Maurice Ravel: Jeux d’eau

Context

Composed in 1901 when Maurice Ravel was under the tutelage of Gabriel Fauré, Jeux d’eau (‘Fountains’ / ‘Water Games’) was dedicated to the composer’s tutor. The first premiere of the piece came at a private viewing for the Les Apaches. The public premiere came in 1902, with Ricardo Viñes playing the piano. Inspired by Franz Liszt’s Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este, Ravel explained the genesis of his piece:

 

“Jeux d’eau, appearing in 1901, is at the origin of the pianistic novelties which one would notice in my work. This piece, inspired by the noise of water and by the musical sounds which make one hear the sprays of water, the cascades, and the brooks, is based on two motives in the manner of the movement of a sonata – without, however, subjecting itself to the classical tonal plan.”

 

The Music

Opening with a twinkling motive in the upper range of the piano, the cascading flourishes of sound emulate the unexpected movement of water. As this opening motif is explored, Ravel’s quick rhythm changes creates swells of sound that lead to the first climactic section. The delicate shaping of Jeux d’eau is highlighted through the light movement of both hands, and the extensive use of the piano’s upper range. 

A more intense central section sees the pace pick up as well as the hands moving right to the top of the piano. A big glissando that leads to the bottom of the piano brings the hands back together in the middle of the instrument. Overlapping harmonics and deep chordal harmonies are fired from all angles, leaving the listener looking every way for the next section. As the hands move back up the piano, the opening motif is repeated once more, this time slowly fading away into silence. 

 

Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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