Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

From a peacock to Apocope: An examination of Maurice Ravel's text setting in the Histoires naturelles, L'heure espagnole and other pre-WWI vocal works
by Hurd, James Alexander, D.M.A., University of Cincinnati, 2009, 123; 3390373
Abstract (Summary)

The groundbreaking Histoires naturelles (1906) were one of Maurice Ravel's most important early works. Employing prose and a conversational vocal style, they redefined the mélodie —a genre that had been characterized by its use of poetry and aristocratic French diction. Performance of these five songs presents singers with formidable challenges. The vocal line, imitating speech, is notable for its rhythmic complexity. In some cases, it eschews a legato line entirely. Often, it favors a dry, even ironic delivery. Successful performance of these songs is greatly aided by a thorough understanding of context, style, and notation.

This guide to Ravel's Histoires naturelles is separated into two parts. The first provides a context for these groundbreaking and controversial songs by exploring Ravel's early career; the scandal that erupted following the work's premiere was in fact the second of two majors scandals of Ravel's youth. Both kept the young composer's name in the news. The first part also considers Ravel's life-long passion for poetry and literature—an aspect so vital that he referred to Edgar Allan Poe as one of his most important teachers. In addition, it parses his musical influences, which run the gamut from his teachers at the Conservatoire to Debussy, Chabrier, Satie, and Mussorgsky.

The most progressive aspect of the score is its approach to mute e syllables. Ravel deals with these syllables in a variety of ways: at times he dispenses with them entirely, while elsewhere he either minimizes them or instructs that they be fully sounded. The second part of the guide is devoted to this rich topic.

It begins with an examination of approaches to the mute e before Ravel, then examines Ravel's own approach. The notation used by Ravel in these songs and in their companion piece, the opera L'Heure espagnole, is not as clear as one might expect. This confusing notation is examined, and the advice of noted performers and authors is discussed.

The composer's original conception of the Histories naturelles was not nearly as provocative; this earlier version of the songs—detailed in a doctoral treatise from The University of Texas at Austin—is considered. In the final chapter, Ravel's approach to text setting in other songs written before World War I is discussed.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Griffiths, Kenneth
Commitee: Adams, David, Honn, Barbara
School: University of Cincinnati
Department: Voice
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-A 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Music
Keywords: Apocope, Bréville, Histoires naturelles, L'heure espagnole, Mute e, Ravel
Publication Number: 3390373
ISBN: 978-1-109-58992-4
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