Roger Nichols has lived with the music of Ravel for a lifetime and has written and broadcast copiously about the composer and his works. For this impressive new biography, he has delved into a wide range of sources, among them the letters and diaries of many of Ravel’s contemporaries (notably his friend the pianist Ricardo Viñes), and has been able to call upon interviews conducted over the years with various Ravel experts, some of whom (Lennox Berkeley, Gaby Casadesus, Vlado Perlemuter, Manuel Rosenthal) knew and worked with the composer. The book teems with famous names – Picasso and Cocteau, Stravinsky and Satie, performers such as Chaliapin and the pianist Marguerite Long, and conductors including Toscanini (with whom Ravel crossed swords) and Rosenthal (his pupil and protégé). The volume includes a detailed chronology and a catalogue of Ravel’s works.
Today, as in Ravel’s own time, this most protean of composers tends to divide music lovers. Everyone seems to have his or her own Ravel. To some, he is a master of the tightly structured miniature (especially in a number of the piano pieces), elegant impressionism and sinuously