Ravel: Shéhérazade

Shéhérazade

MAURICE RAVEL

BORN: March 7, 1875. Ciboure, Basses-Pyrenées, France

DIED: December 28, 1937. Paris, France

Among Maurice Ravel’s earliest exercises in exoticism was the orchestral song cycle Shéhérazade (1903), which Ravel (1875-1937) said reflected not only the influence of Debussy but also his own deep-seated fascination for the Orient. Shéhérazade owes its existence to the composer’s affiliation with Les Apaches, a high-spirited group of Parisian creative types. Apaches member Tristan Klingsor had just published a volume of symbolist poems titled Shéhérazade, and Ravel pounced on three for his rather mysterious settings. Of Ravel’s songs Klingsor wrote: “His love of difficulty led him to choose, in addition to L’Indifférent and La Flûte enchantée, one which, by reason of its length and narrative form, seemed the least suited for his purpose: Asie. The fact is that he was just at that time extremely preoccupied with the problem of adapting music to speech, heightening its accents and inflexions and magnifying them by transforming them into melody; and to assist him to carry out his project he asked me to read the poems out loud to him.”—James M. Keller

James M. Keller is Program Annotator of the San Francisco Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. His book Chamber Music: A Listener’s Guide (Oxford University Press) is now also available as an e-book and as an Oxford paperback. 

(July 2019)