Ravel, La Valse, and the Purloined Plot

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The importance of Edgar Allan Poe’s influence on Maurice Ravel has been well established, but the nature and extent of Poe’s influence remain unclear. One of the few works by Poe that Ravel had read was “The Philosophy of Composition,” a theoretical-didactic essay in which Poe described the process he purportedly used to write his poem, “The Raven.” Ravel often mentioned this essay with enthusiasm during interviews, once even citing Poe as his “third teacher” after Gabriel Fauré (composition) and André Gédalge (orchestration and counterpoint).1 Scholars typically trace Ravel’s interest in “The Philosophy of Composition” to Poe’s description of the creative process through objective, analytical terms:

It is my design to render it manifest that no one point in its composition is referable either to accident or intuition—that the work proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem.2

Poe’s stated intent encourages the perception of the author as architect, crafting a poem from figurative bricks, mortar, and sweat. Ravel earned his own reputation for artisan aesthetics through remarks like this one: “These half-formed [musical] ideas are built up automatically; I then range and order them like a mason building a wall. As you see, there’s nothing mysterious or secret in all this.”3 Given Ravel’s concern with craftsmanship, it is reasonable to conclude—as many scholars have—that the nature of Poe’s influence centered chiefly on the strategic calculus of poetic writing.4

But too much focus on Poe’s defense of craftsmanship obscures his primary artistic objective, which he professes must lie at the center of all creative works: “I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect.”5 For Poe, effect is not merely an aesthetic phenomenon but a sensation produced in the reader. Though he considers the importance of craft, proportion, and choice of poetic subject in turn, each remains subordinate to the poem’s effect, whose generative role Poe reiterates like a refrain.

If “Philosophy” was indeed the important influence that Ravel had claimed, then we may wonder whether the composer more fully embraced its message than scholars have allowed. To complement Ravel’s many remarks about the purpose and relevance of craft, we may add instances in his correspondence that reveal a calculated interest in teasing, startling, or otherwise provoking an audience. In a 1913 letter to the Board of the Société Musicale Indépendante, the composer describes a “stupendous project for a scandalous concert” that would include Pierrot lunaire, Three Japanese Lyrics, and two movements from his own Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé. Ravel notes that the works by Schoenberg and Stravinsky “will make the audience howl,” while the Mallarmé songs “will calm them down, and the people will go out whistling tunes. . . .”6

In 1900, when Ravel was first attempting to capture the elusive Prix de Rome, he expressed to a friend misgivings about his competition cantata: “I had patiently elaborated a scene from Callirhoé, and was strongly counting on its effect: the music was rather dull, prudently passionate, and its degree of boldness was accessible to those gentlemen of the Institute.”7 Here Ravel distinguishes between the music—which in his view more prosaic than provocative—and its intended impact (or effect) on the judging panel. This division suggests that Ravel’s notion of effect, like Poe’s, may encompass the relationship between the work and its audience. Ravel’s La Valse provides an ideal staging ground for exploring this relationship—one of the many lessons that Ravel learned from Poe.

 

Effect and La Valse

Early in La Valse’s performance history, audiences perceived competing, oppositional elements: light and darkness, life and death, war and peace, nostalgic past and world-weary present.8 More recent studies similarly focus on the work’s oppositional character and quasi-programmatic duality. Sevin Yaraman suggests that the apparent struggle in La Valse can be traced to an artistic anxiety of influence, with Ravel paying homage to Strauss while simultaneously attempting to free himself from the grip of his model.9 Deborah Mawer’s musical and choreographic study finds dualities on multiple structural levels, from surface-level rhythms and harmonies to large-scale antagonisms that evoke pre- and post-World War I aesthetics.10 Both Mawer and George Benjamin associate the diatonic and chromatic ends of the harmonic spectrum with formal sections that compete for prominence. When the murky chaos of the opening returns at rehearsal number 54 (R54) it subsumes, then supplants the chain of waltzes. This view is supported by Arbie Orenstein, who speaks of the “‘fatal whirling’ [which] begins to impose itself” as the work progresses.11 Ravel’s argument for the ballet, included in the preface to the Durand score, sketches choreographic events only through the end of the first waltz, leaving the remaining narrative indeterminate:

Through clearing, swirling clouds, waltzing couples may be glimpsed. The clouds disperse gradually: we discern [at letter A] an immense hall populated by a whirling crowd. The scene is illuminated by degrees. At the fortissimo [letter B], light from the chandeliers radiates forth. An imperial court, around 1855.12

The muffled rumbling of the opening forms a striking contrast with the shimmering debonair waltz themes that emerge throughout the work. Contemporary critics perceived a dual character in the work, with the waltzes portraying life, light, pre-War glamour: themes that seem to vanquish the ominous forces of the opening. As the work progresses, the waltzes are interrupted with increasing frequency and insistence by dissonant passages, bold dynamics, and raucous orchestrations. At first, the waltzes return undeterred, lulling the listener into nostalgic reveries that rock and swirl with the ceaseless motion of the dance. Yet at last the waltzes, fatally unhinged, whirl free from their orbit in a chaotic crush of sound, collapsing abruptly.

