On March 7, 1875, renowned Basque composer Maurive Ravel was born in Ziburu, Lapurdi. Regarded by many at the height of his fame, in the 1920s and 1930s, as the greatest living composer in France, he died in 1937.


Maurice Ravel in 1925. Photo in the Bibliothèque national de France, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ravel is discussed in Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present (pp. 250-51), available free to download here:

      Maurice Ravel Delouart was born in Ziburu (Ciboure), Lapurdi, to a Swiss father and Basque mother (“Delouart” is the Gallicized version of the Basque “Eluarte” or “Deluarte”), and went on to become one of the twentieth century’s most famous composers and the clearest exponent of Impressionist music. Classically trained in Paris, he blended classical forms with both Basque and Spanish folk elements–the Basque zortziko rhythm, in particular–to produce some of his most memorable work. (Perhaps the most recognizable of his compositions, by the end of the twentieth century, was Bolero.) He was not a folklorist in the proper sense, however.

While Ravel unquestionably represents modern French culture, he never forgot his Basque identity. This was increasingly the case after the death of his mother in 1917. H. H. Stuckenschmidt observes: “of the two heritages given to Maurice Ravel, the Swiss-Savoyard of his father, the Basque of his mother, the latter prevailed throughout his life. … Ravel was a Basque in all that directly affected his work and his person. He consciously cultivated his Basque reactions.”

Interestingly, as the Wikipedia entry notes here, Ravel declined not only the prestigious Légion d’honneur but all state honors from France, refusing to let his name go forward for election to the Institu de France. He did, however, accept foreign awards.

See a performance of Ravel’s Bolero here. The opening movement of Ravel’s Piano Trio is, as he noted himself, “Basque in coloring.” Listen to the trio here.

If you’re interested in Basque connections to classical music, check out Basque Classical Music by Karlos Sánchez Ekiza, free to download here, courtesy of the Etxepare Basque Institute.