Ravel’s Mother Goose

Ravel’s music is amongst the most wonderful for an orchestra to play – his understanding of each instrument’s strengths allow his music to beautifully capture the colours and subtly of each melody.  Our second Masters Series concert of the year features music based on storytelling and folklore…making the Mother Goose Suite the perfect concert starter!


Ma Mere l’Oye – Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) By Marcia Lotter 2008

French composer Maurice Ravel has always been compared to Claude Debussy, who was taken more seriously during their lifetimes. Ravel was a fastidious and tireless worker and a genius at orchestration. He could always assemble the exact combination of instrumental colors to achieve the effects he sought.

Oddly enough, he considered two of his main inspirations to be Emmanuel Chabrier (for his Spanish style and enthusiasm) and Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote an essay on the meaning of poetry and other forms of art that struck Ravel to the core. The lovely Mother Goose Suite (literally, “My Mother, the Goose”) was originally written to be played by two children on the piano. The first performance was given by children aged 6 and 10. The following year Ravel prepared an orchestral version for a ballet production in Paris in 1912. The five movements depict fairy tales well-known to children of that time.

Movement One, Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty, is very short but solemn and thoughtful, like a tableaux of the silent castle. Movement Two is Tom Thumb, one of many deluded characters who scattered bread crumbs, in order to find his way back out of the woods. But birds came behind him and ate them all. Ravel cleverly uses solo oboe above wavering strings to convey the winding paths. You can also hear happy birds chirping over their feast of crumbs from a distance.

Movement Three is Laideronnette (Little Ugly One), Empress of the Pagodas. This is a story called “The Green Serpent.” Laideronnette, formerly a beautiful princess, was magically disfigured by an evil witch. The princess lives in a faraway castle and meets The Green Serpent, who has been similarly cursed, out in the woods. They have various adventures together, including visiting living pagodas made of crystal, diamonds, and emeralds, which nevertheless sing and play for the couple.

Movement Four is The Conversations of Beauty and the Beast, written in waltz time. A solo clarinet conveys Beauty’s part of the conversation, and the bassoon represents The Beast. Beauty’s voice is later found in flute and oboe. After The Beast’s transformation back to a prince, Beauty becomes a solo violin, and The Beast becomes a solo cello. A clash of cymbals announces the end of the wicked witch’s spell.

Movement Five The Fairy Garden is an account of Sleeping Beauty’s awakening by Prince Charming. The celeste has the role of the enchanted princess, as she slowly opens her eyes in the sun-flooded room. A joyous fanfare sounds at the end as the storybook characters gather about her, and the Good Fairy bestows her blessing on the happy pair.

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