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In its atmosphere, the Rapsodie reflects the profound influence of the Spanish musical heritage imparted to Ravel by his Basque mother. As a child, Ravel would listen to his mother sing him folk songs from her country. Later works by Ravel, such as Boléro and the opera L'heure espagnole, also claim similar sources of inspiration. Ravel composed his Rapsodie only a year before Claude Debussy appeared with his own evocations of Spain in Iberia.
The first version of the Rapsodie was written for piano duet, in a matter of weeks during 1907 (though one movement, the 'Habanera', had been composed earlier in 1895). Orchestrating the whole piece took rather longer, and Ravel only completed this task in March 1908. Ravel was punctilious about putting the '1895' date on the score of the 'Habanera' movement, since he had been notoriously and falsely accused of plagiarising a passage from Debussy. (While he greatly admired Debussy's output, he lived in some awe of Debussy personally, and was extremely sensitive to allegations that Debussy had influenced him; he was inclined to think that if anything, the influence worked in the other direction). He dedicated the work to Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot, his professor of piano and composition at the Paris Conservatoire (and son of the renowned Belgian violinist Charles Auguste de Bériot and the French soprano Maria Malibran, who was of Spanish ancestry).
The première of the Rapsodie was given by the Orchestre des Concerts Colonne, conducted by Édouard Colonne, at the Chatelet Theatre on March 15, 1908. Although the work attracted only limited popular acclaim, it was highly appreciated by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla.
The work is scored for an orchestra of 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 soprano clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, sarrusophone, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, castanets, tambourine, gong, snare drum, celesta, 2 harps and strings.
The Rapsodie has four parts and a performance usually lasts around 15 minutes:
- Prélude à la nuit: très modéré
- Malagueña: assez vif
- Habanera: assez lent et d'un rythme las
- Feria: assez animé.
The second part is a dance, resembling the fandango immortalized in the folklore of Málaga. The third part is an orchestration of a habanera written for two pianos in 1895 which was originally designed as the first of two "sites auriculaires."
Notes and references
- Larner, p.104
- Larner, p.107
- Larner, Gerald. Maurice Ravel. London: Phaidon, 1996. ISBN 0-7148-3270-7.