Exoticism and Impressionism have played vital roles in Ravel’s musical career. Impressionism was a movement that arose in the 19th century in France. Impressionists tired to improve and produce impressions from single senses and recreate fleeting moments. On the other hand, exoticism can be defined as various sounds drawn from diverse sources in order to create the musical experience. This research paper seeks to explore the information on Ravel, his music and connection to exoticism and impressionism.

Raveland Music

Maurice Ravel was born not far from the Spanish border inCiboure on March 7, 1875. Ravel’s father was Swiss and his mother was Basque. His father was a skilled inventor and an engineer.  However, Ravel developed an interest in music and mechanics which obvious from his music tours where he showed interest in his father’s mechanical information. Ravel learnt to play the piano and attended harmony lessons when he was only 7 years old. When he was 14 he started studying at Paris Conservatory but got expelled due to his carelessness. Meanwhile, Ravel composed numerous pieces and several songs.  In 1900 Ravel joined an artist’s group that was made up of intellectuals known as the Apache Club. It is interesting to note that at that time, girls were not allowed to attend such activities. [1] In the year 1901, Ravel was able to compose Jeux d’Eau that turned out to be his first masterpiece.  It is vital to note that during that time Ravel’s great influencers were Mozart, Charier, and Satie. It is well-known that he and Debussy helped and influenced each other even though they were rivals. However, in the public domain, they maintained coolness that was only a publicity stunt.

In 1905, Ravel received numerous disappointments when he tried Prix de Rome because he was rejected due to competition and politics. He was not in any way defeated but used those to perfect in his career. It is vital to note that one of Ravel’s best ballets were Chloe and Daphnis, which premiered in the year 1912.

In 1920, Ravel was nominated for many awards which he rejected because he felt uncomfortable receiving those. Ravel has been and will always be one of the first music composers who realized the importance of recordings. His first recordings were made in  1917 at London String Quartet. After a rich life in music, Ravel died on December 28, 1937, at 62. However, till date, his illness remains mysterious.

Ravel’s Musical Style

The music composed by Ravel was not only innovative but unique as well. His music did not follow the usual contemporary trends. Ravel applied different anesthetics and styles to his compositions. He relied mostly on modal melodies as opposed to minor or major scales which have a harmonic predominant language. Ravel also preferred major or minor mode flavors such as Aeolian and Mixolydia instead of having the harmonic minor and major scale. As a result of this, leading tones were part of his output. Melodically, Ravel put high vitality on melody which implied a melodic outline in all music. [2]Ravel was not dependent on traditional modal practices, but instead, he extended intricate modulations and harmonies. At times he got fond of the ninth and the eleventh chords, which he used to characterize harmonies. In this case of imagination and sensitivity to imagery, he was not only inspired by various dances, but also by his favorite minuet while composing music in 1908.

According to Ravel, composers must be aware of the national consciousness and harmonies.  He considered Basque type of music to be influential. In this case, it was his intention to write a concerto which he did not finish. Ravel was considered to be one of the greatest French impressionist composers, after Debussy. In reality, he was more than an impressionist. This is why he did not like being referred to as an impressionist. In the later years, Ravel made extensive use and practice of jazz tunes in his concerts using a major c in the third and first movements. It is interesting to note how Ravel plays with the ability to mimic and still remains original.

Ravel saw himself as a classicist because he relied on traditional forms in presenting rhythmic content and new melodies. The first impression the public had after the initial performance of his new musical composition was like a reaction to a superficial musical element. This simply means that the external manifestations were used instead of inner content so the real inner music emotion became clear and apparent to the listener.

Ravel’s composing methods were compared to those of a craftsman and perfectionist.  This was because he would spend so much time refining a piece. [3]Ravel states in one of his pieces that in his own compositions he judged a very long period of the necessary conscious gestation. Thus he says that he can be quite occupied for some years without having to write a single note of his work, usually after which the compositions have to go rather quickly. Still a person should spend a lot of the time in removing everything that might be classified as superfluous to realize as clear as possible the most definitive clarification that people desired so much. The moment then arrives when new conceptions have to be formulated, usually for the last composition; however they cannot get forced artificially for they usually come only on their own accord, deriving the originality they have from some perceptions that are far-off and only having self manifestation after quite some long years.”[4]

