Each movement of the Mother Goose Suite tells the story of a different fairy tale.
What to do
- Visit YouTube to watch and listen
- Use the suggested questions and activities below to engage with the music
The suite has five movements.
(A movement is like a chapter in a book, but for music.)
- The first one is a dance for Sleeping Beauty.
- The second story is of Tom Thumb, a story about a tiny man the size of your thumb.
- The third movement tells the story about a Chinese princess who becomes friends with a snake. Her love breaks a magic spell, he turns into a handsome prince, and they live happily ever after.
- In the fourth movement, the music tells the story of Beauty and the Beast talking in the garden, and it ends with the Beast seeming to die, but then… well, you know how this story ends!
- The final movement is called “The Fairy Garden”, and it tells the story of Sleeping Beauty being awakened with a kiss from her handsome prince. The suite ends with music joyfully portraying their wedding.
Maurice Ravel originally wrote the Mother Goose Suite as a piano piece for a brother and sister to play. Mimi Godebski was 6 years old, and her brother Jean was 7 when they were given this gift from the composer!
Ravel decided the piece would sound good for a full orchestra to play, so he orchestrated the piece. Orchestration is when a composer decides which instruments will play the different parts of music in a piece for a group of musicians. (It doesn’t have to be for an orchestra— you can “orchestrate” a piece for band or any ensemble you can think of!)
Orchestrating music is a little bit like coloring a picture, but with different sounds instead of different colors.
Let's look at an example from “Beauty and the Beast”. First, let's listen to the piano version. Maybe we imagine the waltz theme at the beginning is Belle speaking, and then we hear the Beast speak in the low notes that follow.
Now, listen to the orchestra version. With different instrumental colors, Belle can speak as a clarinet, and the Beast speaks as a contrabassoon (at 11:06). And when they declare their love for one another, both parts play together!
Now listen to the whole piece and pay special attention to how Ravel uses the colors of the different instruments to tell the story.
Composers spend a lot of time studying how to orchestrate, but you can imagine what a piece would sound like with an orchestra! When you listen to a piano piece, just ask yourself what instruments you think would be best for each part. Remember that the instruments have to sound good on the part they’re playing, and they have to make sense for that kind of music. (For something big and exciting, what would be better: one soft flute, or four loud trumpets? Which might be better for a lullaby?)
Let’s give it a try. Here’s another piece by Ravel. It’s called Jeux d’eau (French for “Water Games” or “Fountains”).
Listen to it and then write down what instruments you think would sound best on each part. (If you don’t remember the instruments of the orchestra, take a look at our Peter and the Wolf page!) If you want, you can even draw a picture of what you think this music is describing. Is it a dancing fountain? a playful creek? a rushing river? Maybe it even changes from beginning to end. If you like, you can share your picture with us in the comments!
Play it yourself!
Because the Mother Goose Suite was written for two children, the piano parts aren’t very difficult to play. If you know how to play piano, maybe you'll want to ask your parents for a copy of the music (they can download it legally for free from the Internet Music Score Library Project) and learn to play it with a friend or your teacher.
This is a duet for two players on the same piano, so when you print out the music, the odd-numbered pages (which say “seconda”, or “second” at the top) are for the player sitting on the left side of the piano bench, and the even-numbered pages (which say “prima”, or “first”) are for the player sitting on the right. If you learn to play it, make a video and share it on our Facebook page or in a message!