2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, 2 harps, celesta, strings
I. Prélude à la nuit
Composed 1907-08. First performance: March 15, 1908, Paris, Théâtre du Châtelet. Orchestre des Concerts Colonne cond. Édouard Colonne.
note by Katherine Baber
The fascination of French composers with Spain—its landscape, people, and customs—continued into the twentieth century with the music of Maurice Ravel. In the Rapsodie espagnole, he followed what was, by 1907, a well-worn path of using typical dances to transport an audience to Spain. After a prelude “to the night,” the audience might be forgiven for thinking they were hearing another fandango, as the malagueña is its more melancholy cousin. One can hear how the bold statements from the trumpet and the rest of the brass keep sliding away into the softer and more shadowy strings and English horn. Like the habanero pepper, the habanera is a New World import distributed by the Spanish—its mixture of European and African elements doubled its exoticism for Ravel’s audience. The sashaying syncopations of the habanera—treated languorously by Ravel—are the result of the Afro-Cuban treatment of the square English contredanse. Lastly, the fleetness of the _feria _makes for a surprisingly light finish.