Mr. Peabody Says:
Start here: Adagio assai, and likely you will fall in love with this enchanting melody. It is one of the most perfect things ever written, and Ravel’s mastery of instrumentation is astonishing. Supposedly he struggled with the opening theme, but listening to it you would never guess that.
Argerich/Emmanuel Krivine – Orchestre national de France, 2017
This is my all time favorite recording from 1957.
- piano solo
- flute, piccolo, oboe, oboe, cor anglais, Eb clarinet, clarinet in Bb and A, 2 bassoons
- 2 horns in F, trumpet in C, trombone
- timpani, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, bass drum, tamtam, wood block, whip, harp,
It was composed between 1929 and 1931. The concerto is in three movements and is heavily influenced by jazz, which Ravel had encountered on a concert tour of the United States in 1928.
It opens with a single sharp whip-crack, followed by an exposition that contains five distinct themes. The development section – “a lively romp” – is followed by a cadenza-like passage leading to the recapitulation. Where a cadenza might be expected in such a concerto movement, Ravel writes three: first for harp, then for the woodwind, and finally for the piano; the last of these draws on the fifth theme of the exposition. An extended coda concludes the movement, bringing back some of the material from the development section and finishes with a series of descending major and minor triads.
In contrast with the preceding movement, it is a tranquil subject of Mozartian serenity written in ternary form. Ravel said of it, “That flowing phrase! How I worked over it bar by bar! It nearly killed me!” The first theme is presented by the piano, unaccompanied. Ravel said he took as his model the theme from the Larghetto of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, but in an analysis of the work published in 2000 Michael Russ comments that whereas the Mozart melody unfolds across 20 bars, Ravel builds an even longer – 34-bar – melody, without repeating a single bar.
After thirty bars the solo flute enters with a C♯ and oboe, clarinet and flute carry the melody into the second theme. The cor anglais reintroduces the opening theme beneath the piano’s “delicate filigree in the high register”.
At just under four minutes in a typical performance it is much the shortest of the three.