Composers Datebook®

Ravel's Duo

Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) Sonata (Duo) for Violin and Cello Nigel Kennedy, violin; Lynn Harrell, cello EMI 56963

Composers Datebook for April 6, 2021


April 06, 2021


In 1920, a French publisher commissioned several works in memory of Claude Debussy, who had died two years earlier. Maurice Ravel’s contribution was a single-movement piece for violin and cello.

Ravel then expanded this music into a 4-movement sonata he titled “Duo”–perhaps thinking of the “Duo” for the same instruments by Zoltán Kodály. And if Ravel’s music at times sounds Hungarian, perhaps another reason was his meeting with Béla Bartók while working on this piece.

In any case, Ravel was trying something new and different, and said so: "I believe this sonata marks a turning point in the evolution of my career. In it, thinness of texture is pushed to the extreme. Harmonic charm is renounced, coupled with an increasingly conspicuous reaction in favor of melody."

Violinist Hélène Jourdan-Morhange and cellist Maurice Maréchal gave the premiere performance of Ravel’s Duo at the Salle Pleyel in Paris on today’s date in 1922.

"It's complicated,” Jourdan-Morhange told Ravel, “The cello has to sound like a flute and the violin like a drum. It must be fun writing such difficult stuff, but no one's going to play it except virtuosos!”

“Good,” replied Ravel a smile, “then I won’t be murdered by amateurs!”

Music Played in Today's Program

Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937) Sonata (Duo) for Violin and Cello Nigel Kennedy, violin; Lynn Harrell, cello EMI 56963

On This Day


  • 1660 - German composer and organist Johann Kuhnau, in Geising Erzgebirge; He was Bach's predecessor as cantor at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig;

  • 1672 - Baptismal date of French composer André Cardinal Destouches, in Paris;

  • 1815 - German composer Friedrich Robert Volkman, in Lommatzsch, near Dresden;

  • 1885 - French-born American composer and harpist Carlos Salzedo, in Arcachon;

  • 1887 - Rumanian opera composer Nicolas Bretan, in Nasaud;

  • 1921 - American composer Andrew Imbrie, in New York City;

  • 1929 - Soviet composer Edison Denisov, in Tomak; His engineer father named him after Thomas Edison;

  • 1929 - German-born American composer, pianist and conductor, André Previn, in Berlin;


  • 1971 - Russian-born American composer Igor Stravinsky, age 88, in New York City;


  • 1731 - Handel: opera "Rindalo" (2nd version), in London at the King's Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: April 17);

  • 1735 - Handel: Organ Concerto Op. 4, no. 5 (Julian date: March 26);

  • 1797 - Beethoven: possible public premiere of the Quintet for Piano and Winds, Op. 16, at a Schuppanzig concert in Vienna;

  • 1892 - Dvorak: Symphony No. 4 in d, in Prague;

  • 1900 - Amy Beach: Piano Concerto in c#, by the Boston Symphony with Wilhelm Gericke conducting and the composer as soloist;

  • 1945 - Randall Thompson: "The Testament of Freedom" (to texts by Thomas Jefferson) for men's chorus and orchestra, by the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzky conducting; This was the first performance with orchestra; The world premiere (with piano accompaniment) had taken place at the University of Virginia on April 13, 1943;

  • 1964 - Stravinsky: "Elegy for J.F.K.," in Los Angeles, conducted by Robert Craft;

  • 1967 - Miklós Rózsa: Piano Concerto, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with Leonard Pennario as soloist.