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At-A-Glance

Listen to audio:

Length: c. 7 minutes

Orchestration: solo piano

About this Piece

Ravel found his experience of the Paris Conservatoire and the official Parisian musical world frustrating. Having failed to win any prizes as a pianist, he left the Conservatoire in 1895, only to return two years later to study composition with Fauré. In the first years of the 20th century, Ravel made five efforts to win the Prix de Rome. His elimination in the f irst round of the 1905 competition caused a furor, when the chosen finalists all turned out to be students of one professor, who was on the jury. But by that time, Ravel did not really need such acknowledgment of conventional success. He had already begun to gather critical attention for works such as his String Quartet and Jeux d’eau for piano, and in the same year as the competition scandal he completed Miroirs, a suite of five piano pieces that, he said, “marked a rather considerable change in my harmonic evolution.”

Each of these Impressionistic sound reflections is dedicated to one of Ravel’s friends, members of a literary and artistic circle known as Les Apaches. The Apaches usually met at the home of painter Paul Sordes, and Ravel dedicated “Une barque sur l’océan” (A Ship on the Ocean), the third piece of the set, to him. Its rippling waves grow in power and expanse, suggesting the lonely danger of a ship in the vastness of the ocean.

— John Henken