'Jangling in Symmetrical Sounds': Maurice Ravel as Storyteller and Poet

Emily Kilpatrick

Abstract


Maurice Ravel’s perception of language was defined by his métier. He thought about words as a composer, understanding them in terms of their rhythms and resonances in the ear. Ravel’s letters, his critical writings, his vocal music and, most strikingly, his poetry, reveal his undeniable talent for literary expression. He had a pronounced taste for onomatopoeia and seemed to delight in the dextrous juggling of rhymes and rhythms. These qualities are particularly apparent in the little song Noël des jouets (1905) and the choral Trois chansons pour chœur mixte sans accompagnement (1915) for which Ravel wrote his own texts, together with his collaboration with Colette on the opera L’Enfant et les sortilèges (1925). The common thread of fantasy and fairytale that runs through these three works suggests that through his expressive use of language Ravel was deliberately aligning his music with the traditions of storytelling, a genre defined by the sounds of the spoken word. The formal and expressive content of Ravel’s poetry, together with his manipulation of the rhymes and rhythms of Colette’s libretto, reveal a composer fascinated by the musical and dramatic possibilities inherent within the French language itself.

Keywords


Ravel; opera; poetry

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ISSN: 1836-8336