Johann Straus II - Vergnügungszug (Pleasure Train), op. 281

Johann Strauss II , known for his waltzes and lively compositions, had a unique approach to his creative process. He consistently sought contemporary and relevant themes to serve as the driving force behind his new musical compositions. This approach ensured that his work remained fresh and connected with the audiences of his time.  One notable instance of this creative approach was the composition of this polka, composed in 1864. This piece of music was specifically crafted for a summer concert held in the picturesque Russian town of Pavlovsk. It's fascinating to note that Strauss drew inspiration for this composition from the world around him. In this case, he found it in the emerging technology of the time, namely, the steam locomotive. The composition itself is a testament to Strauss's ability to capture the essence and energy of the subject matter. The rhythm of this dance piece mirrors the rhythmic chugging and movements of the old-fashioned steam trains that were prevale

Maurice Ravel -The Swiss Watchmaker

Maurice Ravel was born on March 7, 1875, in the small fishing village of Ciboure in the Basque region, near the Franco-Spanish border. 

His father, Pierre-Joseph, was a Frenchman of Swiss descent. Pierre-Joseph, a distinguished engineer, met and fell in love with his future wife, a young and beautiful Basque, Marie Delouart, at the time she worked on the Spanish railways. 

A few months after Maurice's birth, the family moved from Ciboure to Paris.

The parents of Maurice Ravel,
Pierre-Joseph Ravel and Marie Delouart.
Maurice had a happy childhood. The parents encouraged their two children - Edouard was born in 1878 - to follow their vocation. Maurice's inclination was music. He started music lessons at the age of seven. 

Unlike the parents of other composers, Pierre-Joseph viewed positively the prospect of a musical career and sent Maurice to the France's most important musical college, the Conservatoire de Paris in 1889.

In the same year, the Paris Exhibition brought together artists, scientists and engineers from fifty countries.

Fourteen-year-old Maurice was hypnotized by the golden age of man's achievements and experienced a multitude of cultural traditions, a fact that decisively influenced his future work.

Deep friendships

Maurice Ravel 12 years old.
There Maurice had a friend, a boy from Spain, Ricardo Viñez, who later became a great pianist and was one of the first performers of Ravel's works. The two boys spent many pleasant hours playing duets, while their mothers chatted in Spanish.

In 1893, eighteen-year-old Maurice was under the influence of composer Eric Satie, who was nine years older than him. They were very different but they did well and even often played the piano in the same places. 

Satie's sloppy, bohemian figure was in stark contrast to the elegant Ravel.

Just 1.53m. tall, with a head that looked huge to his shoulders, Ravel was trying to make up for his disadvantaged appearance with the elegance of his outfit and his beard, which he mowed on according to the latest fashion. In companionships he was well-disposed but distant - even his best friends rarely understood what he was thinking.

The "Ravel Scandal" (L'affaire Ravel)

Ravel's experiments with modern forms were not liked by the conservatives of the Conservatory. Like most inspired composers, Ravel claimed the famous Grand Prize of Rome (Prix de Rome). He made five attempts to win France's most prestigious prize for young composers, past winners of which included Berlioz, Gounod, Bizet, Massenet and Debussy.

The fourth time, in 1905, Ravel was an already acclaimed composer, and his rejection created a huge scandal that unleashed a wave of disapproval for the directors of the Conservatory. It became a national scandal, leading to the early retirement of its director Theodor Dubois and his replacement by Fauré, a professor until then at the Conservatory and an ardent supporter of Ravel. Fauré was appointed by the government to carry out a radical reorganisation of the Conservatoire.

This case marked profound changes in French music. Like Debussy, Ravel had groundbreaking ideas, although he was fascinated by the past and often composed in an old style.Clinging to the happiness of his childhood, he developed a passion for mechanical toys and watches, which he used in his two operas, L' Heure espagnole (The Spanish 'Time) and L' Enfant et les sortileges (The Child and the Spells).

Spanish love

Ravel's love for Spain brought to the surface the true greatness of his music. His inability to express strong feelings in his daily life, he jokingly attributed it to his Basque origins.

Scene from the ballet Daphnis et Chloé.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Ravel exerted a great influence on the artistic circles of France. He had already published many works when he met the impresario of the Russian Ballets Sergei Diaghilev, who had come to Paris for a series of performances. 

Diaghilev ordered Ravel the ballet Daphnis et Chloé, which was first presented in 1912.

Ravel found no reason to disturb his family happiness and still lived in his family home with Edouard. 

Even when his father died in 1908, he continued to stay with his mother. His intense activity did not leave him time for love affairs and it seems that he never created a serious relationship.

The Desolation of Death

Idyllic life changed abruptly in 1914, with the outbreak of the Great War. Ravel was enlisted but was acquitted because he was two pounds lighter than the acceptable limit. In 1915 he enlisted as a driver and served on the battlefields of Verdun. The experience of war shook his self-sufficiency though less than the death of his mother in 1917.
The music room at Ravel's house in Montfort-l'Amaury,
 where he organized the legendary Sunday meals
 with his friends.

Because Ravel believed in inspiration and not hard work, his creativity was weakened in times of crisis. For three years after his mother's death, he did not write a single note. The memories that cost his family home, made his stay unbearable and he moved to the Montfort-l'Amaury area, 50 km west of Paris. The Sunday meals there, which brought together artists and musicians, remained in history.

In 1922 Ravel began a concert tour of London. The audience was very moved, but the Music Critic of the Times treated him lukewarmly.
He continued to give concerts throughout Europe and in 1928, he embarked on a four-month tour of Canada and the United States, where he was welcomed as the greatest French composer of his time.

The famous dancer Ida Rubinstein asked him to orchestrate a ballet in Spanish style, but he preferred to compose an original work. This was Boléro, which was presented in 1928 and became his most famous and popular work.

A tragic accident

In October 1932 Ravel suffered a blow to the head in a taxi accident on the streets of Paris that interrupted his creative career. He often complained of headaches but ignored them. The accident worsened the symptoms.

Ravel was unable to coordinate his movements or write and spoke with difficulty. It was impossible for him to compose. His friends often accompanied him to concertos to forget his disability. Ravel's mind was intact, which is why his inability to express the music he had inside him was unbearable.

For five long years he suffered, until the moment when Clovis Vincent, a well-known Paris neurosurgeon, advised surgical treatment, for the possibility of a brain tumor. The surgery was performed on December 17, 1937, but no tumors were found. While he was starting to take over, he fell into a coma and a few days later, on December 28, he died in hospital at the age of 62. He was remembered for his exciting and fiery music.