Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) – Mother Goose Suite

Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant – Lent
Petit Poucet – Très modéré
Laideronnette impératrice de pagodes – Mouvement de marche
Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête – Mouvement de valse très modéré
Le jardin féerique – Lent et grave

Maurice Ravel was a leading composer in the development of French Music in the early 20th century. In the Autumn of 1908, he was inspired to write a piano duet for two children named Mimie and Jean Godebski. Influenced by the tale of Sleeping Beauty, Ravel entitled the piece Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant”, or “Lullaby of Sleeping Beauty”. He was encouraged by his publisher in 1910 to write the remaining four movements for the suite Ma mère l’Oye, or Mother Goose. The work was originally written for piano duet, and Ravel orchestrated it to the current instrumentation in 1911. He also expanded it to a ballet in the same year, adding more movements and various interludes.

Each movement of the suite is inspired by a tale from the world of children’s literature. The melodic material for the first movement is contained in the first bar and is enriched throughout the movement, as the princess awaits her prince in her unending slumber. The air of mystery felt throughout this movement inspires the sense of “once upon a time.” “Petit Poucet” is inspired by the story Tom Thumb. The music, with its ever-changing time signatures, represents the moment where he becomes lost in the forest, realising that the trail of breadcrumbs that were to lead him home has been eaten by birds.

“Laideronnette impératrice de pagodes” – “Laideronette, empress of the pagodas” – was based on Le serpentin vert – The Green Serpent – written by Marie Catherine d’Aulnoy. In this story, the princess Laideronnette is cursed as a baby to be the ugliest woman in the world. One day she ventures outside and becomes lost at sea, where a king, cursed by the same witch to be a green serpent, rescues her and takes her back to his kingdom, where they marry, and she becomes the empress.

“Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête” is translated as “Conversations between Beauty and the beast”. In this movement, the contrabassoon – with its grumbling, scalic motive – represents the character of the beast, while the clarinet – with its soaring melody – represents the character of Beauty. Throughout the movement, tension builds between the two as the beast repeatedly proposes to Beauty, only to face rejection after rejection. The movement ends on a beautiful chord which symbolises the moment they are united.

The suite ends on the movement entitled “Le jardin féerique,” or “The Fairy Garden.” This final movement is not based on any specific tale, but rather captures the feeling of being in a garden, surrounded by magic in a fantasy land.

Copyright © Helena Maher 2020. All rights reserved.
This program note was written as part of the Words About Music program at the 2020 Australian Youth Orchestra National Music Camp

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