Date of Graduation

2005

Document Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

The solo piano version of La Valse is well worthy of study and performance, but it has often been unjustly neglected in reviews of Maurice Ravel's piano music. This paper analyzes the piece in its historical context, emphasizing the important role of the dance in Ravel's music. La Valse was originally written as a choreographic poem for a ballet performance. It was only later transcribed for two pianos and also for solo piano. While this paper focuses on the solo piano version, it also reviews the orchestral and the two-piano versions. The thematic, harmonic, and rhythmic aspects of this musical masterpiece are examined in light of the author's compositional principles embodied in the piece. In the chain of waltzes that comprise the piece, ten distinct melodic themes are identified and illustrated with musical examples. The paper discusses the melodic material, phrase structure, scales and modes, and frequency of appearance of each of these themes. Rather than being based on a particular major or minor scale or mode, La Valse is organized around pedal point centers which function as temporary points of tonic stability, combined with chromaticism. These provide the piece's unique charm. Further in the paper, I review the tempo, rhythm, and meter of the piece, highlighting the departures from the typical waltz. Finally, the paper discusses the challenges of performing the solo piano version and suggests how performers might resolve these pianistic and musical issues, such as three-staves writing and glissandi. Key to a successful performance is highlighting the melody while achieving variety in the numerous repetitions of the themes. In some extraordinarily difficult passages, the solo pianist must show creativity and "transcribe" the piece once again. As soon as the technical and creative challenges are resolved, the pianist and the audience alike are rewarded with a beautiful and truly unforgettable piece.

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