Maurice Ravel

Benjamin Ivry, Author
Benjamin Ivry, Author Welcome Rain Publishers $24.95 (0p) ISBN 978-1-56649-152-5
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Thoroughly steeped in French culture, poet and translator Ivry has already written studies of Rimbaud and Poulenc. He comes to this brief but tightly compressed biography of Ravel with a thesis--that the composer was ""a very secretive gay man"" whose works often displayed a tension between potent creativity and iron control, a duality that was also exemplified by his life. Ravel has always been a mysterious figure, with acquaintances (he had few close friends) willing to swear he was homosexual, heterosexual or simply asexual. This is not simply a matter of prurient interest, as Ivry makes clear, for Ravel's hidden sexuality showed itself in his music, which varied enormously from the early opera L'Heure Espagnole to the famous Bolero, perhaps the most ubiquitous symphonic score of the 20th century. (Ivry explains that Ravel is by far the most financially successful composer, classical or pop, that France has ever produced, with royalties still running at the rate of several million dollars a year.) A fervent belief in sorcery and the primitive powers of the ancient wood god Pan melded with Ravel's determined dandyism and his outspoken conviction that sincerity was the enemy of true art. Artifice, he felt, was all, and though his exquisitely crafted scores do not eschew emotion, a glittering surface seems to have been what he chiefly prized. (He despised Beethoven as ""the big deaf one."") Ivry is particularly good at relating Ravel's work to his life, and if at the end of the book the composer remains a remote, somewhat chilly figure, that seems to have been Ravel's choice. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Aug.)
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