Ravel’s “Miroirs”: Reflections on the Nature of Reality

…the eye sees not itself, but by reflection, by some other things.

-William Shakespeare 

Maurice Ravel was fascinated by this line from the first act of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Perhaps these words, laced with mysticism and challenging the nature of reality, are not so far off from the French symbolist aesthetic of the late nineteenth century.

The line between reality and reflection blurs in Ravel’s five-movement suite for solo piano, Miroirs (“Reflections”), written between 1904 and 1905. It’s music which inhabits a hazy, ephemeral dreamscape filled with color. Ravel dedicated each movement to a member of Les Apaches, the group of avant-garde artists of which he was a member. For the composer, Miroirs opened the door to a bold, new harmonic world.

The first movement, Noctuelles (“Moths”) suggests the fluttering nocturnal flight of moths. The second movement, Oiseaux tristes (“Sorrowful Birds”), was dedicated to Ricardo Viñes, the Spanish pianist who performed the premiere of the suite. Ravel said that this haunting, nocturnal scene evokes “birds lost in the torpor of a very dark forest, during the hottest hours of summertime.” Une barque sur l’ocean (“A Barque on the Ocean”) gives us a sense of the undulating waves tossing a small boat in the middle of the vast, shimmering ocean. The strummed chords of guitar music from Spain’s Basque region ring out in the fourth movement, Alborada del gracioso (“Morning Song of the Jester”). The La Vallée des cloches (“The Valley of the Bells”) brings the suite to a conclusion, with the haunting tones of distant church bells fading into silence.

Here is Bertrand Chamayou’s 2016 recording:

I. Noctuelles:

II. Oiseaux tristes:

III. Une barque sur l’océan:

IV. Alborada del gracioso:

V. La Vallée des cloches:

Recordings

  • Ravel: Miroirs, M. 43, Bertrand Chamayou Amazon

Featured Image: the mirrored glass curtain wall of New York’s 4 World Trade Center

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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