Program Notes

MAURICE RAVEL (1875 – 1937)

I. Allegro
II. Tres vif
III. Lent
IV. Vif, avec entrain

In 1920, Henry Prunières, editor of “La Revue musicale,” commissioned works from the most important composers of the day - Bartók, Dukas, de Falla, Satie, Stravinsky, and Ravel – as a tribute to the memory of Claude Debussy who had died two years before. Influenced by Kodály’s sensational Duo for violin and cello (which NCMF did last year), Ravel wrote his own duo in the memory of his colleague, saying:

“I believe that the Sonata marks a turning point in my career. The music is stripped to the bone, harmonic charm is renounced and there is a melody”

The piece is really one conversation between two voices, usually in harmony but with the occasional and inevitable flare up. I’ve seen videos of the Coen brothers directing and watched how they work as if each knew exactly what the other were thinking; that’s what this piece is like. Yet it is cooler than the hot-blooded Kodály from last summer. Ravel uses tonality playfully, flipping between major and minor keys with ease, and experiments with the contrast between pizzicato (plucked) vs. bowed notes. The dream-like opening conjures up a vision of a lunar landscape. The cello enters as a strange but benign long-limbed creature dancing lightly in the low gravity. Soon a similar but smaller creature joins and the two engage in a weird private dance with leaping, whirling, spinning, shaking, and mock threatening moves against one another, all in play. The second movement is a quick scherzo followed by a third movement that starts calmly but slowly reaches a rolling boil at the middle (Ravel actually considered printing the central section in red ink). The finale leaves otherworldiness behind for driving gypsy rhythms of the earth.

Program notes by David Yang