Ravel and Scandinavia

In January and February 1926, Ravel undertook a concert tour through northern Europe, which included his first and only visits to three Scandinavian countries.

Denmark

Ravel gave two concerts in Copenhagen. On 30 January he performed in a chamber concert of his works with Louise Alvar and the Thorvald Nielsen quartet. Ravel played the Sonatine and some other piano pices, and accompanied the Deux mélodies hébraïques and Cinq mélodies populaires grecques. His string quartet was also played.

A few days later, Ravel conducted a concert of his works, but began with Mozart's Symphony no.40, one of the few pieces by another composer in his repertoire. Also in the programme were Ma mère l'oye, his orchestrations of Debussy's Sarabandes. the first performance in Copenhagen of Shéhérazade (sung by Louise Alvar), and finally La Valse

These appearances were well received by the Danish public and the press, and a number of parties were held in Ravel's honour (Knudåge Riisager, Revue musicale, 1 mars 1926, quoted in Marnat [1988] p.584]). The orchestral concert was also attended however by the conductor D.E. Inghelbrecht who made some very harsh, albeit private, comments to Émile Vuillermoz about Ravel's conducting and his musicians, and the bad advertisement it gave for French music (quoted in Marnat [1988] p.546).

Norway

On 6 February Ravel was in Oslo for a concert with the Oslo Philharmonic together with some chamber works (Orenstein [1989] letter 262). He was impressed by the severity of the winter weather and the ways in which the Norwegians dealt with it, using sleds, skis, and chains on their cars, and pavements fenced off in case of blocks of ice falling from the roofs.

Edvard Grieg was one the earliest influences on Ravel. One of Ravel's childhood compositions had been derived from Peer Gynt, and he later played the Grieg Piano Concerto at the Conservatoire. He met Grieg in Paris in 1894 and played one of the Norwegian Dances for him, at first meeting with sharp criticism but then with the composer's approval after following his instructions on tempo and style. During the visit to Oslo, Ravel acknowledged the importance that Grieg had for him and for French music. (References from Edvard Grieg, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel: Biographical issues and a comparison of their string quartets, by Juliette L. Appold; paper presented at the International Edvard Grieg Society Conference in Bergen, 31 May 2007. [Word document]).

From a review of Oslo concert 6 February 1926
Ofte er der imidlertid noget eklektisk ved Ravel, og man får undertiden inntrykk av en tomhet, en kunstner som på mange måter søker å oppta i sig og uttrykke fremmede verdier, fordi han ikke kan hente mer frem av sig selv. ... Overalt merker man jo den raffinerte, sikre artist, hvor det intellektuelle moment er strekt fremtredene ... Imidlertid vilde det være urettferdig å bedømme Ravels produksjon ut fra det begrensede utvalg vi fikk høre ved lørdagens konsert. ... Man må ikke glemme at flere av Ravels betydeligste verker finnes på orkester- og klavermusikkens område foruten ballett og opera. Dertil hadde Ravel begått den synd mot sine egne verker og vårt publikum å mesalliere sig med en ganske dillettantisk «sangerinne». Å kritisere Louise Alvars ydelser er å gjøre alt for meget ære på dem. Det er sørgelig, men sannt: en eksekutør har i sin makt å forvrenge og ødelegge alt, og nettop det sarteste og fineste. Heller ikke komponisten er en førsterangs interpret. Det forbløffende var ikke at han manglet pianistisk ferdighet, men at han ikke maktet å få frem skjønheten i sine egne verker.”
Odd Grüner-Hegge in Dagbladet, 8 February 1926.
Ravel's visit caused plenty of interest and was met with a number of newspaper articles and reviews. One musician compared it to a visit by Chopin or Schumann. In the event however, his concert seems to have proved a disappointment. There was not enough time for rehearsal with the orchestra, and it was poorly attended in spite of the publicity. One review by the composer and pianist Odd Grüner-Hegge deplored the inability of the performers, including Ravel himself, to do justice to his music. (References from On modern music in Norway c1930, by Rune J. Andersen (University of Oslo, Institutt for musikkvitenskap). 2008.)

Sweden

Ravel was in Stockholm on 12 February for his next concert. Still the unfamiliar climate preoccupied him, snow and a temperature of -18 : "ça ne manque pas de charme"; and boats frozen in the middle of the ice (Chalupt [1956] p.218). When he moved on to London, he missed the sun, sky and snow of Sweden (Orenstein [1989] letter 263).

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