"To Dance in Chains": Two Interpretations of Sonata Form from Ravel's Inter-war Period

Jennifer Beavers, University of Texas at San Antonio

In the years following the First World War, Ravel was forced to adjust to a new position, in which he was no longer considered at the forefront of musical developments, but "rather a follower of trends" behind a group of young, avant-garde composers known as Les Six. His two post-war chamber compositions, the Duo for Violin and Cello (1920-22) and the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1923-27), articulate the struggles Ravel faced with composition in the 1920s. As Ravel was criticized for having an out-moded aesthetic, he modified his compositional style by incorporating and adapting new harmonic techniques, such as bitonality, at the expense of others, notably the utilization of sonata form. In a sense, the utilization of the sonata form allows him "to dance in chains" by providing a template in which formal problems are created or resolved through confluences of melody and harmony.

In-line with Peter Kaminsky's recent contribution to Ravel and form, I follow that "the problem Ravel chooses to solve in a given work extends to and indeed is central to the formal process itself." With regard to the inter-war chamber sonatas, these pieces present different approaches to dealing with form. In the Duo, bi-tonal melodies juxtapose against more stable bass lines within somewhat normalized sonata parameters, while in the Violin Sonata, dissonance is generated on a much grander scale, creating tension between harmonic and formal sonata expectations.