The Early Years
Ravel was born in 1875 in Cibourne, Basses-Pyrénées to a Swiss engineer and his Basque wife. The family moved to Paris while Ravel was a baby, and Ravel was to live there for the rest of his life. He showed early promise as a pianist, and was accepted into the Paris Conservatoire at age 14. During his years as a student at the Conservatoire, he was influenced by Javanese gamelan music (at the 1889 Paris Exposition), Russian music and the works of Wagner.
Ravel graduated from the piano class in 1895, but returned to the Conservatoire two years later in order to study composition under Gabriel Fauré. During this period, his interest in Renaissance literature saw him setting the poems of Clément Marot to music, and to write the Menuet antique (1895) and the Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899) for piano. The Pavane later became one of his most popular works.
Ravel, a contempory of the great Debussy is often classed with him as an impressionist composer. Indeed, Ravel's original talent disconcerted the Conservatoire, and Ravel failed five times to win the musical accolade the Prix de Rome. In 1905, for example, he was eliminated in the first round of the competition, having already composed the Jeux d'eau (1901), the String Quartet (1902-3) and the amazing Shéhérazade (1903), a huge public outcry forced the resignation of the director of the Conservatoire!
The Middle Years
Ravel was now a member of "Les Apaches", a circle of poets, painters, critics and musicians. While his small stature, elegant clothes and impeccable toilette ensured his social popularity, he never married, and remained deeply attatched to his mother. During this time in his life, he concentrated on composition, writing the Sonatine (1903-5), Miroirs (1904-5), Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Histoires naturelles (1906) and the Rapsodie espagnole (1907-8). He also began work on his first opera, L'heure espagnole (1907-9) which was influenced by his Basque origins. In 1911, he turned his piano suite Ma mère l'oye (Mother Goose) into a ballet score. His most famous ballet (commissioned by Diaghilev), Daphnis et Chloé was written between 1909 and 1912.
The War Years
Ravel was working on his piano trio when WWI began. His small stature saw him turned down for military service, so Ravel became an ambulance driver on the Western Front, until his health broke down. His mother died in 1916, and this broke his heart. He responded to this tragedy in his life by writing Le tombeau de Couperin (1917) and La valse.
In 1921, Ravel moved to a small villa at Montfort-l'Amaury (near Paris) which he filled with cats, toys and art. Ravel had always loved children, and this came through in his next opera, L'enfant et les sortilèges of 1925. In this opera, he used a libretto by Colette to create an enchanted childhood world filled with talking toys and animals. Ravel commemorated Debussy's death with a Duo for violin and cello. He also composed the Chansons madécasses (1925-6) for the American patroness Elizabeth Sprague Collidge. Next, he began to compose two violin works, Tzigane (1924) and the Sonata (1923-7).
Ravel's Last Works
Ravel composed his famous Boléro in 1928, when he visited America, the success of which haunted him for the rest of his life. He wrote two piano concertos (one of which was for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in WWI and was in F Major). His final work was a set of songs - Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (1932-3) which was composed as the score to a film based upon Cervantes' novel.
Sadly, for the last five years of his life, Ravel suffered from Pick's disease. This illness was accelerated by brain damaged cause by a car crash. Maurice Ravel died in 1937.
Source: "The Great Composers" by Wendy Thompson
Whee! My first rescue for the CRT!