In the year 1908, Maurice Ravel composes 5 short piano pieces called "Ma mère l'Oye", written for 2 children : Mimie and Jean Godeski. Very similar to the Erik Satie's linear melodies, "Ma mère l'Oye" invites us to the enchanted world of childhood through 5 tales : "Pavane de la belle au bois dormant", "Petit Poucet", "Laideronnette impératrice des pagodes", "Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête" et "Le jardin féerique".
Dedicated to the childhood and with a great musical quality, this piece has a big public success when Ravel starts the orchestration for a first show on april 20th 1910. At this time, the manager of the "arts theater" decides to create a ballet even if the piece did not present any analogy with a dance or stage music at all. From this time, some pieces were added to the original work such as a prelude and the famous "danse du rouet", punctuated by different interludes. These changes allowed the piece to be performed as a fancy-dress ballet on january 21st 1912.
|Petit poucet||72 bars|
|Les entretiens||164 bars|
|Le jardin féerique||56 bars|
1 English horn
1 French horn
1 string ensemble
|Pavane de la belle au bois dormant||
In a sleepy atmosphere, the Pavane enters with a theme played by the 2nd flute pianissimo, over 20 bars in the A mode. This melody is lightly accompanied by a muted French horn and pizzicatos od alto violins :
A 2nd theme enters on the 2nd clarinet solo above a descending counter-melody pf the English horn, doubled by string pizzicatos :
The "petit poucet" changes the atmosphere with a 1st theme in the oboe solo, accompanied by descending scales of the violins harmonized in third.
A 2nd element is performed by the English horn from the 12th bar on the pentatonic* Bb scale :
We return now to the 1st theme on the first bassoon solo, with an E phrygian* mode, accompanied by strings and flute overtone gilssandos, imitating "bird singing"
A last theme, based on the interval of a descending perfect 5th is placed above an obstinated chromaticism of the alto violins :
|Laideronnette impératrice pagodes||
This is probably the heart of the piece because of its dimension and the importance of the orchestral structure. With "Asian" mood, a fast and light theme is played by the piccolo flute solo on a pentatonic scale :
A 2nd motive, given in alternation between the oboe solo and the English horn, is built on a syncopated rhythm of the strings,
alternating with a dotted motive of the flute in the medium register, built on descending cells of 4 eighth notes in the 2nd bassoon and bass strings :
Coming directly from the 1st theme, a sixteenth note motive doubled in octaves enters between the flutes, the celesta then the harp, accompanied by violin pizzicatos with regular eighth notes :
But this enthousiastic mood disappear with a 2nd theme in which the wide 1st element written in imitations on the wind instruments dominated by the French horn,
and a 2nd element on the high flute harmonized note for note by the strings :
The return of the 1st element (clarinet and French horns), superimposed to the 1st theme (in octave on the celesta), over pianissimo punctuations of the timpani and very light violin tremolos. This is probably one of the most beatiful pages of Ravel's orchestration :
The coda of this piece is built on the return of the 2nd element in the oboe solo, followed by the element of continuous sixteenth notes over the agitation of the whole orchestra :
|Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête||
The "entretiens" come after a moderated waltz in which the melody in the F mode, sings softly in the 1st clarinet, then in the harp doubled by the flutes, and later on in the 1st and 2nd violins :
But the frightening theme of the beast stops this waltz with a descending chromaticism in the low contrabassoon, alternating with the beauty's motive in F# played by the flute and oboe solo.
More and more animated, the waltz is interrupted by 1 bar rest, a kind of magic stick with a harp glissando that stops the enchantment and reveals the charming prince illustrated by an eighth note triplet overflying the orchestra with overtone glissandos in the 1st violins :
|Le jardin féerique||
Final climax, the "jardin féérique" adopts a simple C major key. This wide and easy melody takes place in the violins, supported by a rich counterpoint of the string ensemble playing "pianissimo" :
Progressively Invading the orchestra, this theme is reversed, then introduces a luminous page in which the harp, the celesta and the woodwinds provide an accompaniment to the 1st violin solo.
The luminous final coda* is performed by harp and celesta glissandos and string tremolos in the high register, that sound like church bells in the wind instruments :
|Coda||The conclusion of a musical piece|
|Counter melody||A melody superimposed to the main theme|
|Imitations||A technique of composition establishing a conversation between 2 instruments or 2 voices|
|Modes||Scales used in the medieval music that have been rediscovered in the french modern music of the early 20th century|
|Overtones||Luminous sounds obtained by lightly touching the strings of the instrument|
|Pentatonic||Scale coming from China that includes 5 sounds only (eg. C-D-E-G-A)|
|Phrygian||A scale based on the E natural mode.(eg. E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E)|
|Pizzicato||String technique consisting of plucking the strings with fingers in order to obtain a very dry sound.|
|Syncopation||Rhythm played on a weak beat and sustained with a slur or a dot, towards a strong beat.|
|Tremolo||A fast repetition of 1 or several notes giving a trembling effect|
|Tutti||A whole orchestra and (or) choir|