The conductor Stanisław Skrowaczewski (born October 3, 1923) was born in Lwów, Poland (now L'viv, Ukraine) and became best known for his work with the Minnesota Orchestra.
As a child, he studied piano and violin; he was a very good pianist, making his debut in that capacity with Beethoven's Piano Concerto
No. 3 in C minor. Unfortunately, a hand injury ended his piano career.
After World War II, Skrowaczewski became music director of the Wrocław Philharmonic, then the Katowice Philharmonic, the Kraków Philharmonic and the Warsaw National Orchestra. He studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. In 1956 he won the Santa Cecilia Competition for Conductors.
At the invitation of George Szell, Skrowaczewski conducted the Cleveland Orchestra. In 1960 he was appointed music director of the
Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (which was renamed the Minnesota Orchestra under his tenure in 1968), a position he held until 1979 when he was awarded conductor laureate. In 1981 the American Composers' Forum commissioned the Clarinet Concerto, which Skrowaczewski wrote for Minnesota Orchestra principal clarinetist Joe Longo, who premiered it in 1981.
From 1984 to 1991 he was principal conductor of the Hallé Orchestra. In 1988, he was composer-in-residence for the Philadelphia
Orchestra's summer season at Saratoga. He has guest-conducted that orchestra, and many others, all over the world.
His complete set of recordings of the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, made with the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra has been awarded much acclaim.
Skrowaczewski's Passacaglia Immaginaria, completed in 1995, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1997. Commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestral Association to honor the memory of Ken and Judy Dayton, it was premiered at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis in 1996.
The Chamber Concerto was commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in memory of Leopold Sipe, their first music director. The
Concerto for Orchestra got a Pulitzer nod in 1999.
He received the Commander Order of the White Eagle, the highest order conferred by the Polish government, as well as the Gold Medal of the Mahler-Bruckner Society, the 1976 Kennedy Center Friedheim Award.
The Minnesota Orchestra is an American orchestra that was founded in 1903 by Emil Oberhoffer as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. The group's fist performance took place on November 5 of that year. The name was changed in 1968, and in 1974, the organization moved from its regular performance venue of Northrop Memorial Auditorium at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus to Orchestra Hall in the city's downtown district.
Oberhoffer was the Minnesota Orchestra's principal conductor until 1922. He has been followed by Henry Verbrugghen (1923–31); Eugene Ormandy (1931–36); Dimitri Mitropoulos (1937–49); Antal Doráti (1949-60); Stanisław Skrowaczewski (1960–80) and Neville Marriner (1979–86); Edo de Waart (1986–95); and Eiji Oue (1995–2002). In 2002, Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä was appointed the ensemble's 10th music director and took the podium in September 2003. In 2005, Vänskä extended his tenure with the Minnesota Orchestra through 2011.
The orchestra first began recording in 1924, producing a significant number of records through the Great Depression. In 1954, the group
made the first complete recordings of Tchaikovsky's three ballets: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker. That same year, they
also made the first recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture to include actual cannon fire. This recording was in monophonic sound, so
the performance was repeated in 1958 for a stereo production. More recently, the group has begun recording the Beethoven symphony cycle to wide acclaim, beginning with the Fourth and Fifth in 2004. The next installment is due out August 2006.
In 1980, the Minnesota Orchestra began two traditions which have since caught on with other ensembles nationwide and worldwide: First, the conductor began to give a pre-orchestra presentation on the works to be presented and their composer, and second, it began a pre-season concert series, called Sommerfest (originally Viennese Sommerfest), which runs from mid-July to mid-August, before the
concert season officially begins in September.
