Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Ravel

Dr Bob Prescribes: Maurice Ravel, ‘Valses nobles et sentimentales’

The “Waltz” Experienced ballroom dancers aside, I would suggest that most of us consider the “waltz” to be a stodgy thing, a choreographic burden to be born at weddings and such during which we shuffle out an approximation of a three-step, attempting to lead a partner who would rather not be lead (at least not by me), to the scintillating strains of such triple meter standards as the Anniversary Waltz and Sunrise, Sunset. It is easy, today, to forget that at the time of its creation, the waltz was considered a lewd and lascivious dance, one that led to moral degradation in this world and damnation in the next! The waltz originated in eighteenth century Austria as a peasant’s dance. What distinguished it from the beginning was its wide, gliding steps and the fact that the dancers held each other as closely as possible (at a time when courtly dancing forbade almost any touching at all). The relative simplicity and physicality of this new, gliding and whirling dance made it extremely popular among the lower classes, who were no more likely to dance the more sophisticated Minuet than Ozzie Osborn a Virginia Reel. By the late-eighteenth century, the gliding and […]

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Music History Monday: Maurice Ravel

We mark the death on December 28, 1937 – 83 years ago today – of the French composer and pianist Maurice Ravel, in Paris, at the age of 62. We will get to the magnifique and formidable Monsieur Ravel in a moment, but first, we’ve a birthday to acknowledge. We mark the birth on December 28, 1896 – 124 years ago today – of the American composer and teacher Roger Huntingdon Sessions, in Brooklyn New York. He died, at the age of 88, on March 16, 1985, in Princeton, New Jersey. I myself never studied with Roger Sessions; he had retired from the Princeton faculty in 1965, while I was in attendance from 1972 to 1976. Nevertheless, the “old man” cut a wide swath on campus. And why the heck not? A multiple Pulitzer Prize winner; friend of Arnold Schoenberg, Aaron Copland, and Thomas Mann; Norton Fellow at Harvard: there was hardly an American musical event that took place during the twentieth century that Sessions wasn’t in some way involved with. While I never studied with Sessions, I did indeed study with his protégé Andrew Welsh Imbrie (1921-2007) when I was a graduate student at the University of California Berkeley; […]

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Music History Monday: Go Figure

On this day in 1928, Maurice Ravel’s one-movement orchestra work Boléro received its premiere at the Opera Comique in Paris with Ravel conducting. (Various sources variously describe the premiere as having taken place on November 20, November 21, and November 22! We are splitting the difference and going with the 21st.) Boléro was commissioned by the Russian ballerina Ida Rubinstein, whose choreography that opening night followed this scenario: “Inside a tavern in Spain, people dance beneath the brass lamp hung from the ceiling. In response to the cheers to join in, the female dancer has leapt onto the long table and her steps become more and more animated.” That’s not much of a scenario, and Ravel responded with not much of a musical composition. Boléro begins with a rhythm presented by a side or snare drum. (While it’s usually the other instrumental soloists who take the bows after a performance, it should be the hapless drummer who gets the huzzahs, for having to play the same freaking two-measure rhythm for 17 minutes!) Stacked atop the drum rhythm are two vaguely “Spanish” sounding melodies – each 18 measures long – that alternate with one another. And that’s it. Over time, more […]

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