Thesis submission ID 927 | created | last updated

Billy O'Brien, 'Connecting abstract values to artistic choices' : memory, metaphor and interpretation in Ravel's Miroirs
DMusPerf, Royal Irish Academy of Music, 2023

Volumes, pp.: 1 vol (x, 131 pp.)   
Supervisor(s): Denise Neary
Repository (online):
Repository (hard copy): Royal Irish Academy of Music Library

General specialism: Musicology: Performance Studies
Key terms, concepts: Artistic Research; Piano Performance; Philosophy of Music; Interpretation
Key terms, persons: Maurice Ravel; Edgar Allan Poe
Key terms, places: France
Key terms, genres, instruments: Piano

This research project is in two parts. The first part investigates the significance of the themes of death and melancholy in Maurice Ravel’s Miroirs. It addresses existing scholarship relating to Ravel’s creative process, his network of influence, and scholarship on aesthetics of melancholy generally. It discusses the particular influence of Edgar Allan Poe’s Philosophy of Composition on Ravel’s approach to composition and explores the conception of the Miroirs suite in 1904/5. The second part provides an interpretive analysis of Noctuelles, the first piece in Miroirs, informed by scholars in the field of Artistic Research such as Nicholas Cook, Mine Dogantan Dack and John Rink. It considers the research from Part One in relation to ideas of theme and meaning in the work, and the bearing this has on the embodiment of its performance. This unique approach offers fresh perspectives into performance practice, particularly as it relates to music of this period.

This investigation is concerned with the construction of an aesthetic understanding of Miroirs by Maurice Ravel, approaching the work from several scholarly perspectives, as well as that of pianist. While significant scholarship has been undertaken in relation to Ravel’s life and works from perspectives of criticism, aesthetics and biography, little exists by way of exploring the performance implications of this scholarship from a pianist’s perspective.

In addition to considering salient aesthetic trends associated with Ravel’s Miroirs and this period, the research pursues three general strands. The first strand identifies the particular influence of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Philosophy of Composition’ on Ravel’s approach to composition generally, and to Miroirs particularly. The interval of a falling major/minor third is proposed as a possible ‘refrain’ in Miroirs which can be understood by the pianist both in the context of Poe’s treatise, and contemporary scholarship on Ravel as ‘machinist’. The second strand explores the concept of memory as an aspect of both decadent and impressionist aesthetics. A mnemoanalysis of ‘Alborada del gracioso’ is conducted, investigating the potential of this work to be interpreted through Michael Puri’s memory analysis model. The third strand identifies timbral exploration as central to Ravel pianism, and the pianistic conceptualisation of timbre as metaphor is investigated. A hermeneutic phenomenological approach is taken to investigate the pianist’s lived experience of practicing ‘La vallée des cloches’ from Miroirs.

Finally, an autoethnographic reflection reveals the challenges involved in reconciling concepts in scholarship with performance practice in this area, offering an artist’s insight into the process of integrating ‘abstract values’ with ‘artistic choices’. The research ultimately sheds new light on how Miroirs can be understood from both critical and performance perspectives.
Thesis submission ID 927