In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Maurice Ravel

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Yearbook
  • Bibliographies
  • Primary Sources
  • Early Secondary Sources
  • Anthologies

Music Maurice Ravel
Deborah Mawer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0052


Maurice Ravel (b.1875–d.1937) was one of the foremost French composers of the first half of the 20th century. He spanned a generation between that of Claude Debussy (b.1862–d.1918), and Erik Satie (b. 1866–d. 1925), and that of the neoclassical Groupe des Six. Ravel’s early years were spent in Paris, but in 1921 he moved outside the capital to Montfort-l’Amaury. Although he enjoyed the company of various friends, he never married and always struggled to overcome his mother’s death in 1917. His late years were marked by neurological decline, which prevented creativity beyond the song-setting Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (1933). Ravel’s aesthetic combines two traits that seem almost contradictory: meticulous, controlled craftsmanship, plus exquisite sensuousness and sometimes wild—even destructive—forces. In his youth especially, he was influenced by the French Symbolists and “correspondences” between the arts, as in Sites auriculaires (1897) and Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé (1913). He was also intrigued by the literature and constructive approach of Edgar Allan Poe, as exemplified apropos the poem “The Raven.” In his composing, almost always at the piano, Ravel was fastidious and private; orchestration, in which he demonstrated immense skill, constituted the second part of his creative process. His output is notably small in comparison with contemporaries like Igor Stravinsky (b. 1882–d. 1971). During “La Belle Epoque” preceding World War I, his music embodied qualities of so-called impressionism, such as in his exotic ballet Daphnis et Chloé (1912) or the lush, Spanish-inspired Rapsodie espagnole (1907). Later repertory exhibits a warm neoclassicism, heard in the French prototype Le Tombeau de Couperin (1917). La Valse (1920) and Boléro (1928) also reveal Ravel’s neoclassicism: drawing on closed dance forms, both works are highly original in exploring, exploiting, and ultimately destroying their underlying frameworks. These works also hint at another Ravelian fascination—with machines and mechanisms. A connected facet is inspiration from jazz and popular music, which further characterizes the neoclassical style. Two piano concertos (1930 and 1931), Tzigane (1924), and the “Blues” of the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1927) illustrate this eclecticism. Among the largest of Ravel’s undertakings is the operatic fantasy L’Enfant et les sortilèges, composed 1920–1925 to a text by Colette.

General Overviews

General overviews tend to be edited essay collections, containing a range of topics and approaches. Many European and American scholars have contributed to edited volumes, such as Marnat 1987 (a republication of the special issue of La Revue musicale 1938), Seibert, et al. 1987, Mawer 2000, and Mawer 2010. Ravel research is enjoying increased academic popularity in and beyond 2000.

  • Marnat, Marcel, ed. Maurice Ravel: Qui êtes-vous? L’Hommage de la Revue musicale, décembre 1938. Lyon, France: La Manufacture, 1987.

    Reprint of the special journal issue of December 1938 (which marked the first anniversary of Ravel’s death), with introduction and notes by Marnat. Includes contributions from Madeleine Grey, Hélène Jourdan-Morhange, Tristan Klingsor, Serge Lifar, and Darius Milhaud; also presents Ravel’s “Une esquisse autobiographique” (An autobiographical sketch), dictated to Roland-Manuel, Ravel’s friend and first biographer, in 1928.

  • Mawer, Deborah, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Ravel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    Contains three parts—“Culture and Aesthetic,” “Musical Explorations,” and “Performance and Reception”—and comprises eleven essays by British and American musicologists. Accessible music analyses of a range of genres (piano, chamber music, orchestral music, vocal music, ballet, and opera) are included. Suitable for undergraduates.

  • Mawer, Deborah, ed. Ravel Studies. Cambridge Composer Studies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    Contributing scholars include Erik Baeck, Nicholas Gebhardt, Steven Huebner, Stephanie Jordan, Emily Kilpatrick, Deborah Mawer, Michael J. Puri, Lloyd Whitesell, and the late theorist-conductor David Epstein. Interdisciplinary perspectives presented on Ravel, his music, and cultural context. Relations established with Proust and Colette, issues of sexuality and gender, jazz, dance, and even medicine.

  • Seibert, Kurt, et al., eds. Hommage à Ravel 1987. Bremen, Germany: Hochschule für Gestaltende Kunst und Musik, 1987.

    A volume that emerged from the Bremen “Ravel-Projekt” to mark Ravel’s centenary; contributors include Doris Mallasch, Tobias Plebuch, Juliane Ribke, and Angelika Scholl. It includes essays on Ravel’s surroundings, “childworld” (Kinderwelt), the cerebral versus emotional, and self-image; it reprints Ravel’s “Autobiographical Sketch” and Adorno’s essays on Ravel (1928 and 1930).

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