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Pièce en forme de habanera

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In March 1907, Ravel responded to a commission from the singer Amédée-Louis Hettich, who wished to familiarise his students with the music of their time. Thus he composed a Vocalise-Étude en forme de habanera for mezzo-soprano and piano, which, together with contributions from d’Indy, Dukas, Hahn and others, was published by Leduc in 1909 in the Répertoire moderne de vocalises-études. However, the piece became better known in his instrumental arrangement as Pièce en forme de habanera. Violinists, in particular, often play it with piano accompaniment. In character and rhythm it recalls the Habanera written in 1895 that appeared as one of the two movements of his Sites auriculaires for two pianos and was later included as the penultimate movement of the orchestral Rapsodie espagnole (1907). Playing “almost slowly and with indolence”, the left hand presents the ostinato that is typical of this dance, which French musicians believed to be Spanish although it in fact originated in Cuba. Melodic elements combining binary and ternary rhythms, and vocal melismas, measured or cadential (the latter marked “rubato”), are superimposed in the piece. Ravel’s Spanish inspiration was quite free, with some of the ornamental formulas calling to mind rather an imaginary East. As for the modal harmonies, they bear Ravel’s signature, with hardly any borrowings from the oral traditions of the Iberian Peninsula. They subtly articulate the minor colourings that dominate at the beginning of the piece, and the predominance of major sonorities in the final episode.


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