Maurice Ravel

La valse, poème choréographique for piano or 2 pianos

    Description by James Reel

    Ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev asked Ravel to write what would become La valse for the Ballets Russes, on a program to be shared with Stravinsky's Pulcinella, and thus was responsible for one of Ravel's most popular orchestral concert works. Ironically, the two-piano "test-drive" reduction of La valse never met with Diaghilev's approval, and so this is the work that precipitated the break between the composer and the producer, whose relations had been strained since disagreements over Daphnis et Chloé.

    Ravel had for years intended to write some sort of tribute to Johann Strauss II, a Viennese-style waltz on Ravel's own terms. Strauss, had he been alive, would probably have found the result to be gruesome. Ravel's waltz is both nostalgic and sinister, rising from nothing but a vague rhythmic pulse, proceeding through several distinct waltz sequences (much more closely linked thematically than in any Strauss waltz), each culminating in an increasingly powerful crescendo and ending in apocalypse. Along the way come disturbing accelerations and ritards (making this particularly unsuitable for ballroom dancing), dynamic extremes, and eerie glissandi, creating an atmosphere of violence, decadence, and decay. In short, it is a portrait of Vienna (and Europe) in the years surrounding World War I.

    Ravel's preface in the score hardly hints at any of this: "Drifting clouds give glimpses, through rifts, of couples waltzing. The clouds gradually scatter, and an immense hall can be seen, filled with a whirling crowd. The scene gradually becomes illuminated. The light of chandeliers bursts forth. An imperial court about 1885."

    Ravel prepared the orchestral version first, but presented the music to Diaghilev in 1920 in a two-piano reduction, which Ravel played with Marcelle Meyer. Diaghilev declared it to be "a masterpiece...but it is not a ballet. It is the portrait of a ballet." He refused to have it choreographed. Stravinsky, who was also present, maintained absolute silence. Ravel gave the first concert performance of the two-piano version in Vienna that year with fellow composer Alfredo Casella. This reduction is very faithful to the orchestral score, right down to the glissandi. Ravel's solo-piano version is extremely difficult, and so it is infrequently played, although it did meet with the approval of Glenn Gould, who rarely bothered with Ravel's other music.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 IBA [Idil Biret Archives] / Naxos 8501504
    2016 IBS Classical 72015
    2016 Sony Classical 88875170032
    2016 Decca
    2016 Acis Productions APL 31995
    2015 Honens 201502CD
    2015 Sony Classical 88875064162
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon B002364402
    2015 Tuxedo Music TUXCD 1006
    2015 Analekta AN 29296
    2014 Genuin GEN 14295
    2014 Haenssler / Hänssler 933180000000
    2014 Ars Produktion / Ars Produktion ARS 38146
    2014 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 DG Deutsche Grammophon B002133302
    2013 CAvi-music AVI 8553273
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 9145092
    2013 Warner Classics
    2013 Piano Classics PCLD 0055
    2013 Dynamic CDS 7663
    2012 Blue Griffin Recording BG 263
    2012 Avie AVR 2256
    2012 MSR Classics MS 1364
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099964470
    2012 Claudio Records CR 60022
    2012 Claudio / Claudio Records CR60026
    2012 Orfeo C 859121A
    2012 Decca 4783725
    2012 Decca
    2012 Cembal d'amour 166
    2011 Fuga Libera 577
    2011 Decca 4782746
    2011 Decca
    2011 Delphian DCD34061
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94176
    2011 Regis Records 1356
    2011 Hyperion CDA 67731
    2011 Ariola Classics / Arioso AC 00012
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon / DG Deutsche Grammophon 4779111
    2010 Naxos 8572573
    2010 Decca
    2010 Philips 4110342
    2010 Dux Records 558
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4778847
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon 14108
    2010 Onyx ONYX 4047
    2009 Decca 4781090
    2009 Decca / Universal
    2009 Mansion Records 5167
    2009 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4778570
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2009 UT3 Records / Zebralution
    2009 Audite 92571
    2009 E1 Entertainment 7759
    2008 ABC Classics 4766929
    2008 Avi-Music 8553023
    2008 Blue Saphir 1014
    2008 Pavane 7522
    2007 Marquis Records 81369
    2007 Linn Records 290
    2007 Philips 4758520
    2007 Apex
    2007 ORF 204
    2006 Romeo Entertainment 72524
    2006 Melba Recordings 301088
    2006 Decca / Philips
    2006 RCA Victor Red Seal / RCA 84777
    2006 Columna Musica 144
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 586 510-2
    2005 Klavierduo Susanne Huber & André Thomet
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Eroica Distribution 3252
    2005 RCA Red Seal 66007
    2005 RCA Red Seal 66007
    2005 Yarlung Records 52069
    2004 Warner Classics 61589
    2004 VAI Audio 1227
    2004 Romeo Records 7228
    2004 Frame 348
    2003 VAI Audio 1209
    2003 Chandos 10142
    2003 APR (Appian) 5594
    2003 Accord 4760941
    2002 Ivory Records IVCD72009
    2002 SOMM 25
    2001 Phoenix USA 135
    2001 Deux-Elles DXL1040
    2001 VAI Audio 1196
    2001 APR (Appian) 5611
    2000 Arkadia Jazz / Postcards POSTCARDS 7720012
    2000 Philips / Philips 464381
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 72827
    1999 Newport Music Festival 1/2
    1998 Ivory Records IC70803
    1998 Arts Music 47215
    1997 Fleurs de Lys 3080
    1997 Verdi Classics / Verdi Music 6802
    1996 Wergo 6014050
    1996 Teldec 96435
    1995 Gallo 800
    1995 Philips
    1995 Philips 446557
    1995 Connoisseur Society 4195
    1995 Naxos 553008
    1995 Fleurs de Lys 3046
    1994 Chandos 7004
    1994 Teldec 94539
    1992 Chandos 8733
    1992 Vox 5012
    1992 Chandos 8905
    1992 Chandos 8620
    Ars Produktion 368359
    IMP Classics 858
    MSR Records 1188
    Pickwick 23
    Meridian Records 84300
    Triton 17018
    Dante 9437
    EMI Music Distribution 74749
    Disques Pierre Verany 787022
    Piannissimo 2025
    Artists 29
    Gamut Classics 517
    Teldec
    Teldec 44931