Ravel addressed the work’s perceived dualism more than once in his career, claiming that La Valse presented pure aesthetic play rather than symbolic struggle:

I did not envision a dance of death or a struggle between life and death. . . . [La Valse] is a dancing, whirling, almost hallucinatory ecstasy, an increasingly passionate and exhausting whirlwind of dancers, who are overcome and exhilarated by nothing but ‘the waltz.’13

Though Ravel repeatedly characterized the work as a play of sound and sensual pleasure, his rejection of a programmatic narrative shaped by conflict runs counter to the experience of scholars and listeners. Indeed, Ravel positions phrasing symmetry and asymmetry, diatonicism and chromaticism, regular triple rhythms and hemiola in binary oppositions, which in turn generate interpretations driven by the communal wounds of the Great War. These interpretations, unified by tragedy and longing, are at odds with the unity of effect critical to Poe’s craft. But it is this perception of opposing forces that disguises the single effect of La Valse: complex in its unexpected simplicity.

One of Poe’s tales, “The Imp of the Perverse,” describes a type of effect produced through simultaneously attractive and repulsive forces. The tale initially takes the tone of a speculative essay in which Poe describes perversity as an irrational impulse to pursue experiences, sensations, and courses of actions known to be destructive. Poe’s most compelling description of the perverse appears when he invites us to stand on the edge of a cliff and contemplate the depths below:

We peer into the abyss—we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness and dizziness and horror become merged in a cloud of unnamable [sic] feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows a shape, far more terrible than any genius or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height . . . . And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the most impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a plunge.14

This moment of hesitation admits conflicting emotions and states of mind to exist simultaneously, allowing an irrational attraction to danger while shrinking from it as logic (or perhaps common sense) intercedes.15 While Poe’s use of “perverse” may conjure different associations in our time than in his, the phenomenon it represents still thrives as a topic of scholarly inquiry in literary, artistic and, to a lesser degree, musical circles. Substituting the term “grotesque” for “perverse,” as Poe scholar David Halliburton does,16 we are able to speak of a phenomenon that merges opposing emotional states which, despite their contrary character, may trigger the same physiological and psychological sensations.

There has been extensive discussion of the grotesque in art and literature, with some disagreement over its characterization. Wolfgang Kayser’s foundational study notes the difficulty in attempting to define the grotesque, which cannot be classified according to visual cues; rather, the grotesque gains identity when the viewer interacts emotionally, psychologically, or physiologically with a work. Although there is no consensus about the precise nature of the grotesque, most scholars acknowledge that its fundamental characteristic is a unity among disjunction achieved by transgressing boundaries and fusing opposites. At the same time, scholars acknowledge that the grotesque is not a trans-historical phenomenon, since it assumes various meanings in different eras and cultures. In France, the grotesque assumed a prominent role in nineteenth-century aesthetics with Victor Hugo’s 1827 preface to Cromwell—a work Poe had either read in translation or knew second-hand through an article in The Foreign Quarterly Review.17 The grotesque may be central to a work like La Valse, which so many listeners and critics perceive as a duality that functions in musical, structural, and aesthetic contexts.

 

Motivic and Harmonic Unity

Listeners who apprehend La Valse as a struggle over cultural and historical memory may hear in the work’s opening the musical equivalent of primordial ooze: a time before memory, before culture, whose obscurity gives way to order. The transition from motivic fragments to melodies, irregular to binary phrase lengths, and harmonic searching to tonal stability reflects on a larger formal scale the E-F antagonism on the phrase level, in which the double bass, harp, and timpani engage in a contest for pitch priority. For the first thirty-five measures the bass section executes a three-way divisi: two-thirds perform tremolos oscillating between E-F or E-A flat, while one-third plays an accented E on the downbeat, followed by an F on beat two. At the same time, the harp and timpani enter every third beat on F, creating a mild density accent as the harp plucks four strings simultaneously (Example 1).18

Example 1. “Oppositional” bass and harmonic haze, mm. 1-8. 

