Posted in Listening for Part 4: Moving towards 20th century, Uncategorized

Impressionist compositions

In this post I will list the impressionist compositions I have listened to.

Maurice Ravel

  • Jeux d’eau, Bolero, La valse

I have listened to these three pieces prior to the unit, as they were also included in some posts for Composing 1. Personally, Ravel is my favorite composer in his unique treatment of the themes, but also the way he would bring the musical genres to the extreme, with Bolero and La valse ultimately leading to the destruction of their ostinato rhythms, having been previously subjected to the intoxication of the dance elements. Unlike the two, jeux d’eau is very liberating in its flourishes of passages that seems to freely emanate from the piano without any musical constraint.

  • Le Tombeau de Couperin

This is actually my first encounter with the piece. I always thought of Ravel as an impressionist musician and as such I was somewhat surprised by his neoclassic endeavor to structure the piece as a traditional Baroque suite. To me this shows how the general, theoretical labels of style that are given to composers don’t necessarily fully reflect their practice. In fact, like Debussy, Ravel rejected the impressionist tag. In any case, the intention with which Ravel created the piece is more impactful. The title of tombeau refers to an earlier musical tradition in France, in which a piece or a collection of pieces were written as a memorial to honor a departed colleague or master. Although he initially planned to honor Couperin Le Grand, one of the founders of the French school of keyboard music, it was emotional to read that Ravel changed his plan with the World War I having taken lives of many people he had known. Making it a more personal gesture, Ravel dedicated each movement to a departed friend. In this sense, I wasn’t expecting that the music itself would be light-hearted.

While I knew many dance forms, the piece introduced me to a new one – forlane of the Venetian origin, popular with gondoliers. Coincidentally, this movement was the most dissonant and yet, in the sudden moments when it would reach more tonal resolutions, I found it to be my favorite in the whole composition. In fact, I find this mix of dissonance/atonality and consonance/tonality within the same movement quite interesting – something I would rarely dare to approach myself in composition, unless there was a programmatic motive. But this piece might have persuaded me to give it a go.

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