Sonatine is a piano work written by Maurice Ravel. Although Ravel wrote in his autobiography that he wrote the Sonatine after his piano suite Miroirs, it seems to have been written between 1903 and 1905. He most likely referred to the dates he finished both of the works.
Ravel wrote the first movement of the Sonatine for a competition sponsored by the Weekly Critical Review magazine after being encouraged by a close friend who was a contributor to that publication. The competition requirement was the composition of the first movement of a piano sonatina no longer than 75 bars, with the prize being 100 Francs. Ravel was the only entrant. His Sonatina was disqualified, however, for being a few bars too long. The competition was ultimately cancelled as the magazine was close to bankruptcy at the time. Two years later, Ravel completed the second and third movements and the complete sonatine was published shortly after.
The Sonatine was first performed in Lyon in March 1906 by Mme Paule de Lestang. Shortly afterwards it received its Paris premiere, where it was played by Gabriel Grovlez. The work was dedicated to Ida and Cipa Godebski; he later dedicated his Ma mère l'oye suite to their children.
Audio recording of Sonatine
performed by Irene Posviatovska
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The piece is in three movements:
- I. Modéré ("moderate")
- II. Mouvement de menuet ("Minuet movement")
- III. Animé ("animated")
Although the piece is titled 'Sonatine' rather than 'Sonata', the diminutive refers to the modest length of the piece and not to any simplicity, either in structure or ease of execution. Indeed, shortly after the Lyons performance, Ravel wrote that although he was pleased with the public reception, he was worried about the difficult nature of his piece. Although Ravel did record a piano roll of the first two movements, he felt unable to play the technical third movement and frequently left it out while playing concerts in America in the late 1920s.
The opening theme of the first movement is subject to variations and transformations in the second and third movements, especially the opening 'falling fourth' motif, which is reversed into a series of ascending fourth 'horn calls' at the start of the third movement. The first movement is in sonata-allegro form and echoes of the following transformations can already be heard in the final bars. The second minuet movement lacks the traditional trio section, in keeping with the shortened form of the Sonatine. While it is structurally based on the minuet, Ravel's use of accents and changes in tempo stop the movement from turning into a simple waltz. The third movement is a very difficult piece and has been described as a virtuosic tour de force; technical challenges include wild arpeggios, polyrhythms, rapid ostinati in awkward intervals, and hands conflicting with each other at great speed. This toccata movement was inspired by Ravel's French predecessors Rameau and Couperin; Ravel would later expand the proportions used in this piece to structure the Toccata section of Le tombeau de Couperin.
Reception for the Ravel's Sonatine has been mixed but generally favorable. Marcel Marnat wrote that the Sonatine captivates us from the very first measure in its depth, adding that in its conciseness and radiance, it is one of Ravel's defining works. In contrast, Arbie Orenstein has written that while the Sonatine is pleasant enough, it does not compare to the later Miroirs.
Carlos Salzedo transcribed Ravel's Sonatine for flute, harp and cello (or viola), titling the transcription Sonatine en Trio.