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"Ma Mere l'Oye" (Mother Goose)
Five pieces for Children by Maurice Ravel

Narration by Linda Mack


Once upon a time in Paris there lived a boy named Maurice Ravel. Maurice’s parents noticed that he was interested in music and gave him piano lessons, but like children everywhere it seems that he required extra encouragement to practice. His father gave him an extra half franc of allowance for every half hour that he practiced.

When Maurice was 14 the World's Fair came to Paris. Here the young man saw many wonderful things and heard exotic music from far away places. He never forgot what he saw and heard at that fair, and as he grew up, Monsier Ravel often wrote music that painted sound pictures, taking his listeners to far away places and times long ago.

Ravel had many good friends, and when visiting their homes, he often snuck away from the adults to play with the children and their toys, and best of all, to read them stories. Two of his favorite children were Jean and Mimi Godebski.

After a long day of teaching, practicing, and composing, he would dash over to their house in the evening to read bedtime stories to them. Jean and Mimi were starting to take piano lessons, so one day Monsieur Ravel had an idea– why not compose some musical pictures for them to help make their piano practice more fun? He wrote five piano duets and called them "Ma Mere l'Oye" (Mother Goose) as they were based on the stories that he read together with the children. Later Ravel arranged the music to be played by the symphony orchestra, and tonight we are lucky to have an orchestra here to bring us these musical pictures.

1. Once upon a time a beautiful princess was born to a king and queen. Alas, a wicked fairy put a curse on the princess so that if ever she used a spindle, she was doomed to prick her finger and die. The day came that she suffered the prick of the spindle, and fell down as if dead. The king remembered the curse and commanded that his daughter be placed in the finest room of the palace on a bed embroidered in gold and silver. Listen to the slow sad music of the flute and plucked strings in the form of an old dance that pictures the princess asleep with the good fairies tiptoeing around the bed. (Music).

Under the protection of the good fairy, who had decreed that the princess would not die but would only appear to be dead, all who dwelt in the castle fell into a deep slumber for one hundred years. Even the little dog, Puff, lay asleep on the bed beside his mistress, Sleeping Beauty. It was proclaimed throughout the land that no one was to approach the castle, but there was no need for such a prohibition, because within a quarter of an hour a thick wood filled with brambles and thorns grew up around the palace, so tall and dense that only the tops of the towers might be seen–and that only from a distance:

Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty

2. Once upon a time there was a poor woodcutter and his wife who had seven children. The youngest, Little Tom Thumb, was the smallest but the brightest and most ingenious. Hard times came upon the family and the woodcutter was driven to turning his dear boys out into the dark wood to fend for themselves. Little Tom was determined to not be lost, so he took a pocket full of white stones which he dropped along the way and therefore was able to guide his brothers home again. Hard times returned, and the family was beset with poverty yet again. The children were once more to be driven away, but this time Tom’s plan to take stones along to mark the path was thwarted. The only thing he had with him as they wandered through the dark wood was a crust of bread. (Music)

The night sounds grow more frightening, and what has happened to the bread crumbs? Why the birds have eaten them all. (Music)

What are the poor children to do?

Little Thumb

3. Once upon a time twin daughters were born to a happy king and queen. As it came to pass, a jealous fairy put a curse on one of the twins and she was made so ugly that none could look at her. She was named Laideronnette–little ugly one. However, the princess was a sweet child, and in order not to cause distress to the rest of her family, she offered to go off and live alone in a remote castle by the sea. Roaming about the castle grounds one day she caught the interest of the Green Serpent who tried to engage her with kind words. Terrified of him, Laideronnette fled and was nearly drowned in the sea. Upon awakening, she discovered that she had been rescued and was in a bed in the most splendid palace in a faraway land– the land of the Pagodas--the Chinese Nodding-Dolls. (Music - gong)

Having been appointed Empress of the Pagodas, Laideronnette was treated with all due respect, and was provided with the most luxurious place to bathe and dress herself. Pagodas and Pagodinas began to sing and to play on musical instruments. Some had lutes made of walnut-shells, others viols made of almond-shells--for the dolls needed instruments to suit their size. (Music - Piccolo & pizz strings)

After she finished her bath, the Empress was given a magnificent dressing-gown, and, accompanied by grand music, she was given extraordinary honors–Hail to the Empress!:

Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas

4. Once upon a time there was a rich merchant who had three daughters. The two eldest were selfish and mean tempered, while the youngest was lovely in spirit as well as appearance and was known as “Beauty.” In time the fortunes of the father failed,and the family was forced to retreat to the country and a simpler life. While attending to his business, the father came upon an enchanted castle where a Beast reigned. Upon learning that the merchant had three daughters, Beast promised that he would spare the father’s life if one of his daughters would willingly dwell with Beast. Beauty came willingly but fearfully, and every night under kindly treatment from Beast, engaged with him in pleasant conversation.

Beauty’s voice is heard through the clarinet accompanied by a delicate waltz. (music)

Every night Beast asks Beauty to marry him - his voice is the contrabassoon. (music)

It isn’t until she leaves for a time, and is made aware that Beast is dying without her presence, that Beauty returns and they have their final conversation:

“When I think how good-hearted you are, you do not seem to me so ugly.”
“Yes, I have indeed a kind heart; but I am a monster.”
“There are many men more monstrous than you.”
“If I had wit, I would invent a fine compliment to thank you, but I am only a beast.”


“Beauty, will you be my wife?”

“No Beast!”
“I die content since I have the pleasure of seeing you again.”
“No, my dear Beast, you shall not die: you shall live to be my husband!” (music)

The enchantment is broken, the Beast has disappeared, and Beauty sees at her feet only a prince more beautiful than Love:

Conversations of Beauty and the Beast

5. Now we’ve heard the pictures that accompany the stories, how can we go