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17. Ravel – Piano Concerto in G, III. Presto

August 20, 2011

After the 2nd movement gently lulled you to sleep, the 3rd movement gives you a rude awakening, and then takes off at a frenetic presto pace, and doesn’t relax for very much. It also doesn’t do much “exploring” like the 1st movement does – this movement just goes and goes without losing much momentum. Each of the 3 movements of this concerto have a completely different character than the other two – i’ve pondered a lot what justifies calling this one concerto and not 3 distinct pieces. Maybe the huge contrasts IS the unifiying idea, i’m still not sure. Anyway, enjoy the wild ride:

Watch and listen on Youtube: Ravel – Piano Concerto in G, III. Presto

0:15 It starts off with a a punctuated rhythmic idea, which will serve as sort of a “section marker” for a bit. The piano comes in sprinting. In technical terms, I believe piano is playing parallel fifths, which gives it this kind of “geometric” quality.

0:26 all of a sudden, a clarinet comes in absolutely screaming. WHAT was that?

I believe this is Ravel’s response to the recently-composed “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin, who is America’s great jazz/classical crossover composer. “Rhapsody in Blue” begins with what became a landmark moment in the history of the clarinet, at the premiere of the work.

Watch and listen on Youtube: Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue

1:09 After another “section marker,” we’re at something different – kind of a marching idea. Horns play in chords, then answered by a trumpet playing in arpeggios, which is perhaps referential of military bugle call. The snare drum adds a militaristic element too. By the way, it may be significant that Ravel participated in World War I as a truck driver for the French army. So maybe his military experience is intersecting into his art. Or maybe it’s not connected at all, and he just felt like writing something with a march feel, we’ll never know.

1:52 A new idea here – maybe this is the “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” motif. I couldn’t begin to analyze the method to the madness that is going on here – only that i’m certain that there is in fact a lot of method here, all carefully constructed to create the “wonderfully chaotic” feeling about this passage.

2:02 Everything quiets down, and a solo bassoon plays the “sprint.” I played the bassoon for about 3 weeks, and from what I gathered, the bassoon is definitely not the most agile instrument in the orchestra, so this must be ridiculously hard to play cleanly.

2:21 Big buildup begins – lots of different instruments chiming in with different ideas, leading back to something of a recapitulation, as he likes to do. Ravel has a very modern vocabulary, but is also very loyal to 3-part (ABA) forms.

2:43 Recapitulation. Roles are switched now – the piano plays the “screaming” motif, while violins are doing the “sprint.”

3:06 “Military” motif again.

3:21 “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off” motif again.

3:34 Big two handed chromatic scale in octaves by the piano.

3:44 And it ends how it began, with a boom by lots of low instruments together, led by the bass drum. And check out Leonard Bernstein on the piano conducting that last boom with his upper whole body. And the crowd approves.

Next: Ravel’s “La Valse”

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