Unravelling Ravel in London


I like this description of Maurice Ravel – “he’s a small composer, but not a minor one.” In the past I’d worked on a Ravel project and was delighted to get to know more of his music – I’d previously only been well acquainted with Daphnis and Chloe (most specifically the clarinet audition excerpts – groan), Mother GooseLe Tombeau de Couperin and, of course, Bolero. Now I’m delighted to say that my iPod is full of his music – in particular I like the operas and the orchestral stuff, but I can safely say I’d listen to anything of his and enjoy it.  I know it’s a cliché but each piece is like a jewellery box – delicate and exquisite, and there’s something new to find each time.

(Ravel at work, Ravel at war, Ravel at a party with Gershwin!)

As well as getting more familiar with the music, I learnt more about Ravel’s travels in London. He was friends with Vaughan Williams  (having been his teacher for a few months in 1908) and Ravel stayed with Ralph in Chelsea when he first visited London to give a concert at the Bechstein Hall (now the Wigmore Hall). According to the biography of RVW written by his wife Ursula,

Ralph enjoyed taking him sight-seeing, and was fascinated to find that he liked English food – the one thing the Cheyne Walk household had forseen as a problem. But it was no problem at all: it appeared that steak and kidney pudding with out at Waterloo station was Ravel’s idea of pleasurably lunching out.

I can’t imagine a train-station pasty still having that effect.


Inside the Wigmore Hall

Ravel performed in two concerts at the Bechstein Hall as conductor and accompanist, in 1909 and 1913, amongst several visits to London. He also liked technology and recorded some piano rolls in London in 1922, such as this Pavane pour une infante defunte.


The Bechstein Hall was opened in 1901  by piano firm Bechstein, next to their showroom. Anti-German sentiment during World War I led to it becoming the Wigmore Hall instead. There’s been plenty of impressive footsteps here – the opening gala concerts featured performances by Ferruccio Busoni  and violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. Ravel’s compatriots Fauré and Saint-Saëns performed here, as did singers Nellie Melba and Enrico Caruso. Rubinstein, Prokofiev, Poulenc and Hindemith have given recitals. And Benjamin Britten premiered several works here, including  Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings and the Michelangelo SonnetsAnd I’m pleased to discover that this is where Vaughan Williams’s Songs of Travel were first performed in 1904, the song cycle after which my blog is named.

Find out more about the history of the Wigmore Hall here.

Take a tour of Ravel’s house near Paris – it’s been reported that this fantastic , fascinating house is going to close. It would be a real shame, it’s somewhere I’d love to visit.

Pins for this post

  • Wigmore Hall
  • Vaughan Williams’s house on Cheyne Walk



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