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  • Writer's pictureSimon Rushby

Adagio Assai from Piano Concerto in G by Maurice Ravel

#listeneveryday 5 Mar 2021

Maurice Ravel and Marguerite Long

The final post in this current run of #listeneveryday is of one of my personal favourites, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major. Its first performance was given by Marguerite Long with Ravel conducting, in Paris in 1932, and it quickly became popular, partly thanks to a European tour by Ravel and Long who performed it in sixteen cities.

It was one of Ravel's last compositions (he died from a neurological condition in 1937, at the age of 62), along with his Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, which had been completed in 1931. Like much of his work, it took him a long time to write and underwent many revisions. The outer movements are light-hearted and jolly, incorporating Basque folk themes and influences from jazz, and this poignant slow movement, in the key of E major, is beautiful in its simplicity and lyricism. Ravel said, "That flowing phrase! How I worked over it bar by bar. It nearly killed me!"

The movement begins with a piano monologue lasting nearly three minutes, in which we hear a long sarabande-like melody over a repetitive, waltz-like accompaniment which perpetuates throughout, causing a slightly awkward confusion between two apparantly different versions of triple time. It features solos that show off the sonorous and calming timbres of the flute, oboe and clarinet, while strings provide a warm bed of sound. When the theme returns, played by the cor anglais, the piano decorates it with a constant, delicate flow of semiquaver scales up and down the top half of the piano keyboard, whilst maintaining the steady harmonic accompaniment with the left hand.

This captivating performance was given at the 2013 BBC Proms by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, which was founded in 1986 in Vienna by Claudio Abbado. The conductor is Philippe Jordan.

More to listen to

Here's the whole concerto, with its glittering combination of Basque themes and jazzy nuances.

Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand was written in 1931 for pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm fighting in the First World War.

#listeneveryday will return later in the year. Comment below or tweet @SimonRushby with your suggestions for future music.

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