 

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When the bassoons enter (R1) seeking stable harmonic turf, the other instruments refuse to grant it: both the E-F exchange and the attendant haze of tremolos in the strings persist undeterred. Stability arrives at R9 with the D major waltz (W1): the first in a suite of five waltzes with numbers three, four, and five separated by an Eingang (E1, E2), a transitional section in a Straussian waltz traditionally demarcated by double bar lines. The contrast between the opening and W1 also previews the compartmental organization of La Valse, in which varying degrees of musical stability and instability create the perception of opposites that Ravel skillfully and surreptitiously undermines. This point may be demonstrated by his treatment of a central rhythmic motive.

Beginning in measure 12, the bassoons present the work’s first quasi-melodic material. The upper voice of the two-measure motive outlines a tritone centered around D; harmonically, Ravel divides a D half-diminished seventh chord between the bassoons, employing the same partitioning for successive appearances (see Example 2, which shows the opening motive from the first and third phrases). At the transition (R5), shades of D major accompany a new character in the music—suave, buoyant, and refined, presenting a sharp contrast with the dissonant tremolos and fragmented melodic questioning of the opening. Had Ravel wanted to heighten this contrast, he might have introduced a new theme with a character distinct from the opening bassoon motive. Instead, he varies the motive’s intervallic content, orchestration, and phrase structure while sneaking its rhythms into the transitional melody, including the slurs (Example 2). Despite marked differences in character between the opening and the transition, rhythmic invariance from motive to melody seems to dissolve rather than dramatize structural boundaries.

Example 2. Shared rhythmic motive in the opening (R1) and the transition (R5).


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The transition marks the first of many instances in which Ravel manipulates the opening rhythmic motive to maintain unity in both structure and effect. After associating it with haunting disorientation and winsome elegance in turn, Ravel presents it in yet another context—a swaggering, celebratory statement that occurs six times in succession at the end of W2, from R16-17B (Example 3). The motive’s muted rumbling in the opening could hardly be more different from its triumphant flourishing at R17B, the moment in the argument when “light from the chandeliers radiates forth”19 to banish earlier shadows from memory. Ravel challenges the inclination to interpret these sections in oppositional terms, exchanging motivic transformation for evident similarity.

The same motive that thrives both in disorienting and celebratory contexts also participates in the gradual disintegration of the waltz. Following a recapitulation of sorts (R54), the motive returns in the oboes and flutes at R66, yoking two pairs of measures into symmetrical binary phrases, just as it did in the transition. A slur groups the eighth note with the two notes that follow, recalling the same pattern in both the opening and the transition (Example 3, compare Example 2). When the motive recurs at R68, several instruments alternately conspire to disrupt its phrase symmetry and predictable accent patterns. Offbeat entrances obscure the triple waltz rhythm, while phrase extensions expand the binary phrase first to three, then four measures in length. The motive survives further disruptions at R88, where its emphatic repetition alternates with chromatic tone clusters; by R97, it achieves a heft previously unmatched in volume or instrumental forces, charged with an electric energy that propels recklessly toward the coda.

Example 3. Successive presentations of the opening motive, arranged by rhythmic similarity.


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Whether ominous or elegant, triumphant or tragic, the rhythmic motive transcends musical character and context. Alterations to it are slight—a shortening of duration here, an implied downbeat there—and scarcely noticeable given the tempo and whirling machinery of the dance. Though Ravel sometimes fragments or interrupts the motive, he does so irrespective of formal constraints, preventing an association between motivic dissolution and structural instability: instances of fragmentation are scattered throughout the work.20 The attractive, repetitive force of the motive thus overcomes the formal repulsion of contrasting sections, making the effect achieved not one of disparate dualities, but a union of opposites: Poe’s imp of the perverse or, in modern parlance, the grotesque.

Many listeners and critics have perceived Ravel’s genteel waltzes as contrasting with the opening and the climax through adversarial exchanges of consonance and dissonance, harmonic stability and instability, symmetrical and asymmetrical phrase structures. Yet Ravel’s disruptions of tonal language are apparent from the very first waltz, in which a Straussian framework—a melody harmonized in thirds and supported by alternating V-I bass movement—is continuously under assault by chromatic passing tones. (See Example 4, in which dissonant intervals and cross-relations are indicated with arrows in the top system.) Intersections among tremolos and arpeggiated figures produce minor seconds and tritones, with these same intervals occurring between the viola melody and its accompaniment. Registral transfers through three octaves of arpeggios carve jagged melodic sevenths (G# down to A) and ninths (A down to G#), further emphasizing both harmonic dissonance and cross-relations.

