Rapsodie Espagnole

by Max Derrickson

Maurice Ravel
(Born in Cibourne, Basses-Pyrénées in 1875; died in Paris in 1937)

Rapsodie Espagnole
1. Prélude à la nuit
2. Malagueña
3. Habanera
4. Feria

It seemed for a few decades across the turn of the 20th Century that the only composers writing Classically-styled “Spanish” music were non-Spaniards: Glinka and Rimsky Korsakov of Russia; Debussy, Bizet, Chabrier and Ravel of France; as well as others.  In a world enchanted by “exotic,” Spanish music was intoxicating, with its dance rhythms and wailing songs of the flamenco, the dazzling guitar music, the unconquerable summoning of duende (an earthy, sensuous, spirit-filled style of Spanish performance) in its music.  Most of these non-Spanish composers were merely imagining “Spanish” style works, but Ravel had genuine experience, as his mother was Basque, spoke Spanish fluently, had lived many years in Madrid, and had bathed young Maurice in Spanish song and dance from the moment he could hear.

Spanish composer, Manuel de Falla, came to Paris in 1907 to study music, as Spain’s Classical arts were just beginning to awake but had not quite defined themselves.  Falla immediately sought out Ravel, his musical idol, and heard the first version of Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole for two pianos.  He was stunned at how Spanish in flavor it was, how evocative it was of his home, and yet so wonderfully creative in the French style.  Even more dazzling was its orchestral version, which Ravel completed in 1908. 

The Prelude is a perfect opening to the Rapsodie – evocative of the sensuality and slight menace brought on by the fall of darkness.  Ravel uses it as a color piece, with misty and suggestive orchestration, whispering of the dances and cavorting that will occur behind closed doors in Madrid that night.  The Malagueña is at once furtive and languid, […] perfumed with beautiful orchestral effects over a sexy, “world-weary” rhythm.  The finale, Feria, then releases the pent-up energies of all these dances and their intimations as a fiery celebration after the sangria flows freely […]

Copyright – Max Derrickson