Ravel - Menuet sur le nom d'Haydn
Ravel (1875 – 1937) was a French Impressionist composer of several, virtuosic piano pieces such as Jeux d’Eau, Miroirs and Garspard de la Nuit , as well as the beautiful, evocative piano duet, Ma Mere L’Oie (Mother Goose Suite), which he also arranged for orchestra.
Ravel was inspired by dance forms and this particular menuet was composed in 1909 to commemorate the centenary of Haydn’s death. The work is based on the ‘musical letters’ of Haydn’s name.
These are worked out in this way:
B natural is called H in some countries, so begin with H, then work through the letters, ABCDEFG; thus A is still A, Y becomes D, D remains as D and N becomes G.
Pupil Match & Suitability
Like much of Ravel’s music for piano, this is a challenging work to play really well and the student will need to have confident control of tonal nuance and balance, with a good ear for textural detail.
It is not necessary to have a larger than average hand, although there are some chords that span an octave that would not sound appropriate if arpeggiated.
Style & Tempo
The style of this piece is that of an elegant menuet, recalling the earlier, Classical music era of Haydn, yet imbued with Ravel’s own distinctive, twentieth century harmonies.
A graceful, yet dance-like character needs to be conveyed in an understated way that reflects French sophistication. In common with the music of Debussy, Ravel’s contemporary, this is music in which we observe the emotion, rather than feel it firsthand.
Phrasing & Articulation
The beginning of the piece is where we find reference to symmetrical, four-bar phrasing suitable for a minuet.
The first four bars need to be shaped using dynamic contour, with the change from piano to forte for Bars 5 -8 further defining the phrasing structure.
It is always encouraging for the student when, as in this piece, the next section is essentially a repeat of Bars 1 - 8.
Tone & Texture
Beautiful tone production is absolutely of the essence here. A singing tone is required, with chords well balanced to allow the melodic lines to be heard with ease.
Listen to the way in which Perlemuter handles the textures here in Bars 24 - 38, not only creating a lovely tone, but also defining and shaping melodic lines with perfect clarity.
The most technically challenging aspect of this piece is probably defining the textures successfully.
The technique of allowing more weight to fall on the melody notes is needed so the teacher may find it useful to stand behind the student to check that their posture is sufficiently upright yet relaxed to allow the weight of the arms to be transferred into the fingers.
Students are generally surprised to learn that holding the weight off the keys in quieter passages is actually more effort than relaxing into the key for louder sounds.
Just enough tension to keep the fingers on the keys is needed and this may be explained as a 'gripping' action, rather than a pushing action.
Fingering is reasonably straightforward in the first part of the piece, as long as choices reflect the legato character of the piece.
Standard fingering for passages in thirds is possible in the RH and a few finger changes in the LH, such as in Bars 22, 23 and 25 will enable smooth articulation to be maintained.
It might be considered that the grace notes should sound on the beat, as in ornamentation of a Haydn minuet, although in Ravel's menuet it will be noticed that most performers in fact play the grace notes before the chord.
The grace notes should be clearly and cleanly articulated as in Pizarro's playing here.
Sustaining pedal is, of course, essential for an effective interpretation and not using the pedal would be considered an antithesis to the style of the composer.
(The fact that Ravel wrote in no pedal indications is simply evidence that he considered it obvious that pedal would be used.)
It is important to give the student an understanding of Ravel's intention in dedicating this piece to Haydn's memory, which was obviously to write a piece in the style used by Haydn, that of a minuet.
Listening to Ravel's piece together, you might then compare the similar elegance of style and three time metre, but also define how and why Ravel's music sounds so different from Haydn's minuet in terms of expressive nuance and harmonic gesture.
Listen to this Haydn Minuet from Symphony No 47 in .
The rule for practice is that it should reflect, indeed replicate, the content of the lesson.
The student should therefore work on aspects such as learning the melodic lines, then progress to learning the supporting harmonies and bass lines.
Dividing the piece up into manageable chunks is always useful, gradually stitching them together seamlessly.
Students who have become comfortable in using the pedal tend at this point in their playing to become less careful with using the fingers to produce legato articulation, believing that the pedal will do this for them.
It needs to be made clear, with demonstration, that there is a difference between legato fingers with pedal, and non-legato fingers with pedal. The fingers should do the legato work here, unless this is physically impossible, such as in the RH, Bars 38 – 41.
An excellent performance will exude French charm in its portrayal of character. The essence of expressiveness here is one of eloquently communication the emotion, but never wallowing in it!
Meticulous attention to detail and nuance in phrasing, articulation, texture and tonal colour is essential. Pedalling will be tasteful and always skilfully controlled, complementing assured fluency at a well judged pace.
A good performance will incorporate many of the expressive features in an excellent interpretation.
A sense of character and style will be clear and fluency will be maintained, but there may be less poise in control of tonal qualities, perhaps occasional rhythmic unevenness or less assured control of pedalling.
A sound performance will show continuity at a suitable pace and there will be some appropriate expressive detail. There may be the odd smudge in note accuracy, but rhythms will be securely understood.
There will probably be less attention to textural detail, the phrasing might need further shape and technical control will probably be less poised than in a good performance.