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Ma Mère l'Oye (Mother Goose) - Suite

About the Work

Maurice Ravel
Quick Look Composer: Maurice Ravel
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Mozart and La Mer Nov. 29 - Dec. 1, 2012
© Robert Markow

RAVEL: SUITE FROM MA MÈRE L'OYE (MOTHER GOOSE)

 

                                                     I. Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty

                                                     II. Hop o' My Thumb

                                                     III. Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas

                                                     IV. Conversations of Beauty and the Beast         

                                                     V. The Fairy Garden

MAURICE RAVEL: Born in Ciboure, Pyrenées-Atlantiques, France, March 7, 1875; died in Paris, December 28, 1937

            When Ravel found himself in the innocent world of children, his normal air of cool detachment and reserve melted away, for he held a deep affection and genuine warmth for young people. His own diminutive size bred a deep inferiority complex which inevitably helped him gravitate to the worlds of children and animals, both of which are prominent features of his Mother Goose Suite. Two of Ravel's closest friends were the little Godebski children, Jean and Mimie. When they were still in the early stages of their piano studies, he wrote for them a four-hand piano suite tailored to their small hands and limited technical abilities. Each of the five movements was based on one of the children's favorite fairy tales. The Suite proved to be too difficult for them to play in public, so two slightly older children (ages six and seven) were enlisted for the premiere performance, which took place in Paris on April 20, 1910. The following year, Ravel transcribed these five crystalline miniatures for orchestra. Such skill of coloristic nuance and texture went into the orchestral transcription that the listener inevitably feels that the music was originally conceived for the medium of the orchestra. 

            In the Suite's opening number, Ravel conjures up a magical world of childlike simplicity and idle daydreams with the sparest of means. "Petit Poucet" depicts with graphic realism an episode from the Charles Perrault story "Tom Thumb." Tom, his plaintive whimpering portrayed first by the solo oboe, then by other woodwinds, is lost in the forest (slowly meandering lines in shifting meters for violins). "Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas" comes from a story by Countess Marie d'Aulnoy. The pagodas in question are not sacred buildings with tall towers found in places like China and Burma, but rather fairy-like creatures that attend to the empress in her bath. Ravel gives his music an Oriental tinge through the use of pentatonic scales, xylophone, woodblock and celesta. Next comes "Conversations of Beauty and the Beast," the conversation taking place musically between a graceful waltz tune in the clarinet and the growling of the contrabassoon (a rare and famous solo for this ungainly-sounding instrument). "The Fairy Garden" brings the suite to a close. As Prince Charming awakens the Sleeping Beauty with a kiss, the orchestra traces a long, slow crescendo that grows to a dazzling, radiant evocation of a child's world of enchantment.