BEAUTY of music | Le tombeau de Couperin
Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, composed between 1914 and 1917, pays homage to the Baroque tradition of François Couperin (1668-1733) and his contemporaries. During those years Ravel joined the French military and dedicated each movement of the piano suite to the memory of a friend who died in World War I:
- Prélude - dedicated to Jacques Charlot
Jacques Charlot was a godson and cousin of Claude Debussy's music publisher Jacques Durand and was a friend of Maurice Ravel. He served as a lieutenant in the French army and was killed on March 3, 1915.
- Fugue - dedicated to Jean Cruppi
Jean-Louis Cruppi was the son of Jean Cruppi a French politician of the Third Republic and his wife, Louise Crémieux, a musician who supported the career of Maurice Ravel. Ravel previously dedicated his L'heure espagnole to Madame Crémieux.
- Forlane - dedicated to Gabriel Deluc
Gabriel Deluc was a Basque painter who joined the French army at the beginning of the war as a nurse. In 1915, he joined the combat troops and was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant in June 1916 . He made many drawings in the trenches and during the offensives. Deluc was killed during a reconnaissance mission at Souain September 15, 1916.
- Rigaudon - dedicated to Pierre & Pascal Gaudin
Pierre and Pascal Gaudin were the brothers of Marie Gaudin and her sister Jane Courteault with whom Ravel maintained close contact throughout his life. On the outbreak of war, the two brothers immediately joined the army, and both were enrolled in the 49th infantry regiment. They were killed by the same shell on the first day of their arrival at the front, November 12, 1914, at Oulches.
- Menuet - dedicated to Jean Dreyfus
Jean Dreyfus was the stepson of Madame Fernand Dreyfus, with whom Ravel was very close. He wrote some of his most personal letters to her about his wartime experiences--there are 55 surviving letters to Madame Dreyfus written during Ravel's time at the front between March and October 1916. After Ravel’s demobilization and the death of his mother, he recuperated at the Dreyfus family home at Lyons-la-Forêt near Rouen.
- Toccata - dedicated to Joseph de Marliave
Joseph de Marliave was a French musicologist known for his work on Beethoven’s string quartets. Marilave was a captain in the French army and was killed in the first weeks of the war.
Despite being written while Ravel witnessed the horrors of war and endured the death of his mother, Le Tombeau de Couperin has been considered a light-hearted, reflective work rather than a somber one. Ravel agreed, observing, "The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence."
2013 American Pianists Awards winner Sean Chen agrees as he included the Toccata in a program he called a “recital of nostalgia and bells.”