Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) the Pathography

By Breitenfeld, Tomislav; Breitenfeld, Darko et al. | Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) the Pathography

Breitenfeld, Tomislav, Breitenfeld, Darko, Thaller, Vladko, Prstacic, Miroslav, et al., Alcoholism and Psychiatry Research

Maurice Ravel was born in March 7th 1875 in Ciboure, village near Spanish border. In his early childhood, he moved to Paris. His father - Joseph Ravel - had Swiss background, and was a highly skilled engineer and inventor. His mother - Maria Delouart (Ravel) - had Basque origin from a notable family. His brother - Edouard Ravel - became engineer like his father. Maurice remained close to him all their lives.

Ravel's music talent was early expressed. At the age of 7 he started both piano and harmony lessons under Henry Ghys. When he was 14 he enrolled the Paris Conservatory, surprisingly not getting very good marks, and even got temporarily expelled. When he came back, he continued his studies with Gabriel Faure. Although they were 40 years apart, they became great friends. Ravel was a student of Paris Conservatory for 14 years, composing several pieces. He entered the competition for The Prix de Rome five times but never won. It was an annual award of a fouryear studentship, won by competition, and available to unmarried Frenchmen under thirty. Among those who had won it were Berlioz, Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, and Debussy. It was regarded as prestigious and guaranteed the winner a moderate regular income for four years.

In 1901, he composed his first masterpiece 'Jeux d'eau' (dedicated to Faure). He noticed: "... Chabrier, Satie, Saint Saens and Mozart have the greatest influence on my music ... ". At first, he was an admirer of Debussy, they probably influenced each other as the two most prominent protagonists of the French and international musical impressionism. The public considered them rivals. Around 1902, when Ravel was in his twenties, he joined an avant-garde group of artists, writers and musicians known as the "Apaches". They used to meet regularly on Saturdays and various members of the group became the long-term friends of Ravel. In 1905, he started as a freelance musician, mostly sponsored and helped by his parents. Next decade, when he was in his 30s, he was at his most productive. He showed his own style and taste for sharply defined ideas and closed formal units and impressed the world with grand virtuosity of his piano music. Ravel's works show his fascination with things temporally or geographically distant: historical musical styles - post-Schubertian Valses nobles et sentimentales, imagination of childhood - Ma mere l'oye, eastern influence - Sheherezade, both Ancient Greece and 18th century French classicism - Daphnis and Cloe, repeatedly Spanish - Rapsodie espagnole, L'heure espagnole. Spanish influence became obvious in 1907. He had never spent much time in Spain, but his mother had grown up in Madrid. She had sung the theatre and folk songs of her youth around their home. Those songs had been important to Maurice. Ravel wrote three "Spanish" pieces specifically for the orchestra: Rhapsodie, La Valse, and Bolero. The Ballet Russes were important introducing him to Stravinsky. They collaborated on a version of Musorgsky's Khovanshchina. Igor Stravinsky was impressed with Ravel - described him as a "Swiss watchmaker" -"...Maurice is a per-fectionist in his compositional process, paying scrupulous attention to detail... ". He began international conceit tours, starting in England in 1909. On one trip to England, he met the author Joseph Conrad, who gave him a gift of cigarettes. Ravel became a very heavy smoker. Sometimes his biggest worry on some of his foreign tours was how to get the French cigarettes he loved so much. During his life he also misused alcohol, especially liqueurs.

In 1914, Europe was thrown into war. Ravel became a truck driver, sent to the Verdun front. He named his truck Adelaide. They had many exciting and dangerous encounters together during that time. In his cheery letters home, he described those adventures with Adelaide - and he signed each letter "Driver Ravel". After the war, Ravel bought a house - in Montfort l'Amaury, a little French town west of Paris, he fixed it up and named it Belvedere. …

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