The Ravel Affair

I am currently attempting to write my first string quartet. It is a significantly new creative path for me and very challenging but nevertheless rewarding.

Upon my research of different quartets, Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major is one of my favourites. I consider it to be a beautiful piece with extraordinary passages and details typical of Ravel’s musical personality that would continue to evolve later on in his career.

What I find remarkable about the story of this piece is that it was his final submission to the conservatoire de Paris and Prix de Rome competitions to which both rejected the piece. Aside from having mixed reviews from the Parisian press, his teacher, Gabriel Faure, to whom the piece is dedicated to, dismissed the last movement as ‘stunted and in fact a failure’. Ravel himself believed that the quartet was an inadequate realisation.

Thankfully Debussy, whose own string quartet piece, which was written ten years previously and most likely had some influence on Ravel, wrote to him a letter with some words of encouragement and insisted he did not touch a single note of the piece he had written.

From what I’ve read, the truth appears that Ravel was an unconventional character with unconventional approaches to musical composition that was difficult for the conservatoire’s ultra conservative director to accept. He had enough resilience, or indifference to any other criticism than his own to keep going on his own path and it just so happens that the frustrations and failure he dealt with led him to propelling forward in his career and eventually being revered as one of the greatest French composers of all time.

Sometimes, art and the work created just so happens to be received in a time where the culture is not ready to accept its value. Some works find that appreciation is manifested at a later date, in some cases even beyond the life of the artist. Ravel’s String Quartet is now one of the most played chamber pieces.

The reason I like stories like this is that it reaffirms that steering your own creative path and focusing on what it is you want to achieve is better than changing what you do and who you are merely to fit in.

More often than not, innovation comes from the outside.

My October Playlist

This was a widget, but I’ve decided to elaborate on my playlist a bit as I am discovering more music than ever. So here is the music that is seeing me through Autumn!

Jason Isbell – Something More than Free

How out of character of me…a country record! Throw away the prejudice and it’s a beautiful feeling of freedom to judge good music on the merit of being…well GOOD! And that is what Jason Isbell is, he writes some cracking contemporary music, loads of melody over a subtle minimum use of chords, lush violin arrangements and the thing that sold me most…his intelligently crafted lyrics. The latter which usually puts me off most southern american music, as it goes all too shallow and pedestrian. This on the other hand…hits deep.

Beach House – Depression Cherry 

This band have been about a while, but it wasn’t until scrolling through Pitchfork that I ended up devouring their newly released album. A brooding all red album with moody female vocals, synths synths synths and guitar motives that all suit my taste for all things melancholic.

Debussy – Piano Works Volume 4

I’ve started properly learning piano, I am teaching general music lessons so it will come in handy but alongside that lies my aspiration to play this masterpiece.

Debussy, the very much loved composer who broke a lot of boundaries in the classical world and spearheaded one of my favourite art movements, impressionism!

Spirited Away Soundtrack

I love the film, and I want to play this on piano too.

Joni Mitchell – Hejira 

Sometimes, you have to kick yourself for bypassing something you shouldn’t. I’ve known Joni Mitchell for most of my life and I’ve been on edge over the past year when reading about her health in the news. Blue, Big Yellow Taxi, Both Sides now, how much more great stuff can you write? Then comes along the album that the hardcore fans in particular are beholden to, that is even more adorning…and that is Hejira. The album is just incredible, WHY did I not pay attention to it til now!? It features alongside Mitchell’s incredibly thoughtful lyrics accompanied by the musical genius of Bassist Jaco Pastorious and Larry Carlton (whose more than likely played guitar on many songs you know)…what more could you want? The title track in particular has been very apt for the grey clouds that have sometimes dominated the sky over these recent autumn days. ‘I’m sitting in a cafe’, and in the space of five minutes, Joni articulates what has been a very challenging year for me at times that has led me to a lot of self-reflection and pondering…the best music brings about a truth that you identify closely with, how did she know this about me? That’s the power of art.

Hejira is timeless.