Piano Concerto (Ravel)

Piano Concerto (Ravel)

Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major was composed between 1929 and 1931. The concerto is in three movements, and is heavily influenced by jazz, which Ravel had encountered on a concert tour of the USA.



The concerto was deeply infused with jazz idioms and harmonies, which, at the time, were highly popular in Paris as well as the United States, where Ravel was traveling on a piano tour. After his well-received tour, Ravel wanted to debut this new work himself. However, health issues precluded this possibility, with his preparatory practice of Liszt's and Chopin's etudes leading to fatigue.

Instead, Marguerite Long, who was known for her performances of the works of Fauré and Debussy and had earlier asked Ravel for a new work, debuted the concerto on January 14, 1932 with Ravel conducting the Orchestre Lamoureux. Ravel dedicated the concerto to her.

The first North American performances were given simultaneously on April 22, 1932, by both the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra at their home concert halls.


The work is scored for piano and an orchestra consisting of: piccolo, flute, oboe, cor anglais, E-flat clarinet, Clarinet in B-flat and A, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in F, trumpet in C, trombone, timpani, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, bass drum, tamtam, wood block, whip, harp, 16 violins, 6 violas, 6 cellos, 4 double basses.


I. Allegramente

The first movement opens with a single whip-crack, and what follows can be described as a unique blend between the Basque and Spanish sounds of Ravel's youth and the newer jazz styles he had become so fond of. Like many other concerti, the opening movement is written in the standard sonata-allegro form, but with considerably more emphasis placed on the exposition.

At 106 bars in length, the large exposition section contains most of the musical ideas presented in the first movement. After the opening whip-crack and snare drum roll, the piano is introduced, providing a methodical accompanying figure as the winds present the first subject. Soon, the piano stops and the orchestra roars to life with each section adding to the theme, eventually drifting into an eerie, dream-like statement from the piano. This soliloquy is short-lived as the orchestra reenters with a blues-influenced figure, shifting between major and minor modes. The second subject begins with an awkward dissonance (A and B), but quickly establishes itself as a richly melodic section, reminiscent of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

Following a quick chordal passage from the piano, the development begins, utilizing much of the material from the first subject. After progressing through a variety of modes, the music comes to a mystic section played by the harps and strings. Following a short rest, the section continues, but is quickly interrupted by a restatement of the "blues section" from the first subject.

An abridged version of the first subject begins the recapitulation, after which a piano cadenza restates the second theme. Through this elaborate restatement, the movement progresses to an energetic coda and ends with a bawdy scale from the brass.[1]

II. Adagio assai

In stark contrast to the preceding movement, the second movement is a tranquil subject of Mozartian serenity written in ternary form. Though seemingly effortless in its execution, Ravel himself said of the opening melody: "That flowing phrase! How I worked over it bar by bar! It nearly killed me!”[2]

The first theme is presented solely by the piano, the right hand playing the melody with the left hand accompanying in a manner similar to a Chopin nocturne. After some time, the orchestra integrates itself into the subject, strings and winds carrying the melody into the second theme.

The second theme, introduced by the bassoons, is tenser than the first, utilizing dissonant harmonies and figures from the piano. Almost as easily as the theme appears, it fades away into a restatement of the first theme, and then into a brief coda which brings the movement to a gentle close.[3]

III. Presto

The third movement recalls the intensity of the first with its quick melodies and difficult passage-work. Written in an abridged sonata form, the finale has been the subject of criticism since its premiere.

The piano introduces the first subject, a rapid chordal figure, with dissonant interjections from the winds and brass. The subject continues with such interjections from all, and progresses through a multitude of modes before finally coming to its conclusion. Here, the movement ends with the same four chords with which it began.

Possibly due to its short length, the third movement is often repeated by the orchestra and soloist as an 'encore' after the concerto.[4]


The G-major Concerto took two years of work, you know. The opening theme came to me on a train between Oxford and London. But the initial idea is nothing. The work of chiseling then began. We’ve gone past the days when the composer was thought of as being struck by inspiration, feverishly scribbling down his thoughts on a scrap of paper. Writing music is seventy-five percent an intellectual activity.

—Maurice Ravel[5]

The most captivating part of jazz is its rich and diverting rhythm. ...Jazz is a very rich and vital source of inspiration for modern composers and I am astonished that so few Americans are influenced by it.

—Maurice Ravel[6]


  1. ^ Jan Richards. "Movement 1: Allegramente". [1]
  2. ^ Mawer, Deborah (2000). The Cambridge Companion to Ravel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 133. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/0521648564, 9780521648561 Length 294 pages|0521648564, 9780521648561 Length 294 pages]]. http://books.google.com/books?id=OY6Fe6_2yx4C&lpg=PA133&ots=ZzLbHbnHzC&dq=%22That%20flowing%20phrase!%20How%20I%20worked%20over%20it%20bar%20by%20bar!%20It%20nearly%20killed%20me!%E2%80%9D&pg=PA133#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  3. ^ Jan Richards. "Movement 2: Adagio assai". [2]
  4. ^ Jan Richards. "Movement 3: Presto". [3]
  5. ^ New York Philharmonic. “Muti, Uchida, Ravel and Schubert.” The New York Philharmonic, http://nyphil.org/programNotes/Ravel%20Piano%20Concerto%20in%20G%20major.pdf.
  6. ^ Rogers, M. Robert. Jazz Influence on French Music. The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 1. (Jan., 1935), pp. 53-68.

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