Miroirs, by Maurice Ravel

August 29, 2013

Maurice Ravel’s Miroirs, a set of five piano pieces composed between 1904 and 1905, deserves to be performed and heard more often. Its intellectual and technical challenges require immersed study and practice. But the rewards are numerous, as I discovered during my own journey. I first began working on Maurice Ravel’s Miroirs as a teenager: my piano teacher, Prof. Barbara Szczepanska, had given me the score as a gift following a recital at her home in Germany. I had mastered Ravel’s Jeux d’eau by then, but was baffled by the increased complexity and dissonances found in Miroirs and soon gave up trying to learn any of it. As an undergraduate student of Dr. Marc Silverman at the Manhattan School of Music, I returned to the score and learned the two longest pieces in the set: Une barque sur l’Océan and Alborada del gracioso, delighting in my newfound technical skills. Yet it was not until a decade later that I decided to complete the set by learning the three remaining pieces: Noctuelles, Oiseaux tristes and La vallée des cloches. By now, I had done research on Ravel and could approach these pieces with a deeper understanding. The artistry of each individual piece motivated my desire to perform and record the complete set: a wish that came true in 2012 and 2013. My journey with Miroirs that had spanned two decades and two continents had finally come to a stop. My admiration for Ravel’s genius though will continue.

Recording Date: April 2013
Recording Location: Millikin University
Ensemble Type: Solo piano
Performer: Chung-Ha Kim

About the Music

Composer: Maurice Ravel
Instrumentation: Solo piano

Maurice Ravel’s Miroirs mark the beginning of a new period in his life and compositional style. Composed between 1904 and 1905, the five pieces in this collection depart from the style championed by the French “Académie des Beaux-Arts”, and instead, feature increased complexity and Ravel’s unique personal style. Noctuelles, the opening piece, aptly captures the fluttering of moths who seem to pause only briefly mid-way through the piece. Binary sequences, while present in all of the pieces in this set, are especially obvious in this one. Oiseaux tristes, dedicated to Ravel’s friend, pianist Ricardo Viñes, creates a haunting atmosphere in which bird calls penetrate an oppressive landscape. A Fibonacci golden section arch leads to the start of its cadenza (revealing Ravel’s love for mathematics). Une barque sur l’Océan vividly captures the image of a small boat navigating the waves of an ocean, while Alborada del gracioso showcases Ravel’s Basque heritage: strong rhythmic figures, and arpeggiated chords that imitate the strumming of a guitar lend an unmistakably Spanish flavor to this piece. Ravel’s love of bell sonorities dominates the last piece in this set: La vallée des cloches. Featuring the sounds of many different bells that join together before subsiding, La vallée des cloches creates a sense of open space through careful layering and use of registers. 


Oiseaux tristes

Une barque sur l'ocean

Alborada del gracioso

La vallée des cloches

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