The Waltz (1)

The ‘blog posting’ portion of my mental ‘to do’ list has for many months contained a psychological jotting to the effect that I really must get round to discussing two marvellous pieces of twentieth century music whose undeniable greatness seems to me to be at least a little undermined by the fact — if that’s what it is! — that their endings never seem to work properly

One of these pieces is Ravel’s La Valse — his orchestral ‘poème chorégraphique‘, written between 1919 and 1920; and the fact that today happens to be the composer’s birthday (he was born on 7 March 1875) prompts me to bring up the subject now — in connection with a manuscript page that someone attached to a celebratory ‘social media’ posting this afternoon.

But first, here is a rather super pic of Ravel sitting at his cluttered piano. (You may not remember the face; but you’ll never forget the suit…)

As for our page of manuscript, I should mention that I’d never encountered it before (I’ve only ever studied the published orchestral score). But since I know the piece jolly well, the music in its orchestral form started running through my head as soon as I saw the dots.

And guess what: before I’d followed the notations to the end, I’d almost jumped out of my seat. Ten points are available to anyone who can work out why

(Let’s come back to those intriguing Ravel doodles on a later occasion: yes, I think I know what they are about…)

If you don’t know the piece at all — or/and have never heard the official ‘solo piano’ arrangement that Ravel released (I’d guess that his first draft of the piece was in the piano-playable form we see above) — you might appreciate the following extract, which contains the music on this single page (plus a tiny fragment of the page before — to keep the musical units complete)…

And, in case anyone feels like hearing a bit of the orchestral version in which Ravel released this piece as an intended ‘ballet score’, here is the very same passage in that form. The performance also allows you to hear the ending not working

More on La Valse — not least, a chance to explore several equally ineffective performances! — in the next posting.

In the meantime, who wants to aim for those ten points…? What was it that made me jump…?


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