Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel

A Life

Book - 2000
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Maurice Ravel: A Life is the first convincing attempt to paint a portrait of the life and work of the hitherto enigmatic composer of Bolero, Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, and L'enfant Et Les Sortileges. Ivry offers here a convincing solution to the much-discussed "mystery" of Ravel's sexuality. More than simply "outing" Ravel as a gay man for the first time among numerous writers on this composer, this book discusses how his secretive sexuality impacted his work. Using unpublished documents, letters, articles and memoirs, many of which were previously unknown even to Arbie Orenstein, universally considered the world's leading scholar of Ravel studies, Ivry presents a more rounded view of Ravel, man and musician. Descriptions of musical works are in non-technical language, friendly to the reader with no specialized knowledge of classical music. Like Ivry's widely acclaimed biography of Poulenc, universally seen as the standard life of this composer in any language, his new Ravel is likely to become a classic of contemporary musical biography.
Publisher: New York : Welcome Rain Publishers, 2000
ISBN: 9781566491525
Characteristics: ix, 229 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., ports. ; 24 cm


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Jul 02, 2014

Contrary to several reviews I have seen, which praise this book mainly for uncovering Ravel's sexuality, I've found it conjectural, even wildly speculative in some places. Simply put, the author provides no evidence-based support or suitable referencing, and at times his claims even verged on the scurrilous.
As such, I place it close to Charles Higham's biographies of Cary Grant (purporting he was gay), Errol Flynn (that he was a Nazi spy) and his double one on the presumably mutual sibling loathing between Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine. Most were astutely published after their subjects had passed on; where that was not the case, his claims scandalized those in the know, who denounced his improbable claims. His books were best-selling muck-rakers that have since been discredited, in a few cases by those familiar with the subjects, and knew different. (A book by Tony Thomas called Errol Flynn: The Spy Who Never Was, debunks Higham's credibility, or any thought that one should regard his work as reliable, by showing the distortions of hitherto classified sources he presumably was citing).
I don't mean to imply that Ivry is as shameless a gossip-monger, even if his scholarship fails to impress--along with his unsupported, often fatuous recommendations of what he claims are "definitive" recordings of Ravel's works. In fact, Ravel may well have been gay, but it has yet to be established. In any case, this just isn't the book to turn to, to learn about that. It's more a fast read for those who want a fairly rich idea of the times, a few of his composer and other associates, and a few other characters and circumstances that may be relevant to a proper analysis of this topic. So I dispute the claim in the blurb about the book that "Ivry offers here a convincing solution to the much-discussed "mystery" of Ravel's sexuality." That's not convincing, given the absence of proper references, and since his conjectural leaps often fly too far and so defeat any reasonable sense of gravity about a delicate subject regarding one of the major composers of his time. Which, let's be clear, has as much bearing on his music as the colour of the composer's eyes, or the man's stature.

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