This month we are looking at music inspired by war or written in commemoration of tragic events connected to war. This week, let’s focus on music written as a result of WWI, beginning with Maurice Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin.
During WWI, Ravel initially opted to refrain from serving in the military due to his small stature. He figured he would be able to help his country more by writing music. When his brother enlisted, however, young Ravel could not resist and decided to join as a nurse aide. He later went on to serve as a truck driver, delivering war materials by night. Following his mother’s death, Ravel was discharged from the military and sent home where he completed the piano version of Le tombeau de Couperin.
Le tombeau de Couperin is six movements in length, each dedicated to one of Ravel’s friends who died in the war. He gave it this particular title because the piece originated as homage to French music during the age of Francois Couperin (18th century) but, following his military service, it came to reflect the tragedy brought on by war. The piece acts as a memorial rather than actually depicting battle. It is in the style of a Baroque suite with an introduction followed by a series of dances. Here is Angela Hewitt performing the piano version of Le tombeau de Couperin: