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Chopin And Ravel Essay Research Paper Chopin

Chopin And Ravel Essay, Research Paper

Chopin s Ballade is described as a story carried forward by its own momentum, leaping ahead or lingering over some details but never backtracking. While Ravel s Alborada del gracioso is a wild Spanish dance filled with leaps, twirls and excitement.

Frederic Chopin (1810 V 1849) and Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937), while exhibiting considerable differences in their works, are ranked as two of the most eminent composers in their contribution to piano music. Frederic Chopin is often regarded as the Poet of the Piano, being one of the greatest composers of piano music during the Romantic era which focuses on emotionality. The elements of his pianistic style, his sense of lyricism and unparalleled melodic ideas have produced some of the most pure and most beautiful music ever written, propelling Romantic piano music to its greatest heights. On the other hand, Maurice Ravel was influenced by new ideas and concepts in French piano music. This development was marked by a conception of music as a sonorous art rather than simply as a means of expression. This was in direct contrast to the subjective style of the nineteenth century Romantic movement, which placed emphasis on individual feelings and emotions. It can be hypothesized that Chopin remained as a proponent of the Romantic Period in his compositional style, whilst Ravel, however, writing in the twentieth century, reverted to the Classical styles on occasions to gratify his own fascinations. Through the comparison of the musical elements of Chopin s Ballade in G minor, Op23 and Ravel s Alborada del gracioso from Miroirs, it becomes evident that Chopin s work remained within the framework of the Romantic style while Ravel pursued a course which combined elements of Classicism and Impressionism.

A Ballade is an instrumental piece with an implied narrative. It has been suggested that this Ballade in G minor was inspired by Polish literary ballads by Mickiewicz; however, any relationship between Chopin s music and Mickiewicz s poems is certainly not literal. Unlike many of his contemporaries, most notably Schumann and Liszt, Chopin rarely made literary allusions in the titles of his piano works. Miroirs is one of Ravel s most popular sets of piano pieces. The title was drawn from the pictorial and evocative moods of the pieces and symbolizes the mirrors of reality (Myers 1960). The pieces reveal some of Ravel s rich, exotic and distinctive musical style with the Alborada del gracioso reflecting Ravel s fascination with Spanish elements and qualities. Alborada del gracioso is a morning song about the sharp-witted fool of Spanish classical plays.

These two piece, however, are in contrast stylistically. They may not necessarily be indicative of their respective periods. Chopin ranks as one of music s greatest tone poets by reasons of his superfine imagination and fastidious craftsmanship (Huneker 1966). Mickiewicz s describes the Ballades as dignified in style, simple and natural in expression (Huneker 1966). Chopin s pieces are succinct and expressive of musical poetry and sentimentality. Ravel, on the other hand, adopts a freer, more Impressionistic style, employing Impressionistic elements, such as pedal notes, ostinati, modal scales and parallel chords. These features, however, do not overcome his affinity for the clean melodic contours, distinct rhythms and firm structures of Classicism. He felt that technical mastery of his craft was of more importance and value than the expression of personal feelings. Amongst the many composers, Ravel admired Chopin for the richness of Chopin s harmonic sensibility, yet he loved Mozart. Ravel said I have always drawn inspiration generously from masters. I have never stopped studying Mozart (Mellers 1962). Ravel is noted for his musical craftsmanship and perfection of form and style. Stravinsky compared Ravel to the most perfect of Swiss watchmakers (Myers 1960). There is no impulsive quality to his music. Instead, one finds precision, attention to detail, inventiveness, imagination and sensuous refinement. His work is methodical and well conceived. Each note and phrase is in its place of importance. Alborada del gracioso is of an extreme complexity calling for even greater dexterity on the part of the performer than Jeux d Eau (Myers 1960). The performer should approach this music with imagination and sensitivity to imagery, colour and nuance. The ability to inject these attributes into music and project them in the performance with taste and refinement will make the difference between an interpretation that is artistic or mediocre. In the performance of this music there must always be a marriage between the head and the heart (Myers 1960).

