15 Mar 2015

Maurice the Mechanic

From Composer of the Week, 9:00 am on 15 March 2015

In this programme, Auckland-based musicologist, Amber Read guides us through the music of romantic mechanic, Maurice Ravel.

Maurice RavelThe French composer was once called ‘the most perfect of Swiss watchmakers’ and the label has haunted him beyond the grave. Interest in mechanics seems to have been almost hereditary in Ravel’s family. His father and brother were both engineers and looking further back, his great-great-grandfather was an actual swiss clockmaker. Ravel’s brother Eduard tells us:

[Maurice] admired everything which was mechanical, from simple tin toys to the most intricate machine tools. He would thus spend entire days… in front of street vendors’ stalls, and was delighted to come with me to factories or to [exhibitions] of machinery. He was happy to be in the midst of these movements and noises. But he always came out struck and obsessed by the automation of all these machines.

We hear this throughout his work, from the use of actual machines: metronomes and pianola; to the use of mechanistic compositional processes in his Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, and most famously, the robotic and precise opening of Bolero.