Piano Trio (Ravel)
Maurice Ravel's Trio for piano, violin and cello is a chamber work composed in 1914. Dedicated to Ravel's counterpoint teacher André Gedalge, the trio was first performed in Paris in January 1915, by Alfredo Casella (piano), Gabriel Willaume (violin), and Louis Feuillard (cello). This piece requires a high level of virtuosity for all instruments and is regarded by some people[by whom?] as a technical masterpiece. A typical performance of the work lasts about 30 minutes.
Ravel had been planning to write a trio for at least six years before beginning work in earnest in March 1914. At the outset, Ravel remarked to his pupil Maurice Delage, "I’ve written my trio. Now all I need are the themes." During the summer of 1914, Ravel did his compositional work in the French Basque commune of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Ravel was born across the bay in the Basque town of Ciboure; his mother was Basque, and he felt a deep identification with his Basque heritage. During the Trio's composition, Ravel was also working on a piano concerto based on Basque themes entitled Zazpiak Bat (Basque for "The Seven are One"). Although eventually abandoned, this project left its mark on the Trio, particularly in the opening movement, which Ravel later noted was "Basque in colouring."
While initial progress on the Trio was slow, the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 spurred on Ravel to finish the work so that he could enlist in the army. A few days after France’s entry into the war, Ravel wrote again to Maurice Delage: "Yes, I am working on the Trio with the sureness and lucidity of a madman." By September he had finished it, writing to Igor Stravinsky, "The idea that I should be leaving at once made me get through five months' work in five weeks! My Trio is finished." In October, he was accepted as a nurse's aide by the Army, and in March 1916 he became a volunteer truck driver for the 13th Artillery Regiment.
Musical overview 
In composing the Trio, Ravel was aware of the compositional difficulties posed by the genre: how to reconcile the contrasting sonorities of the piano and the string instruments, and how to achieve balance between the three instrumental voices – in particular, how to make that of the cello stand out from the others, which are more easily heard. In tackling the former problem, Ravel adopted an orchestral approach to his writing: by making extensive use of the extreme ranges of each instrument, he created a texture of sound unusually rich for a chamber work. He liberally employed coloristic effects such as trills, tremolos, harmonics, glissandos, and arpeggios, thus demanding a high level of technical proficiency from all three musicians. Meanwhile, to achieve clarity in texture and to secure instrumental balance, Ravel frequently spaced the violin and cello lines two octaves apart, with the right hand of the piano playing between them.
Inspiration for the musical content of the Trio came from a wide variety of sources, from Basque dance to Malaysian poetry. However, Ravel did not deviate from his usual predilection for traditional musical forms. The Trio follows the standard format for a four-movement classical work, with the outer movements in sonata form flanking a scherzo and trio and a slow movement. Nevertheless, Ravel manages to introduce his own innovations within this conventional framework.
The Trio is written in the key of A minor, and consists of four movements:
- Pantoum (Assez vif)
- Passacaille (Très large)
- Final (Animé)
According to Ravel, the first movement draws on the zortziko, a Basque dance form. The movement is notated in 8/8 time, each bar being subdivided into a 3+2+3 rhythmic pattern. The influence of Zazpiak Bat is most obvious in the opening theme, whose rhythm is identical to that of the Zazpiak Bat main theme but with halved note values. Also notable is the melody's stepwise movement before followed by a leap of a fourth; the opening themes of the other three movements are similarly constructed (in the second and fourth movements, the jump is of a fifth).
Ravel employs sonata form in this movement, but not without introducing his own touches. The second theme is presented in the tonic A minor, and reappears untransposed in the recapitulation, but with different harmonies. To avoid overuse of the tonic key, Ravel ends the movement in the relative key of C major. In the recapitulation, the appearance of the main theme in the piano is accompanied with a rhythmically modified version of the second theme in the strings. This juxtaposition of themes was a favourite device of Ravel's, who used it in other works as well (the Menuet antique, the Menuet in Le Tombeau de Couperin, etc.).
Pantoum: Assez vif 
A pantoum is a Malaysian verse form of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of one stanza are the first and third lines of the next. Most people do not believe that Ravel adhered completely to a musical adaptation of this form, but some, such as British scholar Brian Newbould, claim that the name of the movement is literal. The piano opens with the spiky first theme, while the strings respond in double octaves with the smoother second theme. The movement is based on a traditional scherzo and trio A-B-A form. He writes the trio theme in a completely different metre (4/2) from the scherzo (3/4), so that the two time signatures coexist for some time.
Passacaille: Très large 
The third movement is a passacaglia, a form with Baroque roots which involves a repeating bass line, in this case the opening eight-bar phrase. It builds singlemindedly to a powerful climax, and dies away. The passacaglia theme is derived from the theme of the Pantoum.
Final: Animé 
Against a backdrop of violin arpeggio harmonics (previously used by Ravel in his Mallarmé poems), the piano presents the five-bar first theme. As in the first movement, irregular time signatures are again in use: the movement alternates between 5/4 and 7/4 time. As the most orchestral of the four movements, the Final exploits the resources of the three players to the utmost, and Ravel rounds off the entire work with a brilliant coda.
- The first movement was used extensively as a soundtrack in the 1992 Claude Sautet-directed love triangle Un cœur en hiver (A Heart in Winter), starring Emmanuelle Béart, Daniel Auteuil and André Dussollier. The music credits in the film are given to Maurice Ravel.
- Dowling, Richard (1990). "Preface to Dowling Urtext Edition of Ravel's Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello". Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- Newbould, Brian (March 1975). "Ravel's Pantoum". The Musical Times (The Musical Times, Vol. 116, No. 1585) 116 (1585): 228–231. doi:10.2307/959089. ISSN 0027-4666. JSTOR 959089.
- Piano Trio: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Performance of Ravel's Piano Trio by the Claremont Trio from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in MP3 format
- Analysis of Ravel's Trio