The melody of Ravel s Alborada del gracioso promotes his close association with the clarity of articulation V dry and detached – which suggests the strong influence of certain aspects of Classical tradition. The melody is modal, in Phrygian mode. It is generally contained within a sixth and richly embellished. Ravel s student, Roland-Manuel described Ravel s lyricism as supple, but extremely pure, with contours which strongly indicate something Italian, in the sense of the Italianism of Mozart K The virtuoso quality of Ravel s piano music stems directly from the keyboard traditions of Mozart and Chopin (Orenstein 1968). Chopin was a great inventor of melody. There is always a melody present, generally accompanied. Only occasionally do two simultaneous voices balance each other in importance. The melodies are frequently plain, often in long, repetitive stretches, with the simplest of accompaniments and a certain kind of impatient vehemence, as in passionate speech (Ex. 1). Rarely do the melodies dissolve into other passages which are common amongst Chopin s other compositions. Every note in Chopin s music is imbued with song, even the ornamental runs almost revealing themselves as rapid moving melodies (Ex. 2). This device was very commonly employed by Chopin as a new sensibility in the Romantic era. Chopin s Ballade in G minor has not only demand the player a flawless touch and technique but also a imaginative use of pedals and a discreet application of tempo rubato, which Chopin himself described as a slight pushing or holding back within the phrase of the right hand part while the left hand accompaniment continues in strict time (Huneker 1966). Since the melodic line is an important aspect of the music, a great deal of thought is required when performing this piece. The quality and colour of a sound is dependent on how each note is played, whether it be stroked, hit or pushed. Thus each note must be played with great caution. Alborada del gracioso is the piece in which Ravel most mercilessly exploits a kind of coruscating pianistic virtuosity. Ravel s rapid repeated triplet rhythm, rapid thumb passages, a predilection for stylized dance rhythms, the glissando runs in thirds and fourths (Ex.4) and the elegance and clarity of Ravel s music are among the hazards that the performer may encounter. Slow practice is the preferred method to be used in tackling these problems. Detailed work on a variety of articulations would be beneficial as a good finger technique is essential to produce the clarity, precision and evenness of sound necessarily required in Ravel’s music. Practicing with a high finger articulation may help the performer to develop the strength needed for the necessary control. Clearness of the performance (Myers 1960) was the pronouncement made by Ravel as the aim in this work.

Chopin, as a Romantic composer, not only exploited new colours, but also explored rich and complex harmonies. Chopin has been described as the great innovator of harmony (Huneker 1966). Even a single accidental would be used to create an extraordinary poignancy. The climax of this particular piece is built up by his harmonic improvisation travelling through a kaleidoscopic range of keys. The Ballade in G minor has prominent accompaniments in arpeggiated rhythms, typical of Chopin s nocturnes, as well as the melodies in the barcarolle rhythm, both of which are heard in the one theme (Ex. 5). On the contrary, Ravel s harmonies, while complex and sophisticated are functional not only pictorial and impressionistic as those of other Impressionistic composers. The Classical tonality is still preserved within this piece. He adopts in this work, however, 7ths, 9ths chords, parallel structures and tonal ambiguities to evoke the sounds of slashing chords of the Spanish folk guitar.

The Ballade in G minor is a logical, well-knit and largely planned composition and shows the influence of the 1st movement sonata form, based on two alternating themes V one in a major key and the other in a minor key. It is, however, less clearly defined than those from the Classical period, but rather like a series of picturesque episodes. Ravel s Alborada is in loose ternary form. There are no themes as such, but rather short motifs. Some critics have argued, however, that the structure of the Alborada with its details, was as strict as that of a Bach Fugue. Both of the pieces demand physical and mental strength which are needed to maintain the necessary level of intensity throughout. In order to build up the stamina required, it is advisable that the performer should learn to gradually play through both pieces.

Whereas Chopin s Ballade demonstrated a thicker and fuller texture, Ravel placed an emphasis on the clarity of texture, further exemplifying his affinity with Classicism. This is evident in Ravel s clear and precise notation of Alborada. The textures also contribute to the mood and timbre of the two works. Chopin s Ballade covers a range of moods and dynamic levels. It places an emphasis on euphony and colour. The sonorous foundation is provided by chromaticism, lacey techniques, use of the range of the keyboard and the use of the pedal, typical of the Romantic Period. Similarly, Ravel communicates his ideas by means of colour. His fascination with piano sonorities led him to look beyond with new ways of extending its ability to produce pianistic sound effects and instrumental colours. The Alborada del gracioso begins with a dry and biting virtuosity that calls to the mind the sounds of guitars, castanets and the clicking of heels. There are frequent very sharp, compact and explosive crescendos. Walter Gieseking expressed his views on Alborada, It is written primarily to create beautiful, enchanting, expressive piano sonorities, and if this music is technically very complex, it is nevertheless based on musically perfectly logical conceptions (Orenstein 1968). The pedal in both pieces was supremely important for control of the sound. An amount of effort is needed for the articulation of the Alborada, as well as careful attention to the correct dynamic levels. The performer may experience difficulties in finding the sonorities that would project and communicate both the sensual and emotional aspects as well as the contrasting rhythmic dance elements.

Chopin was an innovator in Romantic music and the ultimate craftsman of lyrical and heart-rending harmony. His powerful music forms a legacy that has earned him the status as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Although Ravel forged new paths in his growth as a composer, he always retained his ties to tradition and worked within its framework.

Ballade in G minor, Op23


1-7 (Largo) Pre-narrative introduction in G minor. There is some tonal ambiguity due to the absence of the tonic triad in this passage. Begins with a Neapolitan 6th chord. The final chord is a dominant triad with suspensions which do not resolve until the first bar of the Moderato.

