Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin”: Paavo Järvi and the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra

Maurice Ravel completed the solo piano suite, Le Tombeau de Couperin, in 1917 amid the devastation of the First World War.

The 17th century word, tombeau, refers to “a piece written as a memorial.” Ravel dedicated each of the suite’s movements to the memory of a friend who was lost in the war. Yet, there is nothing somber or elegiac about this music. The bleak, mechanized dehumanization of the twentieth century battlefield is left behind. What emerges is a magical dreamscape filled with vivid pastel colors and the elegant motion of dance.

The title refers to the great French Baroque composer, François Couperin (1668-1733), who composed numerous keyboard suites using the same archaic dance forms. According to Ravel, “the homage is directed less in fact to Couperin himself than to French music of the eighteenth century.” When listeners commented that the music was not appropriately reverential, Ravel replied, “The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence.”

In 1919, Ravel orchestrated four movements of the suite (Prélude, Forlane, Menuet and Rigaudon), transforming the music to shimmering technicolor. This performance, featuring conductor Paavo Järvi with the Hamburg-based NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, took place on November, 27th, 2020:

Featured Image: the cover of the first printed edition of “Le Tombeau de Couperin, designed by Ravel 

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.

Leave a Comment