William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

Researching Tzigane

A Journey Through Time, Discovering Tzigane

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick tells you the story of Tzigane and its creator, Maurice Ravel.

Released on July 1, 2020

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

So, when one of my students starts a new piece, I have them do a couple of things before starting to learn the notes, the fingerings, the rhythms, the bowings. One of those things is to listen. I mean, there's such a large pool to choose from on YouTube or other streaming apps. The other thing that I have them do is to research, not only the composer but when the composer composed the piece, why the composer composed the piece. What was going on in the world when the composer composed the piece? All of this is necessary to build the wonderful context in which one can make decisions about how to interpret the piece. What follows is one of the ways that I suggest to students to research a piece. And so, just how did it come to Ravel to compose the work, Tzigane? Well, why don't we remind ourselves of just when he was born, which was on March 7, 1875 in the Basque village of Ciboure, which is close to Spain. You see, Ravel was brought up in Paris, but he always felt very close to this Basque heritage.

His father, who was an engineer and an amateur pianist, sent him to his first piano teacher for lessons at the age of seven. While at an early age, Ravel was easily distracted, like a lot of people. So, his mother resorted to bribing him for each hour of practice that he completed. He entered the Paris conservatory at 1889 and won first prize in the 1891 piano competition, but he failed to win any more prizes. And so, he ended up being dismissed from the conservatory in 1895. He returned as a composer in 1897, and though he produced works like the Violin Sonata, he did not win any prizes, and so, was dismissed from the composition class in 1900. Despite this, he remained as an auditor in the class of Faure until he left the conservatory in 1903. Ravel had a very uneasy relationship with authority and found it difficult to conform. Despite his obvious desire to succeed, he failed five times to win the Prix de Rome. This led him to being offered the Legion d'Honneur, but he publicly, publicly refused it.

Revel's newfound status had the result of alienating him from some of his colleagues, such as Satie, Cortot, and Les Six. The outbreak of World War I had a profound effect on Ravel as he believed that he had a duty to serve his country, even though he was classified as unfit for military service. Despite this, he managed to secure a job as a driver in the Motor Transport Corps, but he became very ill and returned to Paris only to find his mother on her deathbed. After his mother's death in 1917, Ravel fell into a deep depression. Well, all of this sets the stage for the work for the composition, Tzigane. The inspiration for the piece came in 1922 while Ravel was attending a private evening of music. After having heard his sonata for violin and cello performed by the Hungarian violinist, Jelly D'Aranyi, and cellist, Hans Kindler, he asked D'Aranyi to play some Gypsy tunes. He was so intrigued with the melody she played that he asked her to continue playing, and she did so until 5:00 in the morning. And with that, the idea for Tzigane was born.

Now, not long after that, he called on his friend and neighbor, Helene Jourdan-Morhange, for advice about writing for the violin. He asked her to come over quickly and bring her Paganini Caprices so he could look at them, so he could reference from them, find stuff out. It was not until the spring of 1924 that Ravel spoke to D'Aranyi with more specific plans. He said that the Tzigane must be a piece of great virtuosity. Well, this certainly has turned out to be true. Tzigane, which was originally scored for the violin and lutheal. This is an instrument, an electronic device, which had a sound similar to a harpsichord. The piece was completed only two days before the first performance. Ravel was present at that performance, which took place in London on April 26, 1924 with D'Aranyi performing. There probably were revisions after this performance as the score is dated April to May, 1924. He, then, created the orchestral version of the work. D'Aranyi performed it with the Colonne orchestra in 1924, in fact, on November 30, 1924.

Ravel had mixed reactions to the early performances to the work, but these performances turned out to be huge successes. His colleagues and the critics, however, were not at all kind, at least, not all of them were kind, to the piece. One of them wrote, "Last night, I went to the Ravel festival to hear Tzigane, which is quite the most artificial thing Ravel has ever put his name to. It is poor, very unexciting indeed. The principals that motivate those pages are so out of date that I'm astonished anyone can still believe in them." Another critic wrote, "One is puzzled to understand where Ravel is at. Either the work is a parody of the Liszt-Hubay-Brahms-Joachim school of Hungarian violin music, or it is an attempt to get away from the limited sphere of his previous compositions to infuse into his work a little of the warm-blooded needs. He had another set. He has gone right to the origin of all good music to the traditional tunes and feelings of the people who cared nothing for artifice and convention."

So, in 1935, despite resting and traveling to Spain and Morocco, Ravel's health deteriorated to a point that he was sometimes unable even to sign his name. He was suffering from Pick's atrophy, a rare disease that causes the destruction of nerve cells in the brain. A few letters reveal his frustration of being incapable of putting on paper the music in his head. Maurice Ravel died in Paris on the 28th of December, 1937, nine days after having had a brain operation. He was buried in the cemetery of Levallois-Perret. This is, in fact, where I taught when I lived in Paris. At the funeral, there were composers, such as Stravinsky, Poulenc, Milhaud, Berkeley, and many other distinguished musicians. And so, this is what I try to get students to research. This is what I try to get students to find out about the pieces that they're about to learn. My hope in doing that is that it gives them a larger perspective from which to decide, from which to make decisions about how they wish to interpret things, in this case, about how they wish to interpret Tzigane.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Regina Parham * VSM MEMBER * on July 16, 2020 @8:25 am PST
You have such a positive impact in lives of those you've never met. Yesterday, immediately after watching your video on Ravel, Tzigane, and researching history of it's conception, I went to You Tube to check updates. The home screen appeared and, I believe, the second video on the listing was - Yes - Ravel and Tzigane performance by Katha Zinn and Illya Filshtinsky. I believe in serendipity. It was like watching what originally was an old and grainy black & white, silent film era movie spliced together through many years suddenly come to life in Technicolor, 3D, 4K, ultra HD. I watched with new understanding. Thank you, Sir.
Regina Parham * VSM MEMBER * on July 15, 2020 @8:05 am PST
I am in agreement with Catherine. My interest in history and violin has led to studies of
the older writings re origins,
development and changes of the violin and music. I now
have several volumes incl the Hill Bros on Stradivarius & the
Guarnerius family. I would
like to see more writings by Prof. Fitzpatrick's on
composition history. Thank
William - host, on August 3, 2020 @6:22 pm PST
Thanks so much! There are more in the pipeline!
Regina Parham * VSM MEMBER * on August 5, 2020 @4:53 am PST
I am looking forward to
them. Thank you, Sir.
Catherine * VSM MEMBER * on July 1, 2020 @4:51 am PST
I would love to watch more videos like this. Please, publish some more?

It is a treat to be able to understand more of the background behind some of the great works of music. Thank you Professor!
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on July 1, 2020 @8:51 am PST
That's great to know Catherine! I am sure Prof. Fitzpatrick will be thrilled to know your thoughts, and I am sure he'll have good news for you
William - host, on July 1, 2020 @11:42 pm PST
Thank you so very much! Am so pleased that you liked it!!! Am planning more!!!
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