A famous music critic once referred to the French composer Maurice Ravel as “this most conscious, most naturally artificial of composers.” And in fact Ravel specifically said that he wasn’t seeking “profundity” in the music he wrote. He was merely seeking…perfection—some sort of technical perfection in composition, as he defined it, with “absolute beauty” as the guidepost and goal. But here’s the problem: I’m not sure we should completely believe him. Ravel once said, “In my opinion the joie de vivre expressed in dance goes much deeper than the puritanism of César Franck.”
Ravel borrowed dance rhythms from Spain, from Austria, and from America, by way of jazz, and I think his enthusiastic and very personal exploitation of those rhythms reflected his understanding that in order to achieve depth, you don’t always have to dig.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.