Finding Jazz in Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto

Jan 16, 2017

It was the late 1920s when French composer Maurice Ravel first heard jazz in the United States and in Paris, where it was also popular. How did it influence his 1931 Piano Concerto in G Major? WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more.

Radio script: 

[MUSIC: Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, Movement 1]

Susan Lewis: While he calls the music unmistakably French, pianist Alexander Toradze says you can hear the influence of jazz.  It’s in the rhythmic and harmonic texture and in the way the piano shares the spotlight.

Alexander Toradze: We have so many unbelievable, difficult, telling, colorful, great solos— and so for me, it's more like concerto for orchestra, with piano solo.

[MUSIC: Movement 2]

Pianist Alexander Toradze

AT: In many pages, I am an accompanist. For instance when the English horn plays the second movement solo at the end, of course I am listening to her as carefully as I can so I am under her, trying to… and that in itself… every performance is different because you have so many soloists involved.

SL: A musical conversation among many voices.

AT:  You can’t find any other musical idiom or activity except jazz where you have that many soloists come, shine, go away, then another is coming, then one is coming back.

It’s really a phenomenal show piece for the orchestra.

SL: In a 1932 interview, Ravel himself affirmed that each movement of the piano concerto includes jazz, a style of music he found thrilling and inspiring, and, he said, here to stay.

The concerto was premiered January 14, 1932 by Marguerite Long, with Ravel conducting the Orchestre Lamoureux.  Philadelphia and Boston gave the first U.S. performances on the same day—April 23rd of that year.