Stephen Sondheim’s Homage to Ravel

Artistically, a strong kinship exists between Stephen Sondheim and Maurice Ravel. In the music of Ravel, we often get a sense of cool detachment. Distance and irony open the door to the most intimate expression. Stravinsky alluded to the pristine craftsmanship of Ravel’s music when he called the composer “the most perfect of Swiss clockmakers.” As a student, Stephen Sondheim learned “that art is work and not inspiration, that invention comes with craft.” Perhaps …

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Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand: Big, Bold, and Jazzy

In the fall of 1929, Maurice Ravel received a commission for a concerto from the Austrian pianist, Paul Wittgenstein. After losing his right arm in the First World War, Wittgenstein relaunched his career, performing left hand piano repertoire. He solicited works from numerous composers, including Paul Hindemith, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Sergei Prokofiev, and Richard Strauss. Wittgenstein proved to be a difficult client. After receiving Strauss’ thickly scored work, he wrote back, “How …

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Bolero: Ravel’s Sublime Orchestration Exercise

It’s one of the most iconic and sensuous pieces of twentieth century music, delivering the ultimate exploration of orchestral color. Yet, Maurice Ravel’s Boléro was conceived as a kind of composition exercise. The composer explained, It is an experiment in a very special and limited direction, and it should not be suspected of aiming at achieving anything different from, or anything more than, it actually does achieve. Before the first performance, I issued a warning …

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