This was one of Ravel's earliest full-scale compositions for orchestra (after the Shéhérazade overture and songs), although the pieces were at first sketched in a version for 2 pianos (in summer 1907). The orchestration was completed in February 1908, and the first performance took place in March of that year. The work was dedicated "À mon cher maître Charles de Bériot"; Bériot was Ravel's piano teacher at the Conservatoire from 1891 to 1895. There are four movements:
(i) Prélude à la nuit
(iii) Habanera [The original piano version of the Habanera was one of the movements of Sites auriculaires, and was first written in 1895.]
Despite a generally favourable reception, there were those who disliked this new kind of music, including Pierre Lalo, who complained of "... une affectation, une manière, une prétention incommodes et agressives. ... C'est une España au compte-gouttes ... ce à quoi se reconnait tout justement la petitesse de l'esprit". (Le Temps, 24.iv.1908, quoted in Marnat , p.242)
Among the work's admirers was Manuel de Falla: "La Rapsodie ... me surprit par son caractère espagnol. ... Cet hispanisme n'était pas obtenu par la simple utilisation de documents populaires, mais beaucoup plus - la Jota de la Feria exceptée - par un libre emploi des rythmes, des mélodies modales et des tours ornementaux de notre lyrique populaire; éléments qi n'alteraient point la manière propre de l'auteur ...". (Revue musicale, iii.1939, reprinted in Marnat , p.707].
Ravel had yet to visit Spain at the time of writing this and his other Spanish-influenced works of the period.