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Roger Nichols’ volume on Ravel in the master musicians series dates from 1977, but this new book is far more than a mere reworking. The availability of much new material has led to a threefold expansion of the original, beautifully produced and very reasonably priced. Nichols has removed some passages of analysis perhaps unsuitable for the general reader, but these, together with other information, may be found at the author’s website.

One could hardly wish for a more authoritative guide to Ravel than this expert on French music. in 350 pages of text – plus 30 pages of notes, chronology, catalogue of works and ten pages of select bibliography – Nichols imparts an abundance of material. Discussed here are the composer’s enigmatic personality, his dandyism, his plans for ultimately aborted works, his attendance at concerts and his opinions of what he heard, his general remarks about other composers, his background and upbringing, his relationships with colleagues, his final illness, loss of creativity and death.

This should be the standard work on Ravel for many years, so comprehensive is Nichols’ research, so close his tracing of the composer’s day-to-day life. However, at times i wondered whether there was in fact an overload of peripheral information. For instance, in 1930 a plaque ceremony was followed by a pelota match. Here Nichols unnecessarily gives us the names of the players and the final score. There are many such digressions from the main path, without which the book would have been more concise.

Also i believe Nichols includes a little too much speculation – ‘we can only surmise’, ‘it was probably’, ‘it would not be rash to guess that’, etc – as well as occasional, fussy over-explanation (for example, page 318, regarding performances of the two concertos). some of these explanations reveal Nichols’ slight over-protectiveness towards his subject. However, these are minor criticisms, and the Ravel devotee will also find a wealth of essential and fascinating background here. There are about 50 illustrations or photographs, and roughly the same number of music examples.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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