Example 4. First waltz (W1), four measures after R9A.


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Ravel’s passing tones occur with enough frequency and registral variation to command the listener’s attention, inviting a challenge to their accompanimental status. During moments of rest in the melody, minor-second tremolos in the low strings emerge into the foreground (see the fourth measure of Example 4), interrupting the string of consonant thirds and recalling the dissonant haze of tremolos from the opening—music that seems remote in the midst of binary phrases, lyrical melodies, and gaudy portamento. Seeds of darkness and uncertainty from the opening bear fruit in W1, foreshadowing the apocalyptic clash to come.

The third waltz (W3) likewise demonstrates that the dance’s polished sheen is rarely free from dissonant blemishes. Like W1, arpeggios accompany the waltz melody, with occasional cross-relations biting into tonal harmonies, though W3 also incorporates dissonance within the leaps and bends of the melody itself. The demure charm of W3 abuts the first Eingang (E1), whose precarious exuberance portends the waltz’s fragmentation and destruction. Just as Ravel could have heightened the contrast between the opening section and the waltz transition by employing different motives for each, so too could he have underscored an oppositional relationship between W3 and E1. He might have written a melody in Straussian homage, trading chromaticism for consonance and articulated third beats for strengthened downbeats. (Example 5 shows a Straussian recomposition of the melody, as well as a rhythmically simplified version of it.) Ravel’s melody may well be an homage, but it is also a virtual parody of Strauss, deliberately emphasizing melodic discord: the melody’s largest leaps are pungent major sevenths rather than sixths, while the bassline, which grounds tonic and dominant harmonies throughout the passage, initiates each melodic statement with a tritone.

Example 5. In (a), W3 melody (R18/1-7). In (b) and (c), recompositions à la Strauss.


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The suave waltzes lull with distracting special effects—strings played sur la touche with mutes, harmonics, portamenti, glissandi—but despite their charm, they cannot exorcise the sinister spirit of the opening, with which they share common themes. Dissonance, chromaticism, and distinctive rhythmic motives associated with darkness persist throughout La Valse, not in opposition to the waltzes but in harmony with them. Oppositional materials collide—with or without the listener’s recognition—as binary and asymmetrical phrases coexist with tonal and octatonic harmony, glossy and cacophonous orchestration. Through the whirl of the dance, at once sickening, dizzying, and exhilarating, the listener experiences a merging of physiological sensations evoking the grotesque: a single effect that promotes contradiction within unity.

 

Perception and the Purloined Plot

In repudiating interpretations of La Valse as “a struggle between life and death,” Ravel estranged himself from generations of critics and audiences, who overwhelmingly apprehend the work through the vocabulary of conflict. It is easy, and sometimes useful, to dismiss the composer’s own commentary on his works with the judgment that it is myopic, overly subjective, or irrelevant to the experience of audiences who interact with the work itself, and not the intellect behind it. Yet accepting Ravel’s singular perception of La Valse as merely the product of the composer’s prerogative may obscure an important aesthetic force behind the work.

The perceptions that position Ravel and his interpreters in oppositional duality parallel those of Poe’s ratiocinative tale, “The Purloined Letter.” The tale is puzzling for readers in many ways, since the crime and the criminal are known from the outset, and detective Dupin’s manner of besting the criminal is both extremely elementary and potentially unethical. When the prefect of police complains to Dupin express confusion about the case, he seems to be voicing the reader’s own assessment of “Purloined”: “The fact is, we have all been a good deal puzzled because the affair is so simple, and yet baffles us altogether.”21 Poe once wrote of the Dupin stories that readers’ understanding of his craft differed considerably from his own: “I do not mean to say that [these tales] are not ingenious—but people think them more ingenious than they are—on account of their method and air of method.”22

If the grotesque overcomes dualism in La Valse, then Poe’s statement on effect and craft introduces a new duality, born not of formal conflict, aesthetic disjunction, or psychic anxiety, but of perception. In La Valse, listeners typically interpret the quiet restlessness of the opening, with its fragmented themes and disrupted phrase structures, as an introduction. We await harmonic stability, purposeful melodies, rhythmic regularity, and we receive it, to some degree, with the arrival of the first D major waltz, which provides “a sense of the real beginning.”23 Swept up in the sensual, patrician elegance of the ballroom, we momentarily forget the chaotic coach ride that brought us there. At E1, we hear a hint of struggle with the waltz themes, a perception reinforced by E2, which grows more insistent, dissonant, and dangerously exuberant.

