Maurice Ravel

Sonata for violin & cello

    Description by Meredith Gailey

    Maurice Ravel openly admired Debussy for his musical achievements, but refused to accept accusations of imitating his work. The desire for tonal and harmonic gradation is one of many similarities, which have been drawn between the work of the two men. Upon Debussy's death in 1918, Ravel became widely recognized as France's leading composer and was even offered the Légion d'Honneur in 1920, but being a man who considered popularity an offense, he publicly refused the decoration. Between 1920-1924 he wrote works which gave homage to his predecessors including his Sonata for Violin and Cello, which he dedicated to Debussy's memory.

    The work was a continuation of Ravel's interest in counterpoint, and he considered it a turning point, stating that in the piece "the music is stripped down to the bone. The allure of harmony is rejected and increasingly there is a return of emphasis on melody." The music was not only stripped of harmony, but Ravel stripped the traditional sonata down to merely two instruments. In doing so, difficulties arose as Ravel sought to solve the problem of balancing parts by eliminating them. This bold move was based upon Debussy's notion of "depouillement" (economy of means) and was of interest to Satie, Stravinsky, and the postwar generations of composers.

    Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello was written following a period of physical and emotional recovery from the turbulence of the war, his own bout of dysentery, and the death of his mother. Similar to his Piano Trio and String Quartet Ravel employed a cyclical structure in his sonata. With a focus on coherent and reasoned development of form, the work contains four movements, which are marked in the following order: allegro, très vif (a scherzo), lent, and vif, avec entrain. The work is built upon two main themes, both of which are stated in the first 50 bars of the opening allegro movement. The first is an alternation of the minor and major triads and it is heard in its entirety in the second movement, a bit in the third, and in the middle of the fourth. The second theme is the succession of consecutive sevenths and is the more common of the two, appearing in the beginning of the second and third movements and in a climactic moment in the middle of the finale. The two methods Ravel used to continuously reintroduce the two themes throughout the work were an alternation of a single motif between the two instruments and a separation of parts to maintain clear counterpoint. In the third movement, the concepts of the first two themes combine when minor and major sevenths alternate as did the minor and major thirds of the first movement. This compositional decision reinforces the success of Ravel's achievement to accurately develop the work. The Sonata for Violin and Cello was a piece of thoughtful detail which superbly demonstrated the potential of Debussy's notion while helping Ravel to continue to stand out among his contemporaries.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro
    2. Très vif
    3. Lent
    4. Vif

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Centaur Records CRC 3465
    2016 Warner Classics 0825646777044
    2015 Fondamenta FON 1402013
    2014 ArcoDiva UP 0149
    2013 Sono Luminus DSL 92171
    2013 Haenssler HAEN 98002
    2013 Andromeda ANDRCD 9116
    2012 Oehms Classics OC 837
    2012 Challenge Classics CC 72542
    2012 Praga / Praga Digitals PRDDSD 250286
    2012 Decca 4783725
    2012 Decca
    2011 Analekta AN 29971
    2011 Dynamic CDS 690110
    2010 Decca 448 612-2DH
    2009 Fuga Libera 547
    2009 Melba Recordings MR 301115
    2009 Decca
    2009 Decca 4781149
    2008 Engine Company 803016
    2008 Lontano / Warner Classics 4696906
    2008 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2008 Blue Saphir 1044
    2008 Blue Saphir 1065
    2007 DG Deutsche Grammophon 429738
    2007 Elysium 726
    2007 Koch Enternational Classics 7726
    2006 ECM 476 3150
    2005 Parlophone
    2005 Calliope CAL3822/3
    2004 RCA 55273
    2004 Antes Edition BM 319190
    2004 Praga PR54016
    2004 Audite 97489
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 585255
    2002 Cascavelle 3049
    2002 Erato / Virgin 7243545492
    2002 Image Recordings 5637231396
    2001 EMI Music Distribution 569279
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 56963
    2000 Panton Records 710527
    2000 Arabesque 6736
    2000 Berlin Classics 0017032
    1999 Biddulph Recordings 136
    1999 Cedille Records 47
    1998 Virgin 561427-2
    1996 Chandos 9452
    1995 Dynamic 26
    1994 Praga 254016
    1993 Erato 45920
    1992 Nonesuch 71355
    1988 CRD Records 3446
    Troubadisc 1423
    SNE 2036
    Koch Schwann 317272
    Hungaroton 31421
    Harmonic Records 8823
    Musical Heritage Society 515837
    Adda 581065
    Sony Classical
    Kontrapunkt 32174