Ravel was known to have been a weak pianist, unable to play his own music, and he was also not a good conductor. He was a musical genius who wrote awkward piano music. All this is hard to understand because he was a genius orchestrator.
He understood the instruments he wrote for about as well as anyone who has every lived.
Ravel marked this prelude M.M. = 92, where the beat is a dotted quarter. Most famous pianist follow Ravel’s metronome markings blindly, which I think is a terrible mistake.That is insanely fast and leads to a mindless sort of playing where speed is the only important thing, and where musical detail is impossible.
Problems are masked by over pedaling, and the ornaments can’t be articulated cleanly.
His orchestration came later, but he has the same metronome marking, which no one with any musical sense follows. Celibidache is somewhere around M.M. = 66, which is about 2/3rds the speed, and it’s perfect. You hear everything. It’s musical. The marking “vif” simply means lively. So Ravel’s metronome marking is just too fast. The problem is that most musicians follow indications in a score like the Word of God, instead of using their own training to go beyond the score.
I chose pictures about perpetual motion machines for this piece because it never stops for one second from the beginning to the end. Ironically the piece as I played it should sound simply relaxing and pleasant without revealing any of the technical difficulties. But perpetual motion pieces are extremely difficult to play because there is no place to stop.
Even practicing them is difficult because it is hard to divide them up into sections. This prelude was actually a nightmare for me to learn involving about two weeks of careful study and practice. When I finished it I was so tired that I barely wanted to hear it again and needed a rest. However, seven or eight months have now passed and I now like my result.