equally descriptive. Have a listen, and tell me what you think!
Maurice Ravel was born March 7, 1875 in Cibourne, France, and died December 30, 1937 in Paris.