Ravel: La Valse (Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France / Mikko Franck)

Duration : 12 minutes

Mikko Franck conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France performing La Valse, choreographed poem composed by Maurice Ravel in 1919-1920. Excerpt from the concert recorded on 21 décembre 2018, live from de Radio France Auditorium.

Daughter of the Polish sculptor Cyprien Godebski (creator of the statue of Mickiewicz in Warsaw and of the medal portrait adorning the tomb of Berlioz in the Montmartre cemetery), granddaughter of Adrien-François Servais (the "Paganini of the cello"), third wife of the Catalan painter José Maria Sert (talented pianist and a childhood acquaintance of Liszt), friend and influence of Coco Chanel, Misia Godebska (1872-1950) was nicknamed "the Queen of Paris". Patron of the Ballets Russes and advisor to their impresario Diaghilev, Godebska even paid in extremis the 4,000 Francs required to keep the costumes initially planned for the premiere of Stravinsky's Petrouchka in 1911.

It is possible that the young Ravel encountered Misia (Polish diminutive for Maria) in the class of Gabriel Fauré in 1897, dedicating to her ten years later his melody "Le Cygne" from his Histoires naturelles. He wrote Ma mère l’Oye in 1910 for the Misia's nephews, the children of his step-brother Cypa Godebski. It is Misia that introduced Ravel to Diaghilev, a meeting that would later lead to the commission of Daphnis et Chloé for the Ballets Russes. In February 1920, six months before officially and religiously becoming Misia Sert, she invited both Ravel and Diaghilev to an artistic soirée in her apartment at the Hôtel Meurice in Paris. In 1962, shortly before her death, Francis Poulenc wrote an article regarding the Ballets Russes for the publication Histoire de la musique published by Pléiade, in which this dans lequel on peut revivre cette scène historique :

"I wish to evoke now a surprising afternoon with Mme Sert, the muse of Diaghilev, better known as Misia. This beloved Misia, painted by Mallarmé, Renoir, Lautrec, and Vuillard, was a close friend of Ravel. Having recently finished La Valse, Ravel wished to see his work staged by the Ballets Russes. A soirée was organised at Misia's to present the work to Diaghilev. Stravinsky was also at the audition and, though still a young musician at the time, I was allowed to sit in a corner and assist quietly. Diaghilev arrived, followed by Massine and the usual directors. Ravel, precise as ever, carefully explained his vision for the work and then performed La Valse _for four hands [with Marcelle Meyer]. Diaghilev listened, frowning slightly, since “Ravel was Ravel”, then, the music finished, he sat in silence for a while. Knowing full well that Diaghilev's_ dull growls and his fidgeting with his eyeglass and false teeth were never good news, I sank deep into my chair hoping to disappear, embarassed to witness such a scene. Finally emerging from the heavy silence that weighed upon us all, Diaghilev exclaimed with great respect but also great candour: "Bravo, Ravel! Bravo, it is very beautiful, but it's not a ballet. This is the portrait of a ballet. It is too short, too summarised. "The sentence had fallen. Misia, to whom La Valse was dedicated and Sert, her husband, the stage director, tried in vain to change his mind. However, Diaghilev remained inflexible. Given that we never managed to stage a choreography worthy of such a masterpiece, it proves that Diaghilev, yet again, was right ".

In a previous interview, Poulenc also stated: "The extraordinary thing was that Stravinsky never said a word. NOTHING! I was stunned. At that point I learned a life lesson in modesty, since Ravel calmly gathered his music, without worrying about what anyone else thought, and left peacefully. Thus was the relationship Stravinsky-Ravel, Ravel-Stravinsky. After Les Noces, Ravel no longer appreciated Stravinsky's music. He did not like, Œdipus-Rex, none of that. And of course, from then on they never saw each again, ever, ever, ever."

Initially envisaged in 1906 with the title Wien, it was not until the winter of 1919-1920 that Ravel's choreographed poem finally saw the light of day, whilst staying with a friend and symbolist writer André-Ferdinand Hérold (grandson of the composer of the comic opera Le Pré aux clercs). Following a recent depression due to the war and the loss of his mother, Ravel stayed alone in this property in Lapras, eventually finding the strength to compose once more. The first edition of the orchestral part of La Valse bears the following indication: "Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished. The clouds gradually scatter: one sees at letter A an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo letter B. Set in an imperial court, about 1855."

Having already composed his Valses nobles et sentimentales, Ravel rejected all possible parallels with the Great War and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, declaring: "I created this work as a kind of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz, with which is mingled in my mind the idea of a fantastic and fatal whirling." According to the musicologist David Lamaze, Ravel's _La Valse (_and indeed various other works) contains a musical homage to Misia using the notes e and b (mi and si in French), and a. Aside from being a musical masterpiece, could La Valse contain a trace of Ravel's romantic turmoil?

Sol Gabetta and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France perform Dukas, Weinberg, Strauss and Ravel
Full concert
Sol Gabetta and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France perform Dukas, Weinberg, Strauss and Ravel
Auditorium de la Maison de la Radio, Paris
Maurice Ravel
Maurice Ravel
All artists
  • Mikko Franck
    Mikko FranckConductor
  • Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio FranceOrchestra