A very belated but no less enthusiastic hello! This is the other half of the Sibling Revelry dynamic duo writing–the smaller but no less enthusiastic one in our official portrait. For which sitting, my lovely sister and I were remembering, I was cunningly bribed with a whole fruit bar. The technique still works to this day.
I am very excited about this blog and deeply grateful to my talented sister for doing basically (= 100%) everything to get us off and running. Or, as she so delightfully quipped today, “Offenbach and running.” I’m afraid you can expect much more of such classical punnery from these quarters. And that is certainly one of the founding principles of this blog: to share our love of classical music in all the quirky forms it takes and odd connections it makes (the title of this post, I realized, was halfway to the title of a Community episode. Don’t forget, the Greendale Music Department is flat ba-roque!) with whomever may choose to be reading. So far, it’s a select crowd indeed (fine by us, I think). I’ll note that our dear mother was the blog’s official first commenter: not at all surprising for anyone lucky enough to have benefited from the love and wisdom of such an engaging, energetic, can-do impresario extraordinaire and belle bon vivant! In other words, hi Mom.
As my Schwestli blogged, last week marked the 138th birthday of Maurice Ravel. I thought I’d start my sure-to-be-illustrious career here with some of my own thoughts on and experience of him. Of course, I’m very late in doing so; such tardiness may be an affront to a man whom Stravinsky once described as “a Swiss watchmaker.” Since I started thinking about it last week, I’ve been trying to remember when I first heard Ravel. I’ve tentatively settled on the fall of 1999. A string quartet came to my college and played the sublime Quartet in F Major. As I write I am listening to it (Cleveland Quartet), and am still so drawn into its intricate layers and melodies lo these many years later.
I can recall sitting in that small, very darkened auditorium, enraptured by what I was hearing. I had–and still have–visions of night in Paris, particularly during the fourth movement, Vif et Agité, and the Assez Vif second (hit that gas pedal, pizzicato!). Wisps of fog around the lampposts lining the quais…it’s not so much of a stretch, is it? He is “classified” as an Impressionist, after all. Yet I don’t sense the sweeping tableaux of Monet or Renoir here. That’s more Debussy, in my mind. The images the melody of the first two movements conjures for me can easily contain couples, parties, society. But there’s a sense of distance, too. Ravel has never particularly struck me as a composer whose work was of a highly idiosyncratic, deeply personal nature–acute expressions of a anomalous personage, as with so many other composers I gravitate towards. But it’s fine by me. I dearly love it. An Impressionist overall, maybe, but one of its less easily categorized adherents: perhaps Degas, or bridging the way towards the post-Impressionists and Symbolists like Seurat and Cézanne.
After that initial encounter in 1999, I studied abroad in France the first half of the next year, and Ravel was an ever-increasing feature of my musical landscape (fortified by many discussions with my roommate, whose musical ability and knowledge was and remains light years beyond mine). It was there I picked up a copy of Karajan conducting the Boléro. I was disappointed to learn Ravel later roundly dismissed the work. Sorry buddy, a hundred thousand symphonies can’t be wrong. Could anything equal its long, slow, inexorable construction? The steady drip eventually transforming into a riotous, clashing stream? That modulation towards the end led by the brass that bowls me over every time? It’s funny that artists seem so often to disregard the works that came so easily.
I dare say Ravel will be a leading character on the Sibling Revelry sitcom. For one thing, WQXR, as close as it gets to our patron saint, plays Le Tombeau de Couperin with great regularity, so he’s never far from us. For another, I seem to continually find intricate little Swiss watches made by Monsieur Ravel, with Pavane pour une Infante Défunte being the latest (I heard it one day on my local classical station (no comparison to QXR the Great and Magnificent! Jeff “Geoff” Spurgeon, we salute thee both now and forevermore! (Salinger fans may recognize this late-blooming bouquet of parentheses–be assured we have planted quite a garden full)) and listened, riveted again to the spot, until I could hear who and what it was). Here is the version I have, which happens to be Ravel himself playing. In addition (to pile unmercifully on), this period in history and art has been a source of fascination for me since high school, and that has only deepened since. Lastly, I have also loved Debussy from a young age (expect posts on the tape that introduced us two to Golliwog), and their personal and musical relationship is a worthy subject. From Schonberg’s excellent and authoritative “Lives of the Great Composers”: “their differences were vaster than the things they had in common.”
Happy birthday, Maurice. Welcome to our morning, dear reader(s). And hi again, Mom.