Joseph-Maurice Ravel (March 7, 1875 – December 28, 1937) was a French composer and pianist, known especially for the subtlety,
richness, and poignancy of his music and generally considered to be one of the major composers of the 20th century. His piano, chamber
music, and orchestral works have become staples in the repertoire. Ravel's piano compositions, such as Miroirs and Gaspard de la Nuit
are virtuosic, and his orchestrations, such as in Daphnis et Chloé and his orchestral arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an
Exhibition, are notable for the effective use of tonal color and variety of sound and instrumentation. To the general public he is
probably best known for his orchestral work, Boléro, which he considered a trivial work and once described as "a piece for orchestra
without music". According to Sacem, Ravel currently earns more royalties than any other French musician, making him (for now at least)
officially France's most popular composer.
Ravel was born in Ciboure, France near Biarritz, part of the French Basque region, bordering on Spain. His mother, Marie Delouart, was
Basque while his father, Joseph Ravel, was a Swiss inventor and industrialist. A few of Joseph's inventions are quite important; among
them are an early internal combustion engine and a notorious circus machine, "The Whirlwind of Death" (an automotive loop-the-loop that was quite a hit in the early 1900s). After the family moved to Paris, Ravel's younger brother Edouard was born. At seven years old,
young Maurice began piano lessons and composed pieces beginning about five or six years later. His parents encouraged his musical
pursuits and sent him to the Conservatoire de Paris, first as a preparatory student and eventually as a piano major. During his
schooling in Paris, Ravel joined with a number of innovative young artists who referred to themselves as the "Apaches" ("hooligans")
because of their wild abandon. The group was well known for its drunken revelry.
He studied music at the Conservatoire under Gabriel Fauré for a remarkable fourteen years. During his years at the conservatory, Ravel
tried numerous times to win the prestigious Prix de Rome, but to no avail. After a scandal involving his loss of the prize in 1905 (to
Victor Gallois), even though he was considered the favourite to win that year, Ravel left the conservatory. The incident—named the
Ravel Affair by the Parisian press—also led to the resignation of the Conservatoire's director, Théodore Dubois.
While many critics claim Ravel was influenced by composer Claude Debussy, Ravel himself claimed he was much more influenced by Mozart and Couperin, whose compositions are much more structured and classical in form. Ravel and Debussy were, however, clearly the defining composers of the impressionist movement. Ravel was also highly influenced by music from around the world including American Jazz, Asian music, and traditional folk songs from across Europe. Ravel was not religious and was probably an atheist. He disliked the overtly religious themes of other composers, such as Richard Wagner, and instead preferred to look to classical mythology for inspiration. In 1907, after the premiere of Histoires Naturelles a controversy erupted. Pierre Lalo criticised the work as plagiarism of Debussy;
however criticism was quickly silenced after the Rhapsodie espagnole was received with such high critical acclaim.
Ravel would go on to work with ballet choreographer Sergei Diaghilev who staged Ma Mère l'Oye and Daphnis et Chloé. The latter was
commissioned by Diaghilev with the lead danced by the great Vaslav Nijinsky. Ravel would, however, continue his feud with the French
musical establishment: In 1920, the French government awarded him with the Legion d'honneur, but Ravel refused. Soon, he retired to the French countryside where he continued to write music albeit less prolifically.
In 1928, Ravel for the first time began a piano tour in America. In New York City, he received a moving standing ovation which he
remarked was unlike any of his underwhelming premieres in Paris. That same year, Oxford University awarded him with an honorary
Ravel never married, but he did have several long-running relationships. Many of his friends have suggested that Ravel was known to
frequent the bordellos of Paris, but the issue of his sexuality remains largely a mystery. Though Maurice considered his small size and light weight an advantage to becoming a pilot, during the First World War Ravel was not allowed to enlist as a pilot because of his age and weak health. Instead, upon his enlistment, Maurice Ravel became a truck driver. He named his truck "Adelaide." Most references to what he drove in the war indicate it was an artillery truck or generic truck. No first hand reference mentions him driving an ambulance.
His few students included Maurice Delage and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
In 1932 Ravel was involved in an automobile accident that severely undermined his health. His output dropped dramatically. In 1937 he
had a neuro-operation that he hoped would restore much of his health, but the operation was a failure and he died soon afterwards. He
is buried in Levallois Perret (West part of Paris, France).
