Columbus Symphony This Weekend: Maurice Ravel and Le Jazz Hot

Paul Wittgenstein at the piano with conductor Roger Desormiere and Maruice Ravel(Photo: wiki)
Paul Wittgenstein at the piano with conductor Roger Desormiere and Maruice Ravel(Photo: wiki)

The Columbus Symphony performs Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand and Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 this weekend in the Ohio Theater. Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducts with pianist Benedetto Lupo.

This humble writer gives a pre-concert talk one hour before each performance.

If you miss the concert or want to hear an encore performance, it will be broadcast here on Classical 101 on Sunday, March 30 at 1 p.m.

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) loved color. He loved the wash of the Impressionist painters. He loved color and intense, changing rhythms in his music. Ravel wasn’t much of a hot ticket off-stage, but his music certainly can be wild an invigorating.

Like Stravinsky, Ravel fell in love with jazz. Post World War I Paris was a haven for jazz musicians, especially for the French, who copied the real thing, and for African-American artists who couldn’t get work in U.S. Jazz made a sensation in Paris, and the years immediate following the war became known as Le Jazz Hot.

Here is a preview

Paul Wittgenstein was an Austrian concert pianist, whose right arm was amputated as a result of wounds suffered in World War I. Undaunted, Wittgenstein went on to commission music for piano with only his left hand for several composers, Ravel among them. This was a challenge even for a master orchestrator like Ravel. The result was an 18 minute work, with the three movements played without interruption.

Wittgenstein and Ravel seemed like an odd match. The Austrian pianist, brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, came from a very wealthy background yet was known to be an ascetic and something of a snob.

Ravel came from a humble background. He was very open-minded toward music and always found something to “use.” Indeed Wittgenstein disliked the Concerto for the Left Hand, and Ravel disliked Wittgenstein. Their mutual lack of admiration led to a premiere not in Paris, but in Vienna, in 1932 without Ravel.

Never mind. A brief and glittering piano Concerto for The Left Hand attracted a great deal of attention. This is the best known of the many works for left hand commissioned by Wittgenstein. It is in the repertoire of pianists with one hand and with two. The piano part actually dances, with rapid descending chromatic runs, and punctuation points amidst a brooding orchestra. Pay attention to the very beginning, with its strings and a solo for the contrabassoon. Ravel had a way of being fascinating without being cheap.