Ravel undertook numerous orchestrations of works by other composers, the most well-known of them being his vivid translation of Moussorgsky's piano suite Pictures from an exhibition (1874). It consists of ten pieces with five interludes (promenades); Ravel omitted one of the promenades from the original.
Ravel worked on it in 1922, while staying at the Dreyfus family house at Lyons-le-Forêt. He was responding to an invitation from the Russian conductor and impresario Serge Koussevitzky, who conducted the work's first performance in Paris in October 1922.
Ravel started with the finale, the "Great Gate of Kiev"; in May 1922 he wrote to Koussevitzky: "La 'grande porte de Kiev' est enfin terminée. J'ai commencé par la fin, parce que c'était la pièce la moins intéressante à orchestrer. Mais on ne pourrait croire combien une chose aussi facile peut donner de travail." (Orenstein  p.199-200).