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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Tuesday, April 6

Ravel's Duo

Synopsis

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

Additional Information

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