Skip to main content

Maurice Ravel correspondence

Identifier: Ravel

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The Maurice Ravel correspondence collection is comprised of two separately acquired Ravel correspondence collections. The first collection consists of fifteen autograph letters, twelve typed letters and 1 telgram dating from November 12, 1926 to June 2, 1933 between Ravel and French lyric soprano and accompanist, Marcelle Gerar (1891-1970). An 11 minute interview of Mme. Gerar's recollection of Ravel recorded on cassettee tape is also included.

The second collection consists of 24 autograph letters by Ravel in addition to 17 autograph letters addressed to Ravel by members of his circle including Caplet, Chausson, Dukas, de Falla, Hahn, d'Indy, Long, Mallarmé, Manuel, Milhaud, de Sévérac, Strauss and Viñes. A postcard signed by Berg and others including Hindemith, Honnegger, Geiseking and Wellescz is also included.


  • 1896 - 1934


Biographical / Historical

French composer and pianist Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) is widely regarded as one of the most original and popular composers of the early twentieth-century. His instrumental works explored new harmonic and melodic possibilities and compositional precision. He was also especially gifted at orchestration– both in his own compositions and in celebrated arrangements of others’ work. Ravel also drew inspiration from past musical forms, exotic themes, jazz and blues music and Spanish music–largely rooted in his mother’s Basque and Spanish origins.

Ravel studied composition with Fauré and counterpoint with Gédalge at the Paris Conservatoire (1889-1904). His repeated efforts to win and failure to receive the Prix de Rome, for which he competed four times (1901-1905) caused a public scandal and ultimately led to Fauré replacing the director of the Conservatoire. Always independent and uneasy with the musical establishment of his day, Ravel associated with a group of artists known as the, “apaches” including composer Florent Schmitt, the pianist Ricardo Viñes, and the poets Tristan Klingsor and Léon-Paul Fargue.

Some of Ravel’s early works were criticized by the Schola Cantorum and the Société Nationale as imitations of Debussy, however many of the ideas in these compositions such as “Jeux d'eau” actually predated Debussy’s impressionistic piano works. After rebutting the critics, Ravel further asserted his independence in helping found the Société Musicale Indépendente in 1909 to perform French and international works regardless of genre or style.

He composed a number of theatrical works including “L’heure espagnole,” (Opéra Comique, 1908) and “Daphnis et Chloé” for Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes (1909). When World War I erupted, Ravel volunteered for military service and repeatedly attempted to enlist as a French air force pilot before finally being accepted by the motor transport corps. During the last few years of the war his mother, to which he was very close, died unexpectedly while he was recuperating from dysentery.

After Debussy’s death in 1918, Ravel was regarded as France’s greatest composer, although he refused the Legion d’Honneur in 1920. He undertook several tours of Britain and North American in the 1920s and early 1930s. His four month American tour in 1928, was especially successful with conducting appearances, interviews and an important lecture at Rice University. The American press was especially fascinated by his interest in jazz and blues music and especially his “Sonata for violin and piano” (1923-27) which included the movement titled, “Blues.”

His most well-known composition was also one of his last. “Bolero,” is a one-movement orchestral ballet originally choreographed by Diaghilev and premiered at the Paris Opera in 1928. “Bolero” is typical of Ravel’s Spanish-inspired works in its use of short, repetitive and syncopated rhythms. However it is unique in only using shifts in instrumentation to color the pulsing dance rhythms.


1 Boxes

Language of Materials



The Maurice Ravel correspondence collection consists of 68 letters to or from Maurice Ravel and members of his circle between 1896 and 1934.


Correspondence is arranged first by correspondent and then chronologically within each folder. Most letters (in French) include English translations which accompanied the letters at the time of acquisition. These translations are filed with each item. Catalogs to the letters included in both acquisitions which comprise the Ravel correspondence have been included in Folder 0.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Both collections were purchased by the Northwestern University Music Library in 2007.

Processing Information

Processed by Alan Akers and Nicholas Ritter, 2017.

Findind aid by Alan K. Akers, August 2017.

Guide to the Maurice Ravel correspondence
Alan Akers
August 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Library Details

Part of the Music Library Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US