In 1907, two years after his fourth failed attempt to win the coveted Prix de Rome, Ravel produced two major works, both firsts for him and both capitalizing on his remarkable sensitivity to Spanish music. L'heure espagnole was his first opera; Rapsodie espagnole was his first published piece written specifically for orchestra. (As a matter of fact, one of its movements - the "Habanera" - was originally a two-piano piece, composed in 1895.)
Ravel's extraordinary ability to create seemingly authentic Spanish music drew the admiration of no less an authority than the peerless Spaniard, Manuel de Falla. He spoke of the Rapsodie as "surprising one by its Spanish character, achieved through the free use of the modal rhythms and melodies and ornamental figures of our 'popular' music."
The Rapsodie's first movement, Prélude à la nuit (Prelude to the Night), begins with and is dominated by a four-note descending figure which later is brought into the Malagueña and Feria movements. The first three movements, small miracles of sensuous, exquisite color and understated elegance, stand as provocative arches through which one passes on the way to the dazzling finale - a short Impressionistic tone poem.
— Orrin Howard served for many years as the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Director of Publications and Archives.