Valses nobles et sentimentales

I. Modéré II. Assez lent III. Modéré IV. Assez animé V. Presque lent VI. Assez vif
VII. Moins vif VIII. Lent




In 1911, the now forgotten pianist Louis Aubert gave an unusual concert. His program announced a world premiere, but he did not reveal the identity of the composer. Those present, who were largely professional musicians and critics, were invited to guess whose music it was they were listening to for the first time. It was under these peculiar circumstances that Maurice Ravel's new piano cycle “Valses nobles et sentimentales” was first heard (among the less successful guesses was that it was the work of the Hungarian Zoltán Kodály!). Ravel borrowed the words of the well known symbolist poet, Henri de Régnier as a motto, saying the work was the setting to music of “the tasteful and novel joy of a useless occupation”. There is little worth searching for serious content in this set of eight waltzes, even though the last one does look back with sensuous nostalgia to those melodies featured in the previous seven.Valses Nobles et Sentimentales however became a great audience success, not so much the original keyboard version (which is still regularly played), but rather the orchestral setting, which was premiered as ballet entitled Adélaide ou le language des fleurs (“Adelaide or the language of the flowers) at the Châtelet Theatre on April 20th 1912. Ravel himself drafted the events of the ballet where various flowers symbolise the individual feelings and desires. He even tried his hand at conducting the premiere after a ten year absence from the podium “It wasn't difficult”, he allegedly told friends after the performance, “It's three four time throughout.” One of them pointed out that the seventh waltz, the metre changes to two four time. Ravel responded “in that movement, I waved my baton in a circle!”