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Maurice Ravel - Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

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Published on Feb 3, 2016

- Composer: Joseph-Maurice Ravel (7 March 1875 -- 28 December 1937)
- Orchestra: Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire
- Conductor: André Cluytens
- Soloist: Samson François
- Year of recording: 1959

Piano Concerto in D major (for the left hand), written in 1929-1931.

Between 1929 and 1931, Ravel, despite his failing health, worked feverishly, his imagination as powerful as ever. Among the works completed during this period are the two piano concertos: this extraordinary work and the scintillating Piano Concerto in G major [uploaded on this channel].

This concerto was commissioned by the prominent Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, brother of the celebrated philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm due to a wound sustained in World War I. It is indeed a tragic irony that Ravel, who also served his country in World War I, and Wittgenstein were enemies in this terrible conflict. Nevertheless, Ravel, fascinated by the technical challenge of composing a concerto for the left hand, approached the project with immense interest and enthusiasm. In addition, Ravel admired Wittgenstein's determination to continue his career as a concert pianist. Piano works for the left hand were certainly not a novelty, as compositions by Scriabin, Alkan, Godowsky and Lyapunov attest, but Ravel wanted to create a unique work which would not merely demonstrate how a pianist can compensate for a physical handicap. He wished to compose a work which would stand out as a unique piano concerto. The outcome of Ravel's efforts is one of the great piano concertos of the twentieth century.

However, the Concerto, completed in October or November of 1931, failed to please Wittgenstein, who only gradually developed an appreciation for Ravel's work. Furthermore, when the Austrian pianist premiered the work in Vienna, in 1932, he took certain liberties with the score, to the composer's extreme consternation. Despite Ravel's frustration, he conducted the orchestra in Wittgenstein's Paris premiere of the Concerto in 1933. Because Wittgenstein had sole rights on the work for six years, Ravel had to wait until 1937 to hear a performance (by Jacques Février), which satisfied him.

The work, which is really in one movement, begins deep in the bass register, with the contrabassoon, along with the basses, presenting a subdued theme, which elicits a mournful response from the horns. The initial mournful mood is gradually, almost imperceptibly, transformed into an insistent, somewhat manic, musical idea. The piano enters with a simple statement, creating pentatonic resonances, which disappear, but remain in the background. As the initial somber atmosphere lifts, the piano gradually establishes a mood of exquisite lyricism, which pervades the middle section. Ravel's writing is so subtle and technically ingenious that the listener hears a gentle melody with a hypnotically diaphanous, but seemingly elaborate, accompaniment; it is easy to forget that one hand does all the playing. The energy behind the third section, in which the piano engages the orchestra, often mimicking particular instrumental sonorities, profoundly differs from the wave-like, fluid, ascending motion of the Concerto in G major; here, the energy is discontinuous, manifesting itself in obstinate, repetitive figurations and phrases which, if only for brief moments, conjure up the spirit of his Boléro. At the same time, Ravel devotes truly marvelous pages to the piano, particularly in the cadenza-like part of the final section, in which the left hand leads an engaging and richly developed melody into a glowing orchestral finale.

The piano concerto is dedicated: "à Paul Wittgenstein".

  • Category

  • Song

    • Concerto in D major for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra (in one movement) - Lento-Allegro-Tempo I.
  • Artist

    • Maurice Ravel
  • Album

    • Ravel, Poulenc: Piano Concertos - Aubade
  • Licensed to YouTube by

    • Supraphon
  • Song

  • Artist

    • Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Charles Dutoit
  • Licensed to YouTube by

    • UMG (on behalf of Decca); UMPG Publishing, UBEM

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