8-36 (Moderato) First theme in G minor. Remains essentially in G minor, ending with a perfect cadence, although there are suggestions of the relative major (bars 14-16) and subdominant (21-25). The harmony is coloured with diatonic 7ths (bar 10, first beat), secondary dominant 7ths (bar 11, second beat) and diminished 7ths (bar 13, second beat).

36-67 Interlude, becoming increasingly animated, modulating from G minor to B flat major. The opening motif features appoggiaturas in both hands and ends with a perfect cadence in G minor. In the sempre piu mosso passage, there is a strong tonic presence in the bass (pedal note), with appoggiaturas as a continuing harmonic feature. Moves to B flat major via an augmented chord in bar 62, ending on a dominant triad.

68-94 (Meno mosso) Second theme in E flat major in two sections. The first has a constant crotchet accompaniment, with some syncopation in the melody (an implied hemiola rhythm in bars 73-74) and some secondary dominant 7ths and other chromatic harmony, ending with a perfect cadence in bars 81-82. The second has a tonic pedal in the bass from bars 82-90, modulating in the final bars to A minor.

94-105 (A tempo) First theme in A minor with dominant pedal.

106-125 Second theme in A Major. Only the first section of the theme returns here, much more exuberantly than before. The ending (bar 118) is extended, leading to a fff diminished 7th chord.

126-165 Interlude. Begins with 12 bars based on the dominant minor 9th of E flat. A new scherzando melody is introduced in bar 138 and the passage remains in E flat major apart from an unexpected shift to F sharp minor in bars 154-157.

166-193 Second theme in E flat major. Both parts return, with small rhythmic changes. Returns to G minor in the last three bars.

194-208 (Meno mosso) First theme in G minor with dominant pedal.

209-264 (Presto con fuoco) Coda in G minor. The Neapolitan 6th chord reappears in bars 216 and 224, together with many dominant and diminished 7ths, but there is no further modulation.

Alborada del gracioso

Section A1


1-11 Introduces two main motifs: a quaver motif with implied hemiola rhythm in the first five bars and a triplet motif in bars 6 and 8. Tonal centre is D minor; the melody is based on the phrygian mode and the harmonization of parallel minor 9ths in the first 5 bars and whole tone based chords is characteristically impressionistic.

12-30 Using the triplet motif and then the quaver motif, moves to B flat major, with a tonic pedal from bar 18.

31-42 Triplet motif, very flamboyant, in B flat major then D flat major. Last two bars contain rising parallel 5ths

43-51 Nine bars in C sharp minor (enharmonic key of D flat), mostly diatonic, with dominant repeated in triplet rhythm.

52-70 Quaver motif returns in C sharp minor, moving to B minor in bar 56. Triplet motif returns in bar 58, returning to D major. Passage concludes with quaver motif in D major.

Section B

71-106 Slower. A reflective, quasi-improvisatory melody, unaccompanied in D major, interrupted by unrelated 9ths chords (tres measure) whose bass notes descend from B to F sharp. Very lyrical and passionate.

107-125 Three apparently unrelated musical ideas: the quasi-improvisatory melody continues from the C sharp where it was previously interrupted (now doubled an octave higher), a syncopated ostinato using E sharp and G (gives a whole tone character when sounded against C sharp and B) and a tonic-dominant figure in B minor (tres rythme). From bar 199 all three ideas become based around the dominant 9th of B flat minor.

126-136 A new theme in B minor, with dominant pedal and frequent use of 9ths.

137-156 Similar to bars 107-125, but moving to D major for the last 6 bars.

157-165 Similar to bars 125-136, but in D major

Section A2

166-173 Triplet motif returns, with rising parallel 5ths in the bass moving from E flat to C sharp, similar to bars 39-42.

174-184 Similar to bars 43-51, in F sharp minor, with dominant repeated in triplet rhythm, interrupted by unrelated 7th chords.

185-195 Similar to bars 52-61.

196-218 Begins with quaver motif in D major, but becomes increasingly chaotic as all of the main ideas from the piece tumble over themselves in apparently unrelated keys, including the triplet motif (expressif), the Section B theme (tres marque) and the repeated note triplets. A dominant pedal prevails for 12 bars, but eventually all semblance of definite tonality is lost. Concludes on a whole tone chord.

219-229 Final statement of the quaver motif, all in D major and ff.


GROUNT, D.J. 1973, A History of Western Music, J.M. Dent & Sons, London.

HUNEKER, J. 1966, Chopin, The Man and His Music, Dover Publications, New York.

MELLERS, W. 1962, Man & His Music: Romanticism and the Twentieth Century, Barrie & Jenkins, London.

MYERS, R. 1960, Ravel: His Life and Works, Duckworth, London.

ORENSTEIN, A. 1968, Ravel: Man and His Music, Columbia University Press, New York.

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