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 toget


Castanets can be considered as the national musical instrument of Spain, where they have been used since the Middle Ages. Today, as in the past, they relate to flamenco dancers (traditional, Andalusian dance). They are ringed rhytmically or rotary, contributing in particular to the emotional quality of the dance. Many composers of the 19th and 20th centuries used castanets in their compositions to add this particular "Spanish timbre".

Castanets were usually made of chestnut wood (the Latin word castanea mens chestnut). However, today, various other hardwoods are used, such as walnut, rose or ebony. In the past, castanets were also made of ivory. The shellfish shape of the organ is important because it suggests that the first castanets were made of shellfish.

This, in turn, suggests that this instrument was first used by residents of coastal areas. It is believed that these early performers may have been the ancient Phoenicians, although the origin of the instrument is not fully known.

In the orchestra, castanets are usually adjusted to a long handle and played with the instrument's impact on the free hand. Castanets of this type consist of three cymbals, with the central one firm and hollow on both sides.

Alternatively, performers in orchestras use a "mechanical castanet". Here, the two wooden trays are fixed to a piece of wood and rotate separately. It is easier to achieve precise rhythms with this second method than with traditional castanets.

The dancers' castanets are joined by a rope wrapped around the thumb and middle hand and are clogged with fingers. Performers often play two castanets of different sizes. A smaller, "soprano" pair of castanets is played with the right hand and a larger one with the left. The larger pair is called "male" and the smaller "female".

How castanets work

The almost circular wooden "shell" of each instrument has been dug in the center to form a hemispherical cavity, surrounded by a wide flat surface. When castanets are impacted, the two hollow sides come together creating a resonance space that improves the sound of the "hit". Because of this hollow section, castanets and similar organs are sometimes called "beating vessels".