Ravel Edition

Rapsodie espagnole

Rapsodie espagnole

This new revised edition 2022 (Ravel Edition Volume 10) is edited by François Dru 

The reading committee  : Fabien Gabel,  Ludovic Morlot, Alain Parîs,  Benjamin Attahir

This revised edition was premiered on November 9, 2023 at Symphony Hall in Detroit (USA) by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fabien Gabel.

The full orchestral score and parts are available for sale (contact: sales@21-music.be).

March 1908. Whilst the Hispanic flavours of Carmen continued to delight Parisian and Monégasque [1] audiences for more than thirty years after the première of Bizet’s opera, the Spain conjured up by the young Ravel was anything but the españoladas that were in vogue at the time. In this Iberian theme, or in Baudelaire’s words, a theme inspired by “a country perfumed by the sun’s embrace,” [2]  which had been influencing the musician as early as 1895, notably shaping the nocturnal scenes evoked by the Habanera from his Sites auriculaires for piano, Ravel presented the Sunday audience at Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet on 15 March 1908 with his first major orchestral creation, which went on to become a pivotal reference work. In 1928, Roland-Manuel noted “In Rapsodie espagnole, we hear this excitable, feline orchestra for the first time, showcasing exemplary transparency and clarity, whose joyous, dry sound is like Ravel’s trademark (…)”[3]. With the exception of his Shéhérazade overture in 1899, which was “poorly received”[4] by the public, the dismal failure in February 1907 of his orchestration of Une Barque sur l’océan [5][6], and setting aside the orchestral backdrop for his 1903 Shéhérazade song cycle, this suite, written in four movements for large symphony orchestra, was the first true proclamation of Ravel’s orchestral mastery. There are only a few traces of the work’s origins remaining, however Arbie Orenstein [7] claims that October 1907[8] was Ravel’s “Spanish year”, during which he simultaneously composed his future Heure espagnole. This same year indeed also appears at the beginning of the Durand edition of the reduction for piano for four hands (D.&F. 6999, first published in March 1908[9]). As for the orchestration, the hand-written date that appears on the last bar of the Feria  orchestral manuscript [10], “January-February 1908[11]”, gives us a clear indication of just how hard Ravel had to work towards the end of the winter of 1907-08 to produce the orchestrated version of this Rapsodie, without the “h”, which the composer alludes to in the letter he wrote on 3 March 1908 to his peer and none other than Ralph Vaughan Williams: “I’ve been working a frightening amount lately. My Rapsodie espagnole has to go to Colonne on the 15th of March. Only the fourth part is orchestrated!(...)”. [12] Although the context surrounding Ravel’s writing of these Spanish landscapes is not documented, the performance was widely discussed by the musical press. Both supporters and haters filled their columns with extensive commentaries on this new opus, launching polemic attacks against the young musician who had already suffered a string of shameful setbacks. The conservative and the avant-garde battled it out, noting the boos from the stalls and bravos from the gallery, which was filled with the friends of the composer who even managed to get an encore of the lively Malagueña. Journalists also reported on the disgruntled musicians during both the rehearsals and the concert[13], who were unhappy about the many difficulties presented by the score, the “overuse of mutes”[14] in the strings, and the mocked effect of the “progressive muting” in the brass.[15]

Ravel himself noted in a letter on 25 March 1908[16]: “(…) Like headless chickens, the repetitions, corrections, reductions, etc. are finally giving me a moment’s respite. But they’ll be back, and it’s going to be turbulent (…). It went  well on Sunday, Colonne was full of movement, of skill, and the audience full of warmth. The critics were more lukewarm, but that’s less important, only your respect is (the favourable reviews are not an issue, naturally). The reduction will be here very shortly, for piano for 4 hands.”

We know that the first engraving of the Durand orchestral score (D.&F. 7128 – first release in one hundred copies), as well as the separate instrumental parts (D.&F. 7124), went on to be published in July 1908 by Imprimerie Chaimbaud, on which we find the stamps of artist-engraver Charles Douin.

As was customary, the editor destroyed anything that wasn’t definitive, and there is therefore no trace of the initial temporary parts used for the work’s première. All that is left from this performance, guided by the baton of the venerable Edouard Colonne [17], is what we find written directly on the orchestral score: blue and red pencil markings to help the conductor during the performance, along with notes in red ink (which we can assume were left by either Colonne or the Durand editorial manager), either correcting copy errors or making changes to the composer’s markings (mistakes were a recurring theme seen in several of Ravel’s later manuscripts, e.g. mutes for the solo strings, yet no mutes for the tutti strings). Moreover, this thirty-stave manuscript bears Ravel’s delicate handwriting—a rare occurrence—, executed in purple ink so clearly that we were able to distinguish, without the slightest hesitation, all the minute details in the string writing in its multiple divisions, for example. In addition to this, we also found pencil markings that would have been added in preparation for the engraving (total number of staves per page, corrections, distribution of the percussion parts, etc.). Finally, on each opening page of each booklet comprising the suite, there is a legal marking and the ink stamp of Durand & Fils[18] .

