RAVEL: Man and Musician by Arbie Orenstein

RAVEL: Man and Musician

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Orenstein's biography is a prodigious work of scholarship. The author's exhaustive research has turned up several new compositions, autographs and sketches, which in themselves make this a valuable addition to musicology. Part I deals straightforwardly with Ravel's personal life and career, with no pretenses to psychologizing and no attempt to create a cult of personality. Orenstein proceeds neatly, if rather dryly, from the composer's comfortable childhood, to his years of spotty academic study at the Paris Conservatoire, to his relations with Debussy, Ricardo Vines and Tristan Klingsor, to name a few of his 'circle', to his celebrated, if controversial, successes--Rapsodie espagnole, Histoires naturelles, Daphnis et Chloe. Ravel presents difficulties for the biographer; as Orenstein says, ""the man and his art are one."" Thus he is at his best when he explores Ravel's aesthetics, though Ravel appears to have been problematically reticent about his own methods. The final chapters ""Ravel's Musical Language"" and ""The Creative Process"" contain the most significant documents, cataloguing the composer's ""small body of music"" and describing the transformations from sketches to completed compositions. When Orenstein turns from the composer qua composer, to the man in his cultural milieu he is often disappointing and cliched. But then, Ravel was personally as well as musically ""reserved""; his ""achievement appears to be self-contained rather than seminal."" The book will certainly become an essential--perhaps definitive--biography of the slight, quirky man who deserves more from posterity than the credit for Bolero, a ballet written ""'as an experiment in a very special and limited direction'"" in which, the composer said, ""'there is practically no invention . . .'

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press