Shéhérazade, Three Songs on Poems of Tristan Klingsor
Related Artists/CompaniesMaurice Ravel
About the Work
That suspiciously Wagnerian name was actually the pseudonym of Ravel’s friend Léon Leclère, one of the most versatile members of the circle of young poets, painters and musicians who called themselves "Apaches." Leclère/Klingsor was known primarily as a painter and poet, but had also composed songs; as Alexis Roland-Manuel noted in his biographical memoir of Ravel, Klingsor "teased all the Muses, and came to no harm." As soon as Klingsor’s Shéhérazade was published, in 1903, Ravel indicated his eagerness to set some of the poems; he began at once, completed the orchestral settings before the end of the year, and attended the very successful premiere on May 17, 1904, when the work was sung by the soprano Jane Hatto in a concert of the Société National de Musique conducted by Alfred Cortot. A few years later, Klingsor himself wrote that Ravel’s
love of difficulty made him choose, together with "L’Indifférent" and "La Flûte enchantée," [a poem] whose long narrative made it appear quite unsuitable for his purpose: "Asie." For at that time he was engaged in a study of spoken verse, and was aiming at emphasizing accents and inflections and magnifying them by melodic transposition; to fix his design firmly, he insisted on my reading the lines aloud. . . . For Ravel, setting a poem meant transforming it into expressive recitative, to exalt the inflections of speech to the state of song, to exalt all the possibilities of the word, but not to subjugate it. Ravel made himself the servant of the poet.
In his Shéhérazade Overture (which finally got a second hearing at the time of the Ravel centenary, and has been recorded several times since then) Ravel had made use of Debussy’s whole-tone scale, and he acknowledged in so many words that "Debussy’s spiritual influence at least is fairly obvious" in these orchestral songs. "In them again," he added, "I have succumbed to the profound fascination which the East has held for me since childhood."