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16. Ravel – Piano Concerto in G, II. Adagio assai

August 13, 2011

Watch and listen on Youtube: Ravel – Piano Concerto in G, II. Adagio assai

After hearing the first movement, you may be surprised at just how different the second movement is, in many ways. What comes to mind as you listen?

Some “obvious” adjectives may come to mind as you listen – quiet, peaceful, beautiful, serene, clear, gentle.

When you compare this movement to the first movement, you may think of some additional words – steady, orderly, stable, fluid, simple – vs. constantly changing, dynamic, active, busy). In huge contrast to the first movement, Ravel takes one idea/texture, and works with it for a very long time. For about 3 whole minutes, the piano plays entirely alone – no exploiting the huge spectrum of colors that Ravel extracted from the orchestra in the first movement.

If the first movement was like a patchwork quilt, where lots of smaller ideas are put together in a cohesive fashion, this movement shows Ravel working with one single, continuous piece of musical fabric. And apparently, he can do both quite well.


Chronological hilights:

0:02 Main theme. Notice the left hand accompaniment – like a slow waltz, metered in 3. This will continue on steadily for just about the entire movement. “Endless” melody in the right hand. By the way, as effortless as this all sounds, Ravel apparently really had to toil over this before it took final form.

3:00 With the trill in the right hand, it feels like it will resolve in a clear cadence, but Ravel finally brings in another instrument, a flute, and gently begins taking us elsewhere – slightly more tension now. Following the flute is an oboe (playing in very high register), then a clarinet, then flute again to finish the section. Strings also sneak in in the background.

4:03 Now, a more dissonant and tense melody in the right hand, with added colors of some woodwinds in the background, which eventually resolves and stabilizes with the strings.

5:01 Tense moving notes in the piano right hand, with some rising chords in background woodwinds, then coming to a clean resolution.

5:37 Tension again, and the music swells and becomes stormier for a moment.

6:11 The tension subsides heading back into a recapitulation, and now, one of the most beautiful “scenes” in all classical music, in my book. Flowing scale-like work in right hand of the piano, matched with the main theme carried by the unusual and distinctive timbre of an English Horn. Again, a very long and unbroken musical fabric. Put together, it almost reminds you of some beautiful nature scene – water delicately cascading down a stream, lush greenery, and everything is just in a state of perfect harmony and serenity.

8:03 Another deceptive cadence, in formal terms, and this is perhaps the coda. Other instruments join in – horns open the way, and then some various woodwind moments.

8:34 Trill in the piano right hand begins, and gradually fades out, and the movement comes to a quiet close.

Next: 3rd movement of the same concerto.

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