Maurice Ravel - Piano Concerto for the Left Hand

By Michelle Edward

Have you ever thought that being a piano soloist with one arm was impossible? Well for one determined young man, it became a dream.

The Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major, by French composer Maurice Ravel, was simply a masterpiece. It's a true testament to his brilliance as a writer, and his ability to change a man's life.

Before the turn of World War I, a concert pianist named Paul Wittgenstein had showed promise. Unfortunately, by the time the war was over, he had lost his right arm during the fighting. While most people would give up their dreams, he still believed he could be an exceptional pianist.

Due to his inabilities, he began practicing his left-handed technique. The goal was to arrange two-handed works in such a way, that they would accommodate his one-handed state. By the late'20s, Wittgenstein decided it was time to approach others about his innovation.

Many felt this would not be feasible, but he eventually came across Sergei Prokofiev, Richard Wagner, Benjamin Britten, and Maurice Ravel who believed it was possible.

One of the biggest issues Ravel had in the beginning was that he never wrote a concerto, even though he had written several piano solos. When Wittgenstein approached him, he had already started working on Concerto in G, but it was intended for a two-handed player. During this time he was at a stalemate, and so he decided to take Wittgenstein up on his challenge. During Ravel's research of left-handed Etudes of Camille Saint-Saens, he began to believe his left-handed Concerto would be a noteworthy addition to piano repertoire.

The meaning behind his eventual completion was about the struggles of a one-armed pianist trying to overcome a tragic injury and reinvent himself. The craftsmanship was brilliant, and the construction left it impossible for listeners to realize it was only being played with one hand.

Many experts agree that this piece allowed for 3 sections that were unlike other concerti. The Piano Concerto for the Left Hand was set up with a Slow-Fast-Slow movement, as opposed to Fast-Slow-Fast.

Wittgenstein was a client who was famously difficult to please. He found something to complain about in almost every concerto offered to him by his all-star line-up of composers. With Wagner's work, Wittgenstein complained that the orchestration was too powerful to accompany a single-handed pianist, and would overpower the soloist. With Prokofiev's work, Wittgenstein declared that he simply would not play it.

For Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, Wittgenstein's complaint had to do with the long solo cadenza just after the opening. "If I had wanted a solo piece," he is said to have declared, "I wouldn't have commissioned a concerto." However, as Ravel refused to change it, Wittgenstein performed the work as written, and later came to like it.

In the end, the Concerto for the Left Hand was a true testament to the indomitable human spirit. - 32526

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