Alborada del gracioso
In this piano masterclass, Jacques Rouvier and Thibault Maurin explore the short orchestral piece Alborada del gracioso by French composer Maurice Ravel.
Rouvier informs his student that the key to playing this piece is to be mindful that “one eighth note equals one eighth note” and that very few musicians play this piece in measure.
With this, Rouvier encourages him to work with a metronome and follow all of Ravel’s punctuation. The pair also discuss posture and articulation.
Playing in tempo.
Correct posture in the arms.
Capturing the piece’s character.
Playing in measure and working with a metronome.
The Alborada del gracioso, translated as "the jester's aubade", is a short orchestral piece by French composer Maurice Ravel, first presented in 1919. The piece is the orchestrated version of one of the movements of his piano suite Miroirs, composed more than a decade earlier. Originally, it was written for a ballet, but entered the concert repertoire quickly and is often performed as such.
It was presented to the director of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, who already had commissioned Ravel for another ballet. The Spanish theme was popular at the time, and Diaghilev wanted to find composers to enrich the Ballets Russes repertoire.
The piece is structured in three sections: two lively dance pieces and one extended rhapsody song. It is a notoriously difficult piece for the pianist, because of the number of dynamics one must take into account.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this piano masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Jacques Rouvier’s feedback and comments.
He won two Premiers Prix (first prizes): in piano performance (1965) In chamber music (1967).
Jacques Rouvier was born in Marseilles into a family of musicians. He attended the CNSMD in Paris (Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse), where he was taught by Vlado Perlemuter, Pierre Sancan, and Jean Hubeau. He won first prizes in both piano and chamber music. Rouvier then decided to broaden his knowledge about wind section and leading orchestra at the CNSMD too. He owes much to Pierre Barbizet and Jean Fassina. Rouvier won several competitions such as the “Giovan Battista Viotti” International Music Competition, Maria Canal International Music Competition, the European Broadcasting Union Competition, the Long-Thibaud Competition, and the Competition of the Fondation de la Vocation. In 1970, he founded the Rouvier-Kantorow-Muller trio, with whom he still performs regularly.
Since 1979, he has taught at the CNSMD in Paris and at the Berlin University of the Arts.
French composer Maurice Ravel was born in the French southwestern town of Ciboure in 1875. His parents moved to Paris shortly after his birth, and by age seven, Ravel began piano lessons. Five years later, at age twelve, he started composing. He was then admitted to the Conservatoire de Paris as a piano student, but was a very average student; he preferred composition. After graduating from the Conservatoire, he pursued his love for composition and was re-admitted to the prestigious musical institute, studying composition under Fauré.
In the 1900s, he adapted many of his piano compositions into orchestral works before WWI broke out in Europe. Ravel wanted to join, but was too old, and his health was not optimal. He nonetheless succeeded in being enlisted in 1915 as a lorry driver. The war changed him, like many soldiers who struggled to return to “normal” life. The 1920s were prolific for Ravel, as he composed many of his most famous pieces during that time. By the 1930s, he turned his attention to piano concertos.
Unfortunately, Ravel was in a traumatic taxi accident in 1932, which was not treated seriously, but seems to have precipitated an underlying cerebral condition. As his mental health deteriorated and the pain grew, he struggled to work and meet deadlines. In 1937, he had surgery to try and relieve some symptoms, but it only had temporary results, as he slipped into a coma soon after and died that same year at age 62.
Ravel's works list eighty-five works, including many incomplete or abandoned pieces. Among his most successful oeuvres are Boléro, Daphnis et Chloé, Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte, La Valse, Rhapsodie Espagnole, Gaspard de la nuit, Piano Concerto in G Major and Miroirs. He never married or had children and remained very private about his personal life, sparkling many rumors still unverified to this day. He is considered one of the most influential music figures of the 20th century, along with Debussy and Stravinsky.
Photo credit: BNF