A composer’s tribute

Just before Christmas, Westminster Music Library held the second adult music workshop in our Behind the Lines* series. The focus of this three hour session was the composer Maurice Ravel and his musical output during and after WW1. 

Behind the Lines Adult workshop on Ravel, 18 December 2013

Ravel, and as a consequence his music, were deeply affected by three things during The Great War; his rejection from the army due to his diminutive stature, the death of his Mother, and his own failing health. 

One of his greatest successes, Le Tombeau de Couperin, was completed near the end of the War. This suite for solo piano, influenced by the French Baroque composer François Couperin, was composed between 1914 and 1917, and is based on a traditional French Baroque suite, being made up of 18th century-style dance movements. Ravel dedicated each movement to the memory of his friends (or in one case, two brothers) who had died fighting in World War I.

During the workshop, this music was the centre-piece of the composition and performance by the participants and musicians. Divided into two; the first group was percussion-based with a variety of African drums, while the second was melodic with xylophone, marimba, and stringed instruments. Taking as their inspiration Ravel’s Forlane – a transcription of an Italian folkdance from Le Tombeau de Couperin – the group joined together for a very exciting finale.  There was a lot to remember between entries, notes, and rhythms, but everyone played brilliantly and created a wonderful piece of music.

Behind the Lines Adult workshop on Ravel, 18 December 2013As well as Le Tombeau de Couperin, other Ravel works such as La Valse, Daphnis et Chloé, and Frontispice formed part of the group discussion on Ravel and his music. The group had a chance to listen to a recording and study the score of Frontispice; written for two pianos five hands and at only a minute and a half long, everyone agreed that it is a great insight into Ravel’s thoughts and emotions during that time. Although short, it is clear that this great composer was struggling to come to terms with rejection, loss, and failure, and feelings of bleakness, anger, and confusion brought about by the horrors of the War. All our participants agreed that this workshop had been a great success, with lots of enthusiasm, inspiration and stimulating conversation. 

This session marks the end of our focus on Ravel for Behind the Lines*, next year we turn our attention to the music of two giants of English music – Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams

[Ruth]


Behind the Lines: The music and composers of the First World War*Behind the Lines is a year-long programme of participatory events run by Westminster Music Library in partnership with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, to encourage local communities from across Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea to engage with the Library and its collections.

The programme uses the centenary of the First World War as inspiration for a series of interactive workshops and creative projects designed for adult, family and school participants.

There are plenty of music workshops to come for all ages and abilities, check out our website: http://www.musicbehindthelines.org/ to find out more.

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