Paris’ not-for-profit orchestras, which devoted a lot of their time in honour of Ravel, possess several parts that were acquired during the 1920s in their libraries. The parts archived by the Orchestre Lamoureux are also marked as first being used in 1926: a similar date to the one found on those used by the Orchestre Colonne, which might suggest that new parts were printed in the 1920s[19]. Several handwritten corrections were found on the individual instrumental parts, namely the missing bars in the tuba and double bass parts, erroneous substitutions between the second clarinet and bass clarinet, and the reallocation of the percussion or “batterie” parts in a bid to reduce the number of performers of this large force. There are not, unfortunately, any explanations in the form of corrections on the infamous figure 19 of the Feria, notably the complex issue of the metric connection between sections, which differs from the piano version to the orchestral version, and the strange case of the ritornello that’s missing in the orchestral score, but which clearly appears in the preparatory version for piano.

François Dru - November 2023 (Any reproduction, in part or in whole, is prohibited without prior authorisation from Ravel Edition.)

[1] Espada by Jules Massenet was performed in February 1908 at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. In the same month, La Habanera by Raoul Laparra was performed at the Opéra-Comique de Paris (Salle Favart). In a completely different style, in 1908 Debussy completed Iberia, which however was not premièred until 1910. The piano work Soirée dans Grenade, by the same composer, was performed in 1903.

[2] Handwritten note “Au pays parfumé que le soleil caresse”, highlighted on the 1895 manuscript of Habanera for two pianos. Yale University Library, GEN MSS 601.

[3] Roland-Manuel, Maurice Ravel et son œuvre dramatique, Les Éditions musicales de la Librairie de France, Paris, 1928.

[4] Roland-Manuel, page 15. Op. cit.

[5] Performed on 3 February 1907 at the Théâtre du Châtelet à Paris by the Orchestre Colonne, under the baton of G. Pierné. “(...) whose modern tendencies were met with harsh criticism,” Revue française politique et littéraire, 10 February 1907, page 40. “The public’s reaction to the new work was as one could have expected: passionate applauses from the musicians and distinct ill humour from this audience of amateurs, whose boos were no doubt perceived as a blessing to the young luminaries (…).” Émile Vuillermoz,  La Nouvelle presse, 4 February 1907, in One. 

[6] Already with the Orchestre Colonne under the baton of G. Pierné. Following the première, this orchestration was definitively banned by Ravel from his catalogue, however made a strange return to the desks of the Orchestre Pasdeloup in February 1950, and was recorded by the LSO under the direction of G. Poulet in December 1953 (EMI, released on CD by Dutton, digitally by BNF Collection), before being officially edited by Eschig (réf. M.E. 8411) in 1983.

[7] Orenstein Arbie, Ravel Man et Musician, Columbia University Press, New York, 1975. 

[8] The manuscript of the Reduction for Two Pianos is part of the Collection Taverne and is inaccessible.

[9] Cf. Nigel Simeone in Mother goose and other golden eggs: Durand Editions of Ravel as reflected in the firm’s printing records. IAML Publications UK, 1998 Vol. 35 n°2, pages 58-79.

[10] Carlton Lake Collection, Box-Folder 300, Harry Ransom Center, Austin, Texas.

[11] Original marking: “I II 1908”.

[12] Maurice Ravel Lettres, Écrits et Entretiens presented and annotated by Arbie Orenstein, Harmoniques, Flammarion, Paris, 1989. [Like his orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition, Ravel therefore started from the end with the most substantial movement]. 

[13] Laloy Louis, La Grande Revue, 25 March 1908.

[14] Lalo Pierre, Le Temps, 24 March 1908.

[15] Henry Gauthier-Villars aka “L’ouvreuse”, Comoedia, 23 March 1908 [the trumpets at the end of the Habanera].

[16] Reproduced snippets of the letter, page 97 in the Auction Catalogue of “Lucien Garban Archives – Letters and manuscripts by Maurice Ravel” from 8 April 1992, Paris-Drouot Richelieu. Several copies of the catalogue are kept at the BnF (VMB-6636 or VMB 6463).

[17] (1838-1910).

[18] ORCHESTRAL SCORE belonging to Mrs A. Durand & Fils Éditeurs-Propriétaires 4, Place de la Madeleine, PARIS. 

[19] Charles Münch had in his possession a large orchestral score with the note “Imp. A. Mounot”, so subsequent to the first edition. Leonard Bernstein conducted from an orchestral score printed in 1938 by “IFMRP”.

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