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Ravel, Maurice Joseph (1875-1937), French composer, highly influential in 20th-century music.

Born on March 7, 1875, in Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées, Ravel studied (1899-1905) at the Paris Conservatoire, where his most influential teacher was the French composer Gabriel Fauré. Because of the timbre, harmonies, mood, and extramusical associations of much of his music, Ravel is often associated with the French Impressionistic composer Claude Debussy. More than Debussy, however, he was strongly attracted to abstract musical structures. His vivid, transparent orchestral colours rank him as one of the modern masters of orchestration—Vaughan Williams was one of his pupils in the art.

Ravel's Impressionistic leanings are uppermost in the demanding piano suites Miroirs (1905) and Gaspard de la nuit (1908) and in the Rhapsodie espagnole, for orchestra (1908). He was gifted at evoking past eras in works such as the “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (1899), “Valses nobles et sentimentales” (1911), and “Le Tombeau de Couperin” (1917), all for piano and later orchestrated. The shimmering, virtuoso texture of the piano piece “Jeux d'Eau” (Fountains, 1902) overlays a Classical sonata structure. His Classicism is also evident in the important String Quartet (1903), the Sonatina for piano (1905), and later chamber works such as the Sonata for Violin and Cello (1922).

Ravel's stage works include the operas L'heure espagnole (1911) and L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Enchantments, 1925; libretto by the French writer Colette); the celebrated orchestral Boléro (1928), originally written to accompany a solo dancer; and the evocative, Impressionistic ballet Daphnis et Chloé (1912), commissioned by the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who also staged arrangements of earlier Ravel pieces such as the suite Ma Mère l'Oye (Mother Goose, 1910, for piano duet; orchestrated, 1912). During the 1920s he became associated with George Gershwin, and a mutual influence can be seen; the orchestration of Gershwin's later works became more polished, and a stylised jazz influence can be seen in Ravel's last two major works, the extrovert Piano Concerto in G, and the much darker, more sombre Piano Concerto in D for the left hand (1931), written for the Viennese pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in World War I. Stricken with a neurological disorder in 1932, Ravel died in Paris on December 28, 1937.


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