Ravel: The Enchanted Garden from Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose)

MAURICE RAVEL

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

DIED: December 28, 1937. Paris, France

COMPOSED/PREMIERE: Mother Goose began its life as a suite of “Five Children’s Pieces for Piano Four Hands,” composed between 1908 and 1910, and were premiered by the child pianists Jeanne Leleu and Geneviève Durony, at the first concert of the Société Musicale Indépendante, at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, on April 20, 1910.

INSTRUMENTATION: Piano four-hands

DURATION: About 4 mins

Ravel wrote Mother Goose as a set of pieces for piano duet, which was first heard in 1910. He orchestrated it in 1911 when the music became the score for a ballet. In that first incarnation (which was conceived for a duo of child pianists), Mother Goose consisted of five movements of which “The Enchanted Garden” is the last. The direct inspirations were children’s stories from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French collections, especially Charles Perrault’s Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Tales, published in 1697).

Though an evocative score, Mother Goose is curious indeed as piano music, simplified to be within reach of small hands and elementary technique. This work also utters a distinct melodic language among Ravel’s works, not surprisingly so, given the unusual requirements of its genesis. But in solving the challenges he set for himself, Ravel also imparted something completely authentic and characteristic. Here the music progresses from almost-silence to splendid fanfares. We see the Garden through a silvery haze, almost as though we were standing still, watching the procession of its magical inhabitants.—James M. Keller

A longer version of James M. Keller’s note for Mother Goose appeared in the programs of the New York Philharmonic and is reprinted with permission.

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. 

(June 2019)