We now expect that the remainder of the work will showcase the struggle between light and dark, life and death, and we expect light to emerge victorious: prior experience with orchestral works, whether symphonic or programmatic, conditions us to hear the work-as-struggle (as evidenced by Beethoven’s Third, Fifth, and Ninth Symphonies, Mahler’s Second, Third, and Eighth, or Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra).24 La Valse pays off dramatically, but not in the way we expect, tilting in favor of restless chaos before coming unhinged from the whirling vortex, ending in cataclysm rather than triumph. Just as Poe’s conscientious dissembling encourages readers to revisit his tale for its “secret,” so too does La Valse invite listeners to reinterpret perceptions formed in the first hearing.

What did Ravel learn from Poe? Not only the art of craft, but its perception: the manipulation of aesthetic effect for an audience. Ravel, who claims not to have viewed La Valse as a struggle, constructed it in such a way that listeners could disagree; the work does alternate between buoyant waltzes and unsettled transitions before unleashing its lengthy dramatic climax. Yet he also subverts and manipulates expectations: motivic unity binds contrasting sections, while dissonant passing tones and melodic interruptions figure prominently in conventionally tonal waltzes.

Though we may perceive the dark, restless opening as introductory, this section, like the first few paragraphs of “The Purloined Letter,” tells us all we need to know about how the remainder will unfold. Ravel’s “method” in La Valse baffles through its simplicity: the disquiet inspired by the opening merely prefigures the howling ending, while the attractive waltzes and destructive climax may be grouped as grotesque. Yet the work’s “air of method” fractures the effect, capitalizes on misplaced expectations, and suits up in battle armor to enact an aesthetic and formal struggle for the listener—a battle which, for Ravel, may not exist.

 

Bibliography

Benjamin, George. “Last Dance.” The Musical Times 135 (July 1994): 432-35.

C.v.W. “The French Music Festival: An Interview with Maurice Ravel.” De Telegraaf (September 30, 1922). In Orenstein, Ravel Reader, 425.

Downes, Olin. “Maurice Ravel, Man and Musician.” The New York Times (August 7, 1927). In Orenstein, Ravel Reader, 450.

Frushell, Richard C. “‘An Incarnate Night-Mare’: Moral Grotesquerie in ‘The Black Cat.’” Poe Newsletter 5 (December 1972): 43-44.

Halliburton, David. “Poe’s Aesthetics.” In A Companion to Poe Studies, edited by Eric W. Carlson, 427-447. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996.

Kelly, Barbara. “History and Homage.” In The Cambridge Companion to Ravel, ed- ited by Deborah Mawer, 7-26. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Lindenlaub, T. “À travers les concerts” [review of La Valse]. Le Temps (December 28, 1920).

Mawer, Deborah. “Ravel and the Apotheosis of the Dance.” In The Cambridge Companion to Ravel, edited by Deborah Mawer, 140-161. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Nichols, Roger, ed. Ravel Remembered. London: Faber & Faber, 1987.

Orenstein, Arbie. Ravel: Man and Musician. New York: Columbia University Press, 1975.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Imp of the Perverse.” In The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, 280-284. New York: Modern Library, 1965.

______. The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe. Edited by John Ward Ostrom. Vol. 2. Cam- bridge: Harvard University Press, 1948.

______. “The Philosophy of Composition.” In The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by James A. Harrison, 193-208. Vol. 14. New York: AMS Press, 1965.

______. “The Purloined Letter.” In The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, 208-222. New York: Modern Library, 1965.

Pollin, Burton R. Discoveries in Poe. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1970.

Ravel, Maurice. A Ravel Reader: Correspondence, Articles, Interviews. Translated and edited by Arbie Orenstein. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990. Reprint, Mineola, NY: Dover, 2003.

______. Maurice Ravel: Lettres, Écrits, Entretiens. Translated and edited by Arbie Orenstein. Harmoniques: Série écrits de musiciens, ed. Jean-Michel Nectoux. Paris: Flammarion, 1989.

Thompson, G. R. Poe’s Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1973.

Viñes, Ricardo. “Le Journal inédit de Ricardo Viñes.” Translated and edited by Nina Gubish. Revue internationale de musique française 1, no. 2 (1980): 154-248.

