The Phenomenon «the Life during the War» in the Maurice Ravel’s Piano suite «Tombeau de Couperin»




work of Maurice Ravel, piano suite, tombeau genre, «Tombeau de Couperin», «Tomb of Couperin», the phenomenon «the life during the war», the First World War


Relevance of the study. The relevance of the article is determined by the appeal to the controversial issues of understanding the artistic concept of Maurice Ravel’s piano suite “Tombeau de Couperin”, which was written during the First World War (1914–1917). In this work the intellectual and emotional currents that filled the life of Maurice Ravel at that time are concentrated. However, discussions about the content of the suite arose literally from its first performance by Marguerite Long in Paris in May 1918. The solution of the “paradox of inconsistency” of the combination in the suite of tragic dedications and the manifest semantic reference to the enlightened and clear French music of the 18th century is a mature task of modern musicological science.

The main objective of the study is to reveal the specifics of the formation of semantic layers in the piano suite “Tombeau de Couperin” as a reflection of the spiritual life of Maurice Ravel during the First World War.

The scientific novelty consists in revealing the specifics of the connections of the piano suite “Tombeau de Couperin” with the contemporary cultural and historical context, the dominant characteristics of which were determined by the First World War. For the first time in Ukrainian Ravelianism, the composition “Tombeau de Couperin” is studied in detail as a holistic phenomenon that was determined by the emotional and intellectual markers of M. Ravel’s spiritual life as a dandy composer in the conditions of the tragic historical turn. In order to justify this position, for the first time cross-lado-intonation connections between all parts of the cycle were discovered.

The methodology of the article is based on historical, comparative, genre-stylistic, intonation and phenomenological methods of analysis.

Results / findings and conclusions. The artistic concept of the work is extremely complete. The first semantic layer is formed by spiritual ties with national traditions, whose representative is Francois Couperin. The second semantic layer forms a kind of tomb-crypt (tombeau-tombe), which hides the most tragic impressions in the composer’s life. Indescribable experiences of the composer, which never came to the surface of his behavior or correspondence with friends, are reflected in the music of “Tombeau de Couperin” through personal accents in the interpretation of the harmonic, textural, latotonal, rhythmic features of the selected dance genres, as well as the autobiographical expression manifested in the dedications content.

Maurice Ravel felt himself a part of history and let a new terrible reality pass through his heart without a note, finding its proper place in the dandy world picture. Remaining faithful to the categories of beauty and taste, he combined his spiritual streams into a unique “phenomenon of life during the war”, which will fill the genre of the ancient suite with modern and personal meanings.

Ravel turns to the model of the ancient dance suite, which he interprets as a cycle and transforms established dance genres. The “Fugue” becomes a signpost in the space of semantic transformations, which exposes not only the theme, but through its fundamental transformations “the phenomenon of life during the war”. The following parts — “Forlana”, “Rigodon” and “Menuet” become the further decoding of the essence of this phenomenon in the organization of the artistic whole. Distortions of established genre norms acquire a culminating detection in Musette (“Menuet”). “Toccata” fills the space of memory and multidimensional spiritual figures with the intuition of incessant movement. The composer seems to discover in “Toccata” an unstoppable flow of welcome energy, which should not be interrupted and which actually forms the essence of the “phenomenon of life during the war”.

Author Biography

Valeriya Zharkova, Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine

Doctor of Art Criticism, Professor, Head of the World Music History Department


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