Ravel was born on 7 March, 1875 in the town of Ciboure, Southern France, close to the Spanish border. His father Joseph Ravel was from the Haute-Savoie and his mother grew up in Madrid. A mixture of musical cultures of the two countries became a source of inspiration for Ravel in his creative work later on. At the age of 7 Ravel began music lessons and in 1889 he went to the Paris Conservatoire where he majored in piano and was granted a right for independent performing after graduation. He developed an interest in composition after he met the founder of impressionism and minimalism Erik Satie and the pianist Ricardo Viñes. His first significant work was “Habanera” for two pianos, which was later used as the third movement in his “Rapsodie espagnole”.
The period of 1900 to 1914 saw the rise of Ravel’s creative output. In 1905 he broke off with the Conservatoire and academic circles for good – they considered his works too radical and destructive – whereas, the impressionistic aesthetics of his works met a warm reception of both public and critics. Ravel was often compared with Claude Debussy, a composer Ravel always admired as a friend and professional. But in spite of the public opinion they differed in their approach to music. At the foundation of Debussy’s music lay spontaneity and improvisation whilst Ravel relied on form and technique. During this period Ravel wrote five piano pieces “Miroirs”, the orchestral piece “Rapsodie Espagnole”, the opera “L’Heure Espagnole”, the ballet “Daphnis et Chloé”. With these works Ravel positioned himself as a creator of a pictorial musical portrait and as an exquisite master of folkloristic elements. In 1909 and 1911, he made his first foreign tours to England and Scotland.
By the end of World War I, during which he served as a military truck driver, Ravel felt emotionally devastated. After Debussy died in 1918, composers such as Satie, Stravinsky and Schoenberg emerged introducing a new style of modern classical music to which Ravel rapidly made a solid contribution. His works at the time were mainly instrumental featuring a strong emotional component. One of his most popular works of the time was “Le Tombeau de Couperin”. In the meantime Diaghilev commissioned Ravel the ballet “La Valse”, which later became a popular concert work.Ravel went on frequent tours in Europe and in 1926 he made a four-month concert tour in North America. After returning to France, Ravel composed his most famous orchestral work “Bolero”.
In 1932 he began the “Jeanne D’Arc” ballet but had to discontinue his work because of a blow to the head he had received in a car accident. This resulted in a neurological disease, which prevented him from composing any major work. His very last works were three songs for a film “Adventures of Don Quixote” which were later published under the title “Don Quichotte a Dulcinée”. Ravel died on 28 December, 1937 in Paris and was buried at the cemetery at Levallois-Perret.