Ravel considered himself in many ways a classicist. He relied on traditional forms and structures as ways of presenting his new and
innovative harmonies. He often masked the sections of his structure with transitions that would disguise the beginnings of the motif.
This is apparent in his Valses nobles et sentimentales — inspired by Franz Schubert's collections, Valses nobles and Valses
sentimentales — where the seven movements begin and end without pause, and in his chamber music where many movements are in
sonata-allegro form, hiding the change from developmental sections to recapitulation.
Though Ravel's music is certainly tonal, it was innovative for the time period. In keeping with the French school pioneered by
Chabrier, Satie, and Debussy (to name a few), Ravel's melodies are almost exclusively modal. When he uses major or minor scales, he
treats them modally (the mixolydian and aeolian modes, respectively). As a result, there are virtually no leading tones in his output.
Melodically, he tended to favor two modes: the Dorian and the Phrygian. He was in no way dependent on the modes exclusively; he used
extended harmonies and intricate modulations outside the realm of traditional modal practices. Ravel was fond of chords of the ninth
and eleventh, and the acidity of his harmonies is largely the result of a fondness for unresolved appoggiaturas (listen to the Valses
Nobles et Sentimentales). His piano music, some of which is noted for its technical challenges (for example Gaspard de la nuit), was an
extension of Lisztian virtuosity. Even his most difficult pieces, however, are marked by elegance and refinement. He was inspired by
various dances, his favorite being the minuet. Other forms from which Ravel drew material include the forlane, rigaudon, waltz,
czardas, habanera, passacaglia, and the bolero.
Ravel has almost always been considered one of the two great French musical Impressionists (the other being Debussy), but in reality he
is much more than a mere Impressionist. In his A la maniere de…Borodine (In the manner of…Borodine), Ravel plays with the ability
to both mimic and remain original. In a more complex situation, A la maniere de…Emmanuel Chabrier /Paraphrase sur un air de Gounod
("Faust IIème acte"), Ravel takes on a theme from Gounod's Faust and arranges it in the style of Emmanuel Chabrier. Even in writing in
the style of others, Ravel's own voice as a composer remained distinct.
Ravel had very meticulously crafted manuscripts. Unfortunately, early printed editions of his works were prone to errors.
Painstakingly, he would work with his publisher, Durand, in correcting them. In a letter, Ravel wrote that when proofing L'enfant et
les sortilèges, after many other editors had proofread the opera, he could still find ten errors per page. Each piece was carefully
crafted, although Ravel wished that, like the historical composers he admired, he could write a great quantity of works. Igor
Stravinsky once referred to Ravel as the "Swiss Watchmaker", a reference to the intricacy and precision of Ravel's works.
On the surface, he was influenced by Debussy, but also the music of Russia, Spain and the jazz music of the United States, as reflected
in the movement titled Blues from his G major violin sonata. He also once stated that he had never written a piece not influenced by
Ravel wrote, in 1928, that composers should be aware of both individual and national consciousness. That year, Ravel had toured the
United States and Canada by train performing piano recitals in the great concert halls of twenty-five cities. In their reluctance to
take jazz and blues as a nationalistic style of music, he stated America's composers' "greatest fear is to find themselves confronted
by mysterious urges to break academic rules rather than belie individual consciousness. Thereupon these musicians, good bourgeois as
they are, compose their music according to the classical rules of the European epoch." When American composer George Gershwin met
Ravel, he mentioned that he would have liked to study with the French composer if that were possible. The Frenchman retorted, "Why
should you be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?"
His two piano concertos in many ways reflect the style of Gershwin. Of the Concerto in G, Ravel said the concertos of Mozart and
Saint-Saëns served as his model. He intended to write an earlier concerto, Zazpiak Bat, but it was never finished. The title reflects
his Basque heritage: meaning 'The Seven Are One', it refers to the seven Basque regions, and was a motto often used in connection with
the idea of a Basque nation. Surviving notes and fragments also confirm that this naturally was to be heavily influenced by Basque
music. Instead, Ravel abandoned the piece, using its nationalistic themes and rhythms in some of his other pieces.
