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The best musical painter of blended tones: Maurice Ravel

The best musical painter of blended tones: Maurice Ravel featured image

Monet’s paintings are the visual equivalent of Ravel’s music 

March 7, 2019

Today’s Composer Birthday features Maurice Ravel. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I associate music with certain types of food (I am always thinking about food); sometimes I “see” music in terms of choreography and dance; then there are the times I associate music with visual art, and imagine the paintings or sculptures. Impressionistic music always makes me think of the visuals.

Maurice Ravel’s music was considered Impressionistic, meaning tones were blended and moods were suggested, based on reaction to a subject, as opposed to outright stating what the subject is. Tonalites are unclear and ancient modes were also used for a timeless quality. Careful use of pedal provides the sound equivalent of a painter’s brush blending tones.

In the case of Claude Debussy, whose music was so rich and lush, I think of Pierre-August Renoir, whose brush strokes were equally full-bodied. When I hear the music of Maurice Ravel, whose music was more angular, shimmering, and delicately blended, I think of Claude Monet’s art – the gorgeously blended harmonies, shifting tonalities, in a metre you can’t count, because the rhythm is also blended.

Ravel and Debussy composers are compared a lot, and are the most famous Impressionist composers. They were friends but eventually broke off the friendship, likely because of all the comparisons from the music community, and for a perceived rivalry between the two. Music notables took sides, making claims about one composer’s superiority over the other, and discussing who influenced whom.

I chose the Piano Concerto in G  Major, so you can hear Ravel’s extraordinary skill with orchestration, plus how he blends piano notes unlike any other. French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet performs.

Maurice Ravel was born March 7, 1875 in Cibourne, France and died December 30, 1937 in Paris.

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