Author Victor Lederer notes that the music of Maurice Ravel, while relatively small in number, is “wildly popular,” evoking grand waves of emotion in listeners. In Ravel: A Listener’s Guide, part of Amadeus Press’ “Unlocking the Masters” series, Lederer elucidates the complexity of Ravel’s influences. He shows the sprinkling of Javanese flavors, smoky Spanish melodies and inspiration from Malaysian poems. It’s an incisive read, suited for those who have heard the “Boléro” or the “Daphnis et Chloé”in passing, but have yet to probe deeper.
Chapters hover on key categories—Ravel’s piano music, concertos, chamber music, orchestral works, operas, and works for voice. Thus some works, such as the “Pavane pour une infante défunte,” explored in its initial composition for piano and when orchestrated, are surveyed more than once. This shows progression, but may confuse readers completely fresh to Ravel and wanting chronological guidance. At times, Lederer unfolds information as if readers have a working knowledge of the big names and movements of the time, but still defines such basic terms as cadenzas and chamber music.
Readers craving the deepest exploration may want to assemble their own playlist to further investigate what Lederer details. For instance, string players in particular may itch for the entire String Quartet in F major while savoring Lederer’s analysis, and it is a shame the accompanying nine-track CD only contains the second movement, while telling of Ravel’s sparkling and evocative language.
But grounding everything is Lederer’s eloquent, sharp, and thorough analysis. This suits the composer well.