Ravel commented that André Gédalge, his professor of counterpoint, was very important in the development of his skill as a composer. As
an orchestrator, Ravel studied the ability of each instrument carefully in order to determine the possible effects. This may account
for the success of his orchestral transcriptions, both of his own piano works and those of other composers, such as Modest Mussorgsky.
Boléro - You either hate it or love it
The Boléro is arguably Maurice Ravel's (1875-1937) most famous musical composition. Interestingly, Ravel had a reputation for composing
experimental instrumental music, and he had never written for the ballet before. Boléro was one of the last pieces that Ravel composed before illness forced him into retirement. The only works he wrote after this were the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, the Piano Concerto in G major, and the song cycle "Trois chansons de Don Quichotte à Dulcinée".
The work had its genesis in a commission from the dancer Ida Rubinstein, who asked Ravel to create a ballet score with a Spanish
character. The original plan had been for him to orchestrate excerpts from Isaac Albéniz' set of piano pieces, Iberia, but he was
unable to obtain the rights to do so, since Albéniz had given the rights of orchestration to his pupil Ferdinand Enrique Arbos. Upon
Arbos's hearing of this, he said he would happily allow Ravel to orchestrate the pieces. However, Ravel instead wrote a brand new piece
based on the Spanish dance and musical form called bolero.
The composition was a great success when it was premiered at the Paris Opéra on November 22, 1928, with choreography by Bronislava
Nijinska and designs by Benois. It has remained somewhat popular ever since, though is usually played as a purely orchestral work, only
rarely being staged as a ballet. Ravel purported to be somewhat embarrassed that a composition which was, in his words, "without
music", should become so well known. Apparently, at the premiere, a woman declared that Ravel was mad. When told about this, Ravel
remarked, "Aha! She understood the piece!"
The piece was first published by the Parisian firm Durand in 1929. Arrangements of the piece were made for piano solo and piano duet
(two people playing at one piano), and Ravel himself composed a version for two pianos, published in 1930.
Boléro is written for a large orchestra consisting of two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, oboe d'amore, cor anglais, E-flat clarinet, two
B-flat clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, piccolo trumpet in D, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba,
three saxophones (one sopranino, one soprano and one tenor- one of the first large ensemble pieces to employ the virtually new family),
timpani, two snare drums, cymbals, tam-tam, celesta, harp and strings (violins, violas, cellos and double basses). An average
performance will last in the area of fifteen minutes, with some recordings extending as long as 18 minutes. The original version by
Ravel took 17 minutes 6 seconds.
The composition has a very simple structure—it consists almost entirely of one melody and one countermelody, repeated over and over
again, orchestrated differently each time, but otherwise unchanging. It begins quietly, with the melody played in C major by a flute
over an ostinato rhythm played on a snare drum that continues throughout the piece:
The melody is passed between different instruments, clarinet, bassoon, E-flat clarinet, oboe d'amore, trumpet, saxophone, horn,
trombone and so on. The accompaniment becomes gradually thicker and louder until the whole orchestra is playing at the very end. This
progression from soft to loud in volume is called a crescendo. Just before the end (rehearsal number 18 in the score), there is a
sudden change of key to E major, though C major is reestablished after just eight bars. Six bars from the end, the bass drum, cymbals
and tam-tam make their first entry, and the trombones play raucous glissandi while the whole orchestra beats out the rhythm that has
been played on the snare drum from the very first bar. The work ends on a C major chord.
1. "Bolero" (17:172)
2. "Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte" (6:56)
3. "Rapsodie Espagnol" (16:15)
4. "La Valse, poeme choregraphique" (12:24)
Listen! You can hear a difference! Enjoy it!
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