Ravel’s innovative compositions were mostly developed as piano music. He also used a miniaturist approach to build his architecture with carefully created strokes. To satisfy the requirements of larger compositions, Ravel multiplied small building blocks numbers, that was regarded as piano traditions. This simply means that he used a “musically perfectly logical concepts”; to create the right expression. His regard was on orchestrator which was also based on the thorough methods that he preferred. Ravel at times had to note the parts of the string and concentrated on the string section. However, his perfectionism and methods helped to develop his career. Most of Ravel’s works were the inconsiderable length of time that notated quickly and were refined painstakingly. Every time a certain piece failed to progress, he used to throw away the piece and inspired a new one.[5] There are only more than sixty compositions in all that Ravel created and inspired.  The composer’s works included a wide-ranging music such as piano pieces, opera, chamber works, ballet music and two piano concerti. However, Ravel at times avoided the famous symphonic form the religious forms and themes. He crafted the manuscripts meticulously, corrected and relentlessly polished them.  In this way, he destroyed hundreds of pieces and sketches and re-copied autographs in order to correct one mistake.

Strong Relationship between Exoticism and Impressionism in Ravel’s Music

According to Chopin’s Ballade, Ravel’s music can be described as “carried forward usually by its very own momentum, lingering or leaping ahead over certain details but always never backtracking.”[6] This was inclusive of the wild Spanish dance which was filled with leaps, twirls plus excitement. This means that Ravel’s music is defined by sounds drawn from different sources to create a musical experience and thus the music had a strong connection between exoticism and impressionism.

Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937) and Frederic Chopin (1810 – 1849) experienced considerable differences in their ideologies and works. It is vital to note that their music was connected with exoticism and impressionism. They are ranked as the most eminent composers for their contribution and inspiration to piano music. Frederic is at most times regarded as the “Piano Poet,” after being the greatest piano music composer during the era of the emotionally focused romance. The elements of Frederic pianistic style, his lyric sense and also the unparalleled melodic plans have given out the purest and also the most beautiful music that has ever been written, propelling the piano music of the Romans to its ever greatest heights. [7]Maurice Ravel was, on the other hand, getting quite influenced by the new concepts and ideas of the French piano music. This development got marked by a music conception as an art that was sonorous rather as a simple expression mean. This was directly opposite to the nineteenth-century subjective style or the Romantic Movement, which placed importance and emphasis on individual emotions and feelings. It can be noted or hypothesized that from the historic times, Chopin remains a proponent from the Romantic Period in a compositional style. On the other hand, Ravel, in the twentieth century, changed or reverted to the musical Classical styles on occasions in order to gratify his fascinations.  In this case, the comparison made between the musical elements of Chopin’s Ballade in G minor, Op23, and Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso and it is evident that Chopin’s musical work has remained within the framework and class of the Romantic style. On the other hand, Ravel pursued a direction or course which combines the elements of Classicism, Exoticism and Impressionism.

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In this case, it is clear that Ravel’s music has a strong connection to exoticism and impressionism. In the recent time, it has been suggested that the G minor had been inspired by Mickiewicz; however, the relationship between the two is certainly not possible or literal. However, Chopin never made literary allusions in his piano works or titles. ‘Miroirs’ is one among many of the most popular piano pieces Ravel had.[8] The titles of the pieces were drawn from the evocative and pictorial moods that symbolize “mirrors of reality”. These pieces show and reveal Ravel’s famous, unique, rich, distinctive, and exotic musical style. Moreover, they reflect the fascination Ravel had with Spanish qualities and elements.

It is vital to note that these two-piece, are contrasting to the style used. They may not need to be direct or indicative of the respective periods as they are one of the music’s greatest tone the poets had by reasons of the line “superfine fastidious craftsmanship and imagination”. [9]Amongst all the composers, Ravel really admired Chopin simply for all the richness of his harmonic sensibility. Ravel then said that he had generously drawn inspiration from masters. “I have never at all stopped studying the Mozart”. [10]He is recognized for his musical perfection and craftiness of style and form. Analysts have compared him to “the most complete and perfect of the watchmakers in Switzerland”.[11] This is because there is less or no impulsive quality or comparison to Ravel’s music. However, musicians and audience find precision, attention to inventiveness, detail, sensuous, imagination and refinement. His music and work are systematic, methodical and well placed or conceived. Every phrase and note is kept in its exact place of importance. The famous Alborada del Grazioso was and still is “of quite an extreme complexity that was calling for having an even greater dexterity especially on the performer part than the Jeux d’Eau”. This made the musician approach music with immense thoughts and understanding to imagery. This ability to introduce and inject such attributes into their music and then project it into performance with uniqueness, taste and refinement makes the clear difference between a unique interpretation that is mediocre or artistic. [12]

