Maurice Ravel was born in Ciboure (near Saint-Jean-de-Luz) on March 7, 1875. His parents settled in Paris a little time after his birth. They encouraged the young Maurice to learn music very early; he started studying the piano at seven. At eleven, his father enrolled him in the harmony class of René Charles. Despite a carefree personality, Ravel began composing and stood out quickly. But as he admitted later, his weakness is that he also developed … “the most extreme laziness.”
In 1888, he met a Spanish pianist, Ricardo Vines. Their passion for music build a deep friendship between them. They both passed the entrance exam for the Conservatory in 1889. The Exposition Universelle of 1889 broadened opportunities for them and they got interested in the charm and rhythms of exotic music. They also appreciated contemporary writers such as Baudelaire and Mallarmé. This curiosity gave Ravel an important general knowledge at the end of his studies.
An interview with Emmanuel Chabrier in 1893 strongly influenced Ravel who thus composed Spanish rhythms (“Sérénade grotesque”). In 1893, his father also introduced him to an eccentric pianist, Erik Satie. Satie influenced many musicians of that time. He was the leader of several avant-garde trends. Works written by Ravel kept an important aspect of that period. But he eventually got tired of the Conservatory courses, too conventional for him, and was fired of the harmony and piano classes in 1895. However, he came back two years later to follow Gédalge and Gabriel Fauré classes. Ravel composed the beginnings of an opera, Scheherazade, which only the opening caused an outcry. Ravel was definitely considered a modern composer. However his work “Pavane for a Dead Princess” brought him fame and remained performed a lot today.
In 1901, he obtained a second place at the prestigious Prix de Rome. After other failures, he was eliminated from the competition along the way, in 1905, for exceeding the age limit of a few weeks. He then moved away from official circles. At that time, he wrote a work for piano: Jeux d’eau, dedicated to Fauré. Admirer of Claude Debussy, he sought to defend his opera Pelléas et Mélisande. But they eventually became rivals. The arrival in Paris of the Russian ballets of Sergei Diaghilev revived the careers of several musicians including Ravel. Friend of Igor Stravinsky, he studied the works of Arnold Schoenberg and composed a ballet music. Daphnis and Chloe was created in 1912. It was such a fiasco that the ballet was withdrawn. However this work was appreciated later, and considered one of the greatest ballets of this century.
Maurice Ravel was torn apart by the great conflict of 1914. Fellow patriot, he decided to enroll in the army but his low weight made him unable to be engaged. He ended up being a truck driver at the back of the front of Verdun. He was reformed in March 1917 for dysentery. The death of his mother and war hurt him a lot. He suffered from terrible insomnia. At that moment, he composed La Valse and Tombeau de Couperin, both reflecting his despair. In 1921, he bought a house in Montfort l’Amaury. His calm life there cured his depression. He transformed his house ‘Le Belvédère” into a museum.
During the following decade, Ravel composed a lot: Sonata for violin and cello, two piano concertos (1931 and 1932) including one for left-handed people written for an Austrian pianist wounded during war, The Child and the Spells (1925). From 1922, he undertook a large tour throughout Europe. In 1928, he began a triumphal tour of the United States. The Bolero, which he did not like and that he saw as a “music vacuum”, gave him an international recognition. In 1932, he was injured in a taxi accident and lost the power of speech and the ability to compose. He then spent five years in resignation in Montfort l’Amaury.
A brain surgery was attempted in 1937. But Ravel, one of the greatest French composers of his time, felt into a coma and died on 28 December, 1937, in Paris.