Beyond Mere Novelty: Timbre as Primary Structural Marker in Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major

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Jennifer P Beavers


Ravel’s Concerto in G Major reveals a new priority for timbre, long an integral part of his compositional toolkit, in which timbre functions as a form-bearing accent that marks and transforms themes. Through his unconventional treatment of symphonic instruments and the piano within reinvented concepts of theme, key, and form, I argue that these “novel” sonorities are not just there for surface reasons, but rather there to serve an integral role within the narrative of the concerto form. In the timbrally marked Concerto in G Major, the concerto medium is turned on its side as we attempt to understand the members of the orchestra as ensemble and co-soloists within changing auditory scenes. With the prominent place given to piccolo and harp—and, more profoundly, the “mistuned,” unusual timbres often issuing from the piano—we wonder: Who is the soloist Ravel is highlighting in this concerto?

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