Maurice Ravel: Violin Sonata No. 1

Program note written for the Tippet Rise Art CenterNot to be reprinted without permission.

This is the less known of Maurice Ravel’s two violin sonatas, and the first written, though it was only published long after his death, in 1975. The piece has only one movement, but a letter by Ravel mentions that he planned more before abandoning the sonata.

Ravel wrote the movement in 1897, around the time he enrolled in the Paris Conservatory as a composition student, two years after dropping out as a piano student. It is in a traditional sonata form—exposition, development, and recapitulation—but already shows Ravel’s distinctive color palette and knack for explorative melody. In this piece, you can hear the young Ravel as his teachers heard him: this was the kind of music that convinced Gabriel Fauré of his student’s promise.

Benjamin Pesetsky is a composer and writer. He serves on the staff of the San Francisco Symphony and also contributes program notes for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony.