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Maurice Ravel: L’Enfant et les sortilèges (1925)

Joshua Iyer

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Published: June 30, 2015 at 3:07 AM [UTC]

Wow. I had a little bit of an Opera Night this summer evening, crickets and fireflies and everything, listening to for the first time Ravel's second opera. And during the entire thing, I was extremely excited, almost jumping for joy as I waded through the score and listened with a whole heart. It's scored for quite a large orchestra, with lots of percussion, and even celesta, harp, and piano, which is really neat to see all together. There's also a choir along with the individual singers.

The opera's story is very interesting, and I only found out about it till after listening through it once, so you can look it up on your own time. (The video I watched bits of had a large screen with some fancy computer programming for its own video screen for the background of the stage, which was pretty neat.) The opera began quite soft and stately, with an introduction of things, the oboe all in perfect fifths. It continued with a series of short and bouncy melodies in various sections, which was all well and good. But when Ravel wants to be large and grand and set in stone that he is my favorite composer ever (which he is), then he just has to go big, and he does that several times throughout the score to add emphasis. Ravel writes very tricky stuff for the singers, like at 44 [around 12:20] with a crazy fast run of sixteenth notes. I can't even begin to imagine how that would be to perform! I really love the harp arpeggio at 62 [16:50], coupled with the cellos and violins later on, and it really brings back a feeling of "Introduction et Allegro". (There's a section that is marked "in the manner of a waltz", and some parts sound very similar to his 1920 piece "La Valse".) A lot of music just flies by, and it's amazing how much he was able to write. There is still the quality of repetition in that, but it's still neat how he is able to just keep the piece moving and never letting it stop or become disjunct with the flow. By far, 100 [27:23] is my absolute favorite part of the piece. Similarly to his dawn in "Daphnis et Chloe", this section is Ravel's night, with the strings creating a hauntingly beautiful texture, like the grass or the crickets chirping, and the melancholy lark twitters in the flute and piccolo. This really made me start to feel very excited, that music has the potential for something like this to be heard in it. It's with this moment one really tells how much Ravel may have benefited moving away from Paris to the French countryside and surrounding himself with his garden and nature as he composed this piece (along with the others he was writing around this time, of course). The choir comes in later to represent various other animals in the garden as well. It's a really magical moment in the score, exactly as the dawn was in "Daphnis et Chloe", and for that moment everything stops, as if time is standing still, and every listener is spellbound. Then, the piece continues, bringing back hits of motifs from previous. The piano is used in a very unique way, in a way like a second harp. The winds have melodies most of the time in this piece, but the strings and brass do come in occasionally with it. It ends not with a bang, but with a whimper; the oboes and first violins have the same parallel fourths and fifths as the very beginning of the piece, and the strings quietly trail away as it concludes.

So all in all, I love how this piece is like a small house filled with allusions to other things he has done, and listening to it is like relaxing in different rooms of the house. I have spent all day today excited over Paris (also the cool thing with the Eiffel Tower in Tomorrowland helped with that) and exploring some of Ravel's piano pieces to try out on the piano, but this one took the cake as one of my absolute favorites of his. It's a truly magical experience, and those forty minutes went by very fast. I'm not too taken to opera in general, but I think listening to this one maybe convinced me to try listening to some others, like Puccini for example. So yeah! Give this a listen on your own opera night. I might print out some of the violin part to try out for me personally, as I remember two years ago playing an aria from something (the violin II part in the orchestra) for the Senior Concerto concert (I didn't post anything about it in April 2013, but I just remember being excited to be playing right next to two pianos), so I guess it'll be kind of like that with this. I dunno... :) I'm still hard at work learning Ravel's first violin sonata! :)

Here's a link to the video I watched. The time stamps in this post reflect the times in this video.

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