Posts Tagged ‘Maurice Ravel’

Last week, Westminster Music Library held the second adult music workshop in our Behind the Lines series.  The focus of this three hour session was the composer Maurice Ravel and his musical output during and after WW1. Ravel - Adult Workshop 1

Ravel, and as a consequence his music, were deeply affected by three things during The Great War; his rejection from the army due to his diminutive stature, the death of his Mother, and his own failing health.  One of his greatest successes, Le Tombeau de Couperin, was completed near the end of the War. This suite for solo piano, influenced by the French Baroque composer François Couperin, was composed between 1914 and 1917, and is based on a traditional French Baroque suite, being made up of 18th century-style dance movements. Ravel dedicated each movement to the memory of his friends (or in one case, two brothers) who had died fighting in World War I.

During the workshop, this music was the centre-piece of the composition and performance by the participants and musicians.  Divided into two; the first group was  percussion-based with a variety of African drums, while the second was melodic with xylophone, marimba, and stringed instruments.  Taking as their inspiration Ravel’s Forlane – a transcription of an Italian folkdance from Le Tombeau de Couperin – the group joined together for a very exciting finale.  There was a lot to remember between entries, notes, and rhythms, but everyone played brilliantly and created a wonderful piece of music. Ravel - Adult Workshop 2

As well as Le Tombeau de Couperin, other Ravel works such as La Valse, Daphnis et Chloé, and Frontispice formed part of the group discussion on Ravel and his music.  The group had a chance to listen to a recording and study the score of Frontispice; written for two pianos five hands and at only a minute and a half long, everyone agreed that it is a great insight into Ravel’s thoughts and emotions during that time. Although short, it is clear that this great composer was struggling to come to terms with rejection, loss, and failure, and feelings of bleakness, anger, and confusion brought about by the horrors of the War. All our participants agreed that this workshop had been a great success, with lots of enthusiasm, inspiration and stimulating conversation. 

This session marks the end of our focus on Ravel for Behind the Lines, next year we turn our attention to the music of two giants of English music – Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. 

As part of Westminster Music Library’s Behind the Lines programme, we are delivering no less than six creative projects in schools all over Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. The first of these projects took place last week, with the final performance on Wednesday 11th December. Pupils from Sion Manning School with Musicians from the RPO


Working with a group of pupils aged 12-15 from Sion Manning Roman Catholic Girls School, Workshop Leader Tim Steiner and 3 musicians from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) explored the works the composer Maurice Ravel and the devastating effects of World War One. At the outset of the project the pupils were taken to see the RPO rehearse at Cadogan Hall, where, among other pieces of repertoire, they got to hear Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, which he wrote during the war.


The group then visited Westminster Music Library for an introductory session, where the pupils were able to discover the vast selection of books and music scores on the shelves. The sight reading skills of the three RPO musicians were certainly put to the test, when each pupil was given the opportunity to put their chosen score in front of the musicians to play on the spot!


Creativity really took hold once we moved into the school itself, with stimulating workshops using a combination of instrumental composition, poetry readings, and vocal exercises. The resulting final piece was extremely haunting, with the pupils using interesting instrumental effects to create an eerie sound world, as well as beautiful wordless vocal lines. 'Preparing' the Piano for some Unusual Effects

Last Saturday, Westminster Music Library played host to more exciting and successful Behind the Lines workshops for Early Years and Primary Age children.  Led by the talented musicians of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, 27 lively children from 2 year olds to 10 year olds took part in the workshop based on the music of Maurice Ravel; a Romantic, French composer who was particularly influenced by early composers such as François Couperin.

After a few fun games to wake up our bodies and an introduction to the cello, violin, flute and trumpet, the children in the Early Years workshop started creating music to represent animals of the jungle; elephants, monkeys, and there were even some worms!  Some of the children may even have a future career in conducting as they took on the role as music leader, instructing everyone what to play and on which instruments!Early Years Workshop 7th December 2013 

The children in the Primary Age workshop were extra enthusiastic and excited about the wide range of interesting instruments which included a marimba, African drums, and lots of other percussion – some even brought their own instrument.  As an older group, the children were able to discuss composers and different genres of music, looking at different types of scores taken from the Music Library shelves.  They were then introduced to Ravel’s Fugue from Le Tombeau de Couperin, excellently demonstrated by the RPO musicians.  This piece is a six movement piano suite written between 1914 and 1917, each movement in the style of a Baroque movement.  Ravel then orchestrated the suite in 1919 and dedicated each movement to a friend who had died in WW1.  Taking the theme from the second movement ‘Fugue’, the children then set off to creating variations on Ravel’s music, splitting into groups of keyboard and percussive instruments.  At the end of the session there was a show-stopping performance, with excellent solos from some of the children, singing from the whole group, and lots of fun had by all!Primary Age Workshop 7th December 2013

Many of the children in the workshops on Saturday demonstrated their skills, talent, and knowledge of music, which was very impressive to see and hear; from improvising to knowledge of composers, to describing different styles of music.  These workshops are an excellent opportunity for children and adults to explore, exhibit, and develop their knowledge of music further, as well as learning about the musical output of some great composers of the 20th Century as a result of World War I.