Maurice Ravel was a French composer and one of the most extraordinarily original musicians of the early 20th century. Through his instrumental writing he discovered new possibilities and his profound interest in both the past and the exotic gave his music a French refinement and sensibility.
Maurice Ravel was born in the Basque village of Ciboure, however, at three months of age, the family moved to Paris. Despite his Parisian upbringing, he always felt close to his Basque roots. Ravel’s father was an engineer and an amateur pianist and encouraged his son in his early years of piano playing. Aged 7, he was sent to his first piano teacher, Henri Ghys and five years later, began to study harmony with Delibes’ pupil Charles-René leading to his first attempts at composition, including variations on themes by Schumann and Grieg.
In 1889, Ravel gained a place at the Paris Conservatoire to study piano until he was dismissed in 1895 for not winning prizes. Despite his wish to succeed, he was not willing to conform to the specifications of the conservatoire. After this, he decided to focus fully on composition, and was re-admitted to the conservatoire in 1897 to study with Gabriel Fauré and counterpoint with Gédalge, both of whom he regarded as critical influencers of his technique and musicianship. He was again dismissed for not winning any prizes. The competitions such as Prix de Rome were rife with politics and it transpired that all the finalists in the competitions that Ravel entered, between 1900 and 1905, were pupils of members of the jury. Even critics, who were not particularly friendly in their reviews of Ravel’s work, were outraged at the realisation that Ravel, who had established himself at the Société Nationale de Musique was barred from receiving such a prestigious award.