Mother Goose Suite by Maurice Ravel

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The composer, Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel was born in 1875 in Southern France not too far from the border with Spain. His father's family was from Switzerland and his mother's family was from Spain.Ravel

Maurice began piano lessons at age 7 and by the time he was 12 he was composing music. At 14 he went to study at the Paris Conservatoire, France's most famous music school.

By the time Ravel was in his early 20s he had become a well known composer. He continued to compose music into his late 50s when health problems made writing new music very difficult. He died in 1937.

Ravel wrote important piano pieces, a string quartet, two short operas, and other works. But he is probably most famous for his music for orchestra, including the ballet Daphnis and Chloé and Bolero.

Impressionism - Ravel and another French composer, Claude Debussy are sometimes said to be "impressionist" composers. Impressionism was a type of painting that tried give the feeling (or impression) of the scene rather than being clear and highly accurate. A famous impressionistic painter was Claude Monet. A painting of a bridge by Monet can be seen to the right. Click on the picture to see a another painting by Monet of the same bridge.

Since no music can picture an event or scene in the way a painting can, it is Ravel and Debussy's use of melody, musical chords and instruments that gives their music an impressionistic feel.




Mother Goose Suite (Ma mère l'oye - Suite)

(The following section uses Adobe® Flash Player to hear the examples. You probably already have it, otherwise download it here Adobe® Flash Player) - Click on the arrow to play the music.

Ravel began composing his Mother Goose Suite in 1908, he finished it in April 1910. It was first written to be played on the piano by two people. Actually, Ravel wrote the music hoping to have the first performance played by the two children of friends of his. The two children found the music too difficult and so the first performance was given by two other children, young girls, one age 11 and the other 14.

Next Mr. Ravel arranged the music to be played by orchestra. This is how it will be performed at the Delaware Symphony Orchestra's Explorer Concert. Ravel was still not done with this music. At the request of a theater director for a ballet, Ravel added more music and the Mother Goose suite became the Mother Goose Ballet.

The Mother Goose Suite has five movements (or sections) each dealing with a Mother Goose story. The first section is called "The Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty." This slow and gentle music depicts the sleeping princess:   You need to download Flash

- Let's learn a few things about the other sections of the Mother Goose Suite and hear a little of the music.

The next section is based on part of the story of Little Thumb (or Tom Thumb; Petit Poucet in French). Little Thumb had dropped bread crumbs as he was led through the forest. To find his way back, he planned to follow the bread crumbs. To his surprise, the birds had eaten them so then he was lost. Ravel's music begins with the violins and is soon joined by the oboe in a way that sounds like somebody who is sadly wandering around, not sure where to go. You need to download Flash
Later, the high strings and wind instruments imitate the birds in the forest. You need to download Flash

Next we meet Laideronnette (or the Little Ugly One) in a section Ravel calls "Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas." This is based on part of a long story called "The Green Serpent." It involves a pretty young princess who is made ugly by a wicked witch and is then called Laideronnette. There is also a green serpent (snake) who is really a handsome prince but had been changed into a serpent by that same wicked witch. Of course, in the end the wicked witch's curse is broken and both Laideronnette and the serpent are changed back to their original bodies and they marry and live happily together.

In the music for this section, Ravel tells of a time when Laideronnette is in the Far East. The music uses the notes of a scale found in the music of countries like China. You need to download Flash

The next section is "The Conversations of Beauty and the Beast." In this story, Beauty, a very pretty young lady, must live in a castle with Beast a very ugly creature. Beast, as happens in these stories, is really a handsome prince. At first Beauty is very scared of Beast but over time, she sees the good in him and agrees to marry him at which point he is changed back into the handsome prince.

Let's hear the music Ravel writes to portray Beauty and then the music for Beast:

Beauty's music features clarinet with strings and harp: You need to download Flash

Beast is represented by the contrabassoon (Click here for a picture): You need to download Flash

The final section, "The Fairy Garden" returns to the Sleeping Beauty story. Prince Charming arrives and awakens the Sleeping Beauty and they live happily ever after. You need to download Flash