P0835. MAURICE RAVEL: The Composer as Pianist and Conductor, incl. Valses nobles et sentimentales – recorded 1913, Welte-Mignon Piano Rolls; Pavane pour une Infante défunte; Miroirs – Oiseaux tristes; La Vallée des Cloches – recorded 1922 (London), 1928 (New York), Duo-Arte Piano Rolls; Ravel Cond. Lamoureux Orch.: Boléro. Pierian 0013, from the Caswell Collection. - 750532995724
“You are listening to a miracle. What else would you call it when the composer of this piano piece, Maurice Ravel, who died in 1937, comes back to life and plays his piece for you in full stereo sound! Fortunately for us, the lifetime of Maurice Ravel paralleled the birth of the phonograph and the earliest developments in the recording industry. And as further luck would have it, all the solo piano recordings he made playing his own compositions were made not on the early phonograph machines, but on uniquely coded piano rolls that accurately reproduce the dynamic of each note or chord as well as the pianist’s pedaling and note placement. When played back on a properly equipped piano, these rolls are capable of reproducing every nuance of the performance. That’s why they are called reproducing piano rolls. Ravel recorded some of his most famous pieces using this method: ‘Valses nobles et sentimentales’, his ‘Sonatine’, ‘Miroirs’, and ’Pavane pour une Infante défunte’. These are now available on a single Pierian compact disc .
The title, ‘Valses nobles et sentimentales’, was inspired by the ‘Valses noble’ and ’Valses sentimentales’ by Franz Schubert. The first performance of the piano version was given on 9 May, 1911, in Paris. At this concert the names of the composers were withheld from the audience, who were invited to guess who the composers were. When the ‘Valses’ were played, there were cries of protest from the audience, perhaps because of their nontraditional harmonies. Some people attributed the work to Satie or Kodály. A slim majority was able to identify Ravel.
‘Valses nobles et sentimentales’ as performed by the composer and recorded on a reproducing piano roll in 1913, two years after it was written, turns out to have been an excellent device for recording the piano at a time when phonograph recordings were new, short, of poor sound quality, and highly subject to scratches and pops. It makes it possible for us today to hear Maurice Ravel play his own work in high quality, stereo sound. Maurice Ravel played the first two movements of his ‘Sonatine’, as recorded on a reproducing piano roll in Paris in 1913. No one knows for sure why he didn’t record the third movement. He did perform the entire work on his 1928 U.S. tour. Maurice Ravel performed ‘Oiseaux tristes’ and ‘La Vallée des cloches’ from his piano suite ‘Miroirs’. The sound is as clear as it is on this compact disc because Ravel originally recorded these pieces on a reproducing piano roll rather than a phonograph record.
In choosing the title of his ‘Pavane’, Ravel was more influenced by the alliteration of the sound of the words than by any historical Spanish princess. Ravel cautioned conductors and pianists against overly dramatizing the piece. ‘It isn’t a funeral of an infant who just died’, Ravel wrote, ‘but an evocation of a pavane that would have been danced by such a little princess at the court of Spain’. One thing that makes Ravel’s recording of his own piece different than that of other pianists is that he didn’t stick to the published notes. For example, he splits several chords into their individual, rapidly played notes, making them into arpeggios, while that is not indicated in the score. This illustrates his free, Romantic approach to piano playing.
Ravel’s 'Boléro' has brought in millions of dollars of royalties over the years and is still under copyright protection. But exactly who is benefiting from all this money is far from clear. Ravel never married and had no children. He left his estate to his brother Edouard. But in 1954 Edouard and his wife were in a horrendous car accident. In need of constant help, the couple hired Jeanne Taverne, a 48-year-old nurse, and her husband, who acted as their chauffeur. When Edouard’s wife died two years later, the Tavernes moved in… and never left. In 1957, Edouard Ravel made a rare trip to Paris for the 20th anniversary of his brother’s death. He announced his intention of turning over 80 percent of the composer’s rights to the city of Paris, with the idea of endowing a Nobel Prize for music. But once back home, according to an article on this subject in the British newspaper, The Guardian, he changed his mind and Jeanne Taverne became his sole inheritor. The story goes on and on and becomes more and more complicated. In the end, the descendants of Maurice Ravel’s brother’s nurse may still have their hands on some of this vast fortune, though there is no way to know for sure. On the other hand, it looks almost certain, The Guardian article says, that the former legal eagle at the French music rights association, hiding behind a string of paper companies, has enriched himself by around 1.5 million pounds per year for the past 30 years. Most of that money is the result of this one piece of music, written originally on a commission for a ballet, to be called ‘Fandango’. Ravel’s intention was to orchestrate some pieces from ‘Ibéria’ by Albéniz, but as he was beginning work on it, he discovered that the rights to the music were already assigned to another composer. Ravel was initially at a loss for how to fulfill his commission. However, on vacation he developed a Spanish-sounding theme which had about it ‘quelque chose d'insistant’, as he put it (something insistant). ‘Boléro’, as the work was renamed, lasts approximately 16 minutes with the composer conducting, and repeats each of the theme's two parts nine times in the same key, using different orchestrations to vary the texture and to create a gradual crescendo. Ravel wanted the work played at a steady and unvarying tempo — as his own recording demonstrates. Incidentally, he didn’t see this piece as being sexy or sensual. In fact, what he had in mind was quite the opposite: the constant, uniform rhythm of…factory machinery! Not very romantic! No wonder he never married!”
- Fred Flaxman