The writer of this book has more than one claim upon our attention, as he traces the main outlines of Ravel's life and work. M. Roland-Manuel is in the fortunate position of knowing more about both of these matters than anyone else, at least since the death of Calvocoressi. He was a friend (presumably one of the small band of intimates) of Ravel and also a pupil. He is therefore able, as few now are, to speak with equal authority of the man and the musician.
Neither will have been easy to delineate. Ravel mistrusted the mob and had no illusions about the value of factitious publicity in the gossip-press. He started as a young man with what seems like an attempt to put up a material façade (fastidious apparel, that and other attributes of Baudelaire's dandy) behind which he could withdraw to concentrate on the work in hand. He ended by having created a more subtle defence, an outer integument of social charm that masked the inner self. Of that self Ravel was intensely and increasingly aware. Elsewhere M. Roland-Manuel has written of the detachment Ravel attained from his social graces; he had become critic of his own act. In the same way he reached a point from which he watched no longer himself but his self. It may well be that he never became involved; nothing in the present study suggests exclusive introspection. He was profoundly and precisely interested. One imagines him perfecting a technique of living with as much application as he brought to his other technique, music. In both cases the processes were withheld from the gaze of the world. Hence the difficulty of biography and critical judgment even in the case of a privileged observer such as M. Roland-Manuel.
The music of Ravel, its exterior as deceptive as that of the musician himself, has led many to suppose that it is a cold void in which their personal vision could not exist. Undoubtedly he reached in his later works a much rarefied refinement, too abstract to please those who had been satisfied with "Ma mère . . .