Yaraman, Sevin. Revolving Embrace: The Waltz as Sex, Steps, and Sound. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon, 2002.

 

Endnotes

1Downes, “Man and Musician,” 450.

2Poe, “Philosophy of Composition,” 195.

3Nichols, ed., Ravel Remembered, 55.

4In his Ravel biography Arbie Orenstein cites “Philosophy” at length, suggesting that the composer appreciated Poe’s description of logic tempering inspiration (Man and Musician, 128-29). Deborah Mawer attributes Ravel’s interest to Poe’s treatment of the compositional process through “objectified and mathematical terms” (“Musical Objects and Machines,” 50). Barbara Kelly’s discussion of Ravel and Poe emphasizes calculation, craft, and brevity (“History and Homage,” 16).

5Poe, “Philosophy,” 194.

6Ravel to S.M.I Board, in Ravel Reader, 135.

7Ravel to Dumitru Kiriac, in Ravel Reader, 57.

8T. Lindenlaub’s review, which typifies critical perspectives in the 1920s and early 1930s, describes Ravel’s imaginative trip to a Viennese past where blithe, spirited waltzes collide with anguished modern counterparts. See “À travers les concerts,” Le Temps (December 28, 1920).

9Yaraman, Revolving Embrace, 108.

10Mawer, “Ravel,” 154.

11Benjamin, “Last Dance,” 433-435; Mawer, “Ravel,” 154; Orenstein, Ravel, 189. The phrase “fatal whirling,” borrowed by Orenstein, may have been Ravel’s own; it appears in the “Autobiographical Sketch” drafted by Roland-Manuel and reportedly dictated by Ravel. See Ravel Reader, 29-33.

12“Arguments de ballet de Ravel,” in Lettres, Écrits, Entretiens, 385. “Des nuées tourbillonnantes laissent entrevoir, par éclaircies, des couples de valseurs. Elles se dissipent peu à peu: on distingue une immense salle peuplée d’une foule tournoyante. La scène s’éclaire progressivement. La lumière des lustres éclate au fortissimo. Une Cour impériale, vers 1855.” The manuscript that contained a more thorough description of the scenario is lost.

13C.v.W., “Interview with Maurice Ravel,” 425.

14Poe, “Imp of the Perverse,” 282.

15Poe explores this phenomenon more fully in another tale, “A Descent into the Maelström,” which Ravel had read. Ravel’s close friend, Ricardo Viñes, recorded in a journal entry dated August 1892 that Ravel showed him sketches he drew based on “MS. Found in a Bottle” and “Maelström.” See Viñes, “Journal,” 183.

16 Halliburton, “Poe’s Aesthetics,” 442. Richard C. Frushell also associates the grotesque with perversity in “An Incarnate Night-Mare,” 43-44.

17Pollin, Discoveries in Poe, 4; Thompson, Poe’s Fiction, 110. Following Hugo’s, other French discourses that explored the grotesque included Théophile Gautier’s Les Grotesques (1834-35), Charles Baudelaire’s “De l’essence du rire” (1855), and Hector Berlioz’s Les Grotesques de la musique (1859).

18The harpist plays two E#s and two Fs simultaneously. Idiosyncrasies of the harp allow composers to treat enharmonic pitches as distinct, since there are natural, sharp, and flat forms for each string. In this case, the sharp pedal is applied to the E string while the F string is played simultaneously.

19See Ravel’s preface to the Durand score, n12.

20See, for example, the opening, the transition, R69, and R93.

21Poe, “Purloined Letter,” 209.

22Poe, Letters, 328.

23Mawer, “Ravel,” 153.

24La Valse was intended to be a ballet, but it was first performed in a concert hall following a rift between Ravel and Serge Diaghilev. It is in this context that audiences have come to know the work.

 

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Last modified on Monday, 01/10/2018

Jessie Fillerup

Jessie Fillerup is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where she teaches courses in music appreciation, music history, American music, and women in music. She has presented research on Ravel, music history pedagogy, and fin-de-siecle French music at national and international conferences, and her publications include articles and reviews in the College Music Symposium, Fontes Artis Musicae, the Journal of Military History, and Vitalizing Music History Teaching (edited by Jim Briscoe).

She is the recipient of an NEH "Enduring Questions" grant, which supports the development and teaching of a course exploring a pre-disciplinary foundational question in the humanities. In 2006, she co-founded the Pedagogy Study Group of the American Musicological Study (AMS) and served as chair for four years. Currently she serves as Review Editor for the Journal of Music History Pedagogy.

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