Maurice Ravel
Works for four hands or two pianos

About Maurice Ravel's Works for four hands or two pianos

Many of Ravel's works for orchestra can be found in versions for piano solo, piano duet, or 2 pianos. Often the piano version would appear simultaneously with the orchestral one, but sometimes it existed many years before, as is the case of the Habanera from Rapsodie Espagnole – a first version of this piece was conceived as the first movement of Sites auriculaires for 2 pianos already in 1897, a decade before the orchestral version was published.

Rapsodie espagnole is a work in honor of Spain, with four short movements: Prélude à la nuit, an evocation of a Spanish night; Malaguena, a dance from the Malaga region; Habanera, a slow dance, emanating from Cuba; and Feria (The Fair), based on popular tunes, and building to a tremendous climax.

Ravel's planned opera on the subject of Shéhérazade was never completed, but two separate works came out of the material: the Shéhérazade ouverture de féerie (1899), and three songs for mezzo-soprano and orchestra, also entitled Shéhérazade (1903). Mother Goose (Ma mere I'oye) was inspired by Stories of Olden Times (Tales of Mother Goose) published in 1697 by the French writer Charles Perrault. It was originally composed in 1908-10 for piano duet and later orchestrated for ballet use, adding several more movements.

Ravel’s mother died in 1917; her loss resulted in 3 years of musical silence, with the exception of the curious fragment Frontispice for 2 pianos, 5 hands. Fanfare is an extract from the children's ballet L'éventail de Jeanne, a collaborative work by ten French composers that premiered in 1927.

For two of Ravel's most famous and powerful works, also written with the ballet in mind, there are brief scenarios explaining the composer's vision. For La valse, Ravel's own commentary places the work in the Viennese Imperial Court around 1855: "Eddying clouds part from time to time momentarily revealing waltzing couples. The clouds gradually disperse, and a huge ballroom, peopled by a whirling throng, can be discerned. The stage gradually becomes brighter, illuminated by the blazing light of the chandeliers, and the work ends, fortissimo, in a swirl of movement." A scenario for Boléro was printed in the program for its premiere: "Inside a tavern in Spain, people dance beneath the brass lamp hung from the ceiling. A female dancer has leaped onto the long table and her steps become more and more animated."