Connection between Exoticism and Impressionism

Ravel was mostly influenced by the Impressionists. He was raised up in musical environment during the late 19th century in Paris. At a time when the environment was characterized by fashionable trends of foreign and the exotic interests, many of Ravel’s compositions played tribute to some different musical heritages, which included gypsy music, jazz and other Eastern music. It is vital to note that the Sonata for Piano and Violin was a late composition in his life that progressed in a slow manner and took four years to complete as a result of bad health.  By that time, he had progressed from Impressionism which was no longer an important or prominent characteristic of his compositions. This style was deeply rooted and ingrained in the composer and his Violin Sonata showed many clear impressionistic characters and moments. In this regard, the relationship between the two distinctive instruments is evident. Ravel is quoted to say “In the writing of the Sonata for Piano and Violin, two fundamentally incompatible instruments, I assumed the task, far from bringing their differences into equilibrium, of emphasizing their irreconcilability through their independence.” [13]
The very first movement, which was known as the Allegretto, was in a traditional classical form. This opened up with a piano solo which evoked the atmosphere through gentle swaying winds embedded with a romantic cue.  The unique, elegant, sensual, and, poised, movement never ends. The gentle movement and momentum is initialized and punctuated by memorable and occasional motives that appear in the work. [14]The movement includes and incorporates the bitonality techniques and puts its inspiration from the title. The bitonality was a unique compositional methodology with different keys in different instruments to allow various characters. In this way, Ravel’s music had a very important visual effect, with an attempt to prove that the composer was involved in a unique traditional invention. This style has a different melancholy character. In this case, Ravel uses different prominent melodic tunes from the 1920’s. From an inner depth examination of the three composers it is clear that Ravel was not amongst the composers who invented techniques associated with the different French impressionists.. In this way, the works of chronology show that he was preempted by other composer’s techniques. However, Ravel’s piano work analysis proves that he preempted the “pentrushka melody tunes’’.

However, this priority is usually regarded as not clear. In its place, a thorough chronology and content comparison of the early music clearly shows that composers had a preempted and priority in the techniques which the early music was attributed to. However, it is not clear how the music developed during the time. Ravel’s early works clearly show Romantic roots which are not different from Wagner. In contrast to this, Satie’s music clearly reveals a dramatic breakdown from the traditional points of Debussy’s musical future. Additionally, the two friends, not only had frequent contact but also shared ideas. However, Ravel was beyond any private acknowledgment with the two. In the year 1928, he released his music lecture from the Rice Institute in Houston, TX. [15]

Ravel was often categorized and described as one of the two best and greatest impressionist composers up to today. It is vital to note that impressionism was not an important period in music. However, it was a reaction against the major excessiveness of in Romanticism, which can be referred to as modernism. It is important to state that modernism is the least understandable and appreciated eras of music. Ravel’s music has always been described as unique.

Musical Influence

Ravel was mostly young musicians’ supporter, through society and associations and his personal individual advice. He modeled important teaching methods from his own teacher, emphasizing individualism and avoiding formulas. He also preferred to teach having a conversation with students and demonstrating vital piano points. He was vigorous and demanded a teaching counterpoint, he considered this ideal, with the quite amazing and perfect balance between “element of surprise and classical symmetry “, and with works of perfect craftsmanship and clarity, which can measure lyricism amounts. Many times Ravel challenged student with the phrase “What would Mozart do?” and then he would ask the student to invent their solutions to the same.[16]

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Most performers of traditional and classical instruments have at some points received music instruction from teachers or training. Specialized trainings and seminars in music from the historical times used a similar approach throughout the history. In this way, the music range of topics is virtually limitless. It is vital to note that, Ravel had some quite strong opinions on the historical and the contemporary music and musicians. [17]This not only influenced his contemporaries but also helped creating his own music. In this way, he avoided monumental composers. He was considered to be  a classicist because he relied on different traditional forms. However, he confines himself to the own ideas, innovations and lesson he has learned. Ravel’s story is a story of a battle between revolutionary music innovators and conservatives or impressionists and exoticists. This is a musical story that ended in victory of the innovators, whose musical works were handed down from posterity. This is because during his life (1875–1937) Ravel’s innovation and musical history has not only influenced the musical arena but also the literary world. His music has potential to kindle and influence responses and emotions. Ravel’s language in music was very original so influenced remarkable musical styles. Most of his music matured quite early into his distinct and innovative style. As a music student, he studied the scores which were composed methodically.  His legacy has survived from the historical period to the recent times.


By Ravel’s words, “an orchestra piece without any music” it is nearly a tough and technical exercise of a musical composition, which repeats the material with less developments in the same. This means that by using different instruments every time, the music gradually gets louder throughout. Ravel mixes crazy instrumental combination including French horns, piccolos, and a celesta. In this way, the sound created by the innovations releases the coolest color and effects that have ever been heard. Ravel’s use of exoticism and impressionism helps to bring out the unique and extraordinary effects in his musical compositions.


  1. Edward, Berlin. Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History iUniverse. 2002.
  2. Edward,  Hill. Burlingame Maurice Ravel.” The Musical Quarterly, 13 (1927): 1.
  3. Greig, Edvard. Complete Lyric Pieces for Piano. Dover Publications, 1990.
  4. Koenig, Karl. Jazz in Print (1859-1929): An Anthology of Early Source Readings in Jazz History Pendragon Press, 1856.
  5. Kramer, Lawrence. “Consuming the Exotic: Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe.” Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge. (1995).
  6. Orenstein, Arbie. “MUSIC: Maurice Ravel.” The American Scholar. (1995).
  7. Orenstein, Arbie. Ravel: Man and Musician. Courier Dover Publications, 1991.
  8. Puri, Michael. “Dandy, Interrupted: Sublimation, Repression, and Self-Portraiture in Maurice Ravel’s Daphniset Chloe.” Journal of the American Musicological Society. University of   California Press, (2007)
  9. Ravel, Maurice. Piano Masterpieces of Maurice Ravel. Dover Music for Piano, Dover Publications, 1986. Serfontein, Andre. Maurice Ravel and Exoticism. University of Cape Town Libraries. 1997.

References in the text:

  1. [1] Arbie Orenstein, “MUSIC: Maurice Ravel,” The American Scholar, (1995): 91-102.
  2. [2] Arbie Orenstein, Ravel: Man and Musician, (Courier Dover Publications, 1991), 54.
  3. [3] Lawrence Kramer, “Consuming the Exotic: Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe,” Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge, (1995): 76.
  4. [4] Arbie Orenstein, Ravel: Man and Musician, (Courier Dover Publications, 1991), 56.
  5. [5] Michael Puri, “Dandy, Interrupted: Sublimation, Repression, and Self-Portraiture in Maurice Ravel’s Daphniset Chloe,” Journal of the American Musicological Society. University of California Press, (2007): 15.
  6. [6] Arbie Orenstein, Ravel: Man and Musician, (Courier Dover Publications, 1991), 135.
  7. [7] Edward Hill,”Burlingame Maurice Ravel,” The Musical Quarterly, 13 (1927): 1.
  8. [8] Andre Serfontein, Maurice Ravel and Exoticism, (University of Cape Town Libraries, 1997), 560.
  9. [9] Edward Hill,”Burlingame Maurice Ravel,” The Musical Quarterly, 13 (1927): 1.
  10. [10] Maurice  Ravel, Piano Masterpieces of Maurice Ravel, (Dover Music for Piano, Dover publications, 1986),128.
  11. [11] Maurice  Ravel, Piano Masterpieces of Maurice Ravel, (Dover Music for Piano, Dover publications, 1986),150.
  12. [12] Maurice  Ravel, Piano Masterpieces of Maurice Ravel, (Dover Music for Piano, Dover publications, 1986),128.
  13. [13] Arbie Orenstein, Ravel: Man and Musician, (Courier Dover Publications, 1991), 116.
  14. [14] Edvard Greig, Complete Lyric Pieces for Piano, (Dover Publications, 1990), 224.
  15. [15] Karl Koenig  Jazz in Print (1859-1929): An Anthology of Early Source Readings in Jazz History, (Pendragon Press, 1856),16.
  16. [16] Geoffrey  Ward  & Ken Burns,Jazz: A History of America’s Music, (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2002), 123.
  17. [17] Edward Berlin, Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History, (iUniverse, 2002), 45.
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