Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

About 1977 I attended some composition and theory classes through St. John’s University. The emphasis was on early 20th century composers.

Stravinsky, Webern, Schoenberg, Berg, Prokofiev, Bartok, and Debussy were the main focus. But Maurice Ravel became my favorite and remains so until this day. 

At the time, a friend of mine who was majoring in piano performance (and with whom I played in a small jazz combo), was studying “La Valse,” by Ravel, as his performance piece. This is was my entry point into the beautiful sound garden of Maurice Ravel.

I can’t think of a single piece composed by this marvelous composer and interesting man that I don’t cherish.

In fact, Ravel’s music is very much like nourishing comfort food to me. I don’t always immerse myself in it, but I return to it, especially in times when I need reminding how beautiful and meaningful music is. This music is so special to me that I ration it.  

Ravel combines bittersweet elements that are at once childlike and incredibly mature and poignant at the same time.

I became such a Ravel enthusiast that I collected every book in English written about him or his music. I consequently have 23 different books about Ravel in my personal library.

When I read that on his only tour of America in 1928, he played in Minneapolis, I went to the Minnesota History Museum library and photocopied all the local newspaper accounts of his visit to Minnesota from microfiche.

On trips to Paris, I would make pilgrimages to his unique little house (now a museum) outside of Paris in Montfort l’Amaury. The house is a menagerie of small objet d’art, rare books, and curios which reflect his personality and music.

On these visits, I got to know the curator and she became very interested in the newspaper accounts I had collected from the 1928 Minneapolis visit Ravel made on his tour. I sent them to her and they are now in their archives.

I have developed email relationships with two of his biographers.
In other words, in my own small way, I have become a sort of amateur Ravel expert.

Recently, I have been listening to the great BBC radio series on Ravel. In that series, which can be easily accessed online, almost every aspect of his curious life (he was fastidious as a composer and in his dress and grooming) and his charming music is discussed. In short, Ravel is a hero for me and I don’t have many heroes. For me Ravel is a true genius and I use that term very infrequently.

Carel Fabritius (1622-1654)

In my pursuits as an autodidact I find that one discovery leads to another and that this rather circuitous path never seems to end. So the more I search the more I “discover.”

For instance, my intense interest in the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) led to my stumbling upon Carel Fabritius. Fabritius came slightly before Vermeer and both were painters from Delft. In fact, many think Vermeer was strongly influenced by Fabritius even though Fabritius left few paintings.

The cover of my limited edition CD called “Rara Avis” has a painting by Carel Fabritius called “The Goldfinch.” This painting again appears on the inside of the “Quintessence” package, It is considered to be one of his handful of masterpieces and this painting of quiet perfection fits the title “Rara Avis” perfectly.

Fabritius was only 32 years old when he was killed in the tragic munitions explosion in Delft on October 12, 1654. The only biography of Vermeer I know of begins with the Delft explosion and some biographical background on Delft and Carel Fabritius.

Somehow all of this information and the works of various artists that catch my interest influence me. As always, I am drawn to those artists who endeavor to express what Maurice Ravel called “life’s mysterious thrill.”

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