Ravel La Valse
Written in 1920
The song and dance rhythms that are a common feature in Ravel’s music originate from hearing his mother singing Basque and Spanish folksongs.
La Valse was originally written for piano, followed by a version for two pianos and finally an orchestral score.
La Valse was a great success in post war Vienna and Paris.
This piece touches on death and destruction, which is not obvious on the surface due to the joyful nature of the waltz.
There are lots of small dynamic fluctuations, but the larger structure consists of two very long crescendos – try and work out where these are.
The opening is quiet with phrases in the bassoon and bass clarinet.
Listen out for the harp towards the beginning.
Listen to how the waltz gradually becomes more obvious with 3 beats in a bar that never disappear and the first beat of every 3 emphasized.
There is a military sounding section – which instruments are used to create this effect?
Listen out for the oboe melody which is passed to the violins. The melodies are mostly in the instruments with high registers with the lower instruments playing the accompanying 3 beats of the bar that characterize a waltz.
There is a faster section with strings, loud percussion and brass.
Listen out for solos which are passed around different instruments.
Can you hear the same phrases repeated throughout the waltz?
Listen out for the big climax at the end – which percussion instruments are used to make this dramatic?
The end speeds up until it is probably too fast to dance to
MAURICE RAVEL 1875 – 1937
Ravel had a variable reputation as a pianist – he played the piano from the age of 7, but was often not good enough to perform his own concertos!
Ravel was diagnosed as medically unfit, which prevented him from fighting in World War One.
Ravel travelled around Europe a lot after World War One.
Liszt’s orchestral music was an inspiration to Ravel – the virtuosity, colour and stylisation particularly appealed.
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