February Book of the Month: ‘Ravel: A Life’ by Roger Nichols

This new biography of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), by one of the leading scholars of nineteenth- and twentieth-century French music, is based on a wealth of written and oral evidence, some newly translated and some derived from interviews with the composer’s friends and associates.

As well as describing the circumstances in which Ravel composed, the Ravel: A Life explores new evidence to present radical views of the composer’s background and upbringing, his notorious failure in the Prix de Rome, his incisive and often combative character, his sexual preferences, and his long final illness. It also contains the most detailed account so far published of his hugely successful American tour of 1928. The world of Maurice Ravel – including friendships (and some fallings-out) with Debussy, Fauré, Diaghilev, Gershwin and Toscanini – is deftly uncovered in this sensitive portrait.

About the Author

Roger Nichols read Music at Worcester College, Oxford, with Edmund Rubbra and Frederick Sternfeld. He taught both Music and Classics in various schools and universities, before becoming a freelance writer, broadcaster and pianist in 1981. He was decorated as Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 2006 for his 40 years of service to French music. He has written and contributed to over twenty books on music and has edited the bulk of Ravel’s piano music for Peters Edition. Read a Classic FM interview with Roger, talking about what Ravel means to him.

More Ravel

Concerto for the Left Hand at the BBC Proms
Watch Esa-Pekka Salonen conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra in Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand in D major, which was composed between 1929 and 1930 (alongside his Piano Concerto in G). This most unusual of pieces was commissioned by the Austrian pianist, Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm during World War I. Watch Here

Maurice Ravel – Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte (orchestra version)

Pictures at an Exhibition
Ravel was renowned for his unique and creative use of orchestration, as exemplified by his famous arrangement of Mussorgsky’s piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition. There have been many subsequent arrangements by other composers, however they all remain indebted to Ravel’s choice of instrumentation and colour.

Miroirs: IV – Alborada del gracioso
Miroirs, or ‘Reflections’ is a suite for solo piano written by Ravel between 1904 and 1905. The fourth movement, entitledAlborada del gracioso is probably the most well known, and is a firm member of the modern piano repertoire. It is regarded as a technically demanding piece, incorporating Spanish motifs into its complicated melodies.

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