16 Nov 2011

Ravel – Mother Goose Suite – Ma Mère l’Oye

Written by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (2nd doubles piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubles English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons (2nd doubles contrabassoon), 2 horns, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tam-tam, xylophone, jeu de timbres à clavier, harp, celesta, strings

Duration: 16 minutes in five movements.

THE COMPOSER – MAURICE RAVEL (1875-1937) – Ravel’s frustration with the shunning he received from the Parisian musical establishment – namely the magisterial Société Nationale de Musique and the priestly elite of the Schola Cantorum – fueled his leading role in the creation of the Société Musicale Indépéndantes. The new group was founded with an open, Foreign-friendly ethic that expressly flouted the stodgy authority of the Schola. Their inaugural concert took place in 1910.    

THE MUSIC – In addition to new works by Faure and Debussy, the program included the premiere performance of Ravel’s five movement suite for piano 4-hands, Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose). Drawing on the fairy tales of Charles Perrault and others, each miniature is a touching musical representation of childlike wonder. Fittingly, the suite is both dedicated to children and composed for them to perform. The Polish ex-pat artist Cipa Godebski was a great friend to the Ravels and Maurice was quite close with his family, eventually dedicating his Sonatine to Cipa and his wife Ida. The Mother Goose dedication came just a few years later, but this time for the Godebski’s young children, Mimie and Jean. Ravel was hopeful that the two budding pianists would perform the premiere on the Société Musicale Indépéndantes concert but the pressure of the event was reportedly too much for them. The honor instead fell to Jeanne Leleu and Geneviève Durony who, if less nervous, where also very young and perfectly suited to Ravel’s intentions for the piece. The premiere was very well-received and demand came quickly for an orchestration. Ravel obliged in 1911, creating the version we know best today, but he also later expanded the music into a ballet on a commission from Jacques Roché and the Théâtre des Arts. Ravel himself devised the ballet scenario, using Sleeping Beauty as the centerpiece and working the other stories in by way of her dreams.

THE WORLD – Halley’s Comet appeared in 1910. In the United States, the original “Great White Hope” James Jeffries lost his heavyweight boxing title bid to Jack Johnson. King Edward VII died in England and Egyptian Prime Minister Boutros Ghali was assassinated.

THE CONNECTION – Though performed as recently as 2009 under Emmanuel Villaume, Mother Goose Suite is infrequently programmed on the Utah Symphony Masterworks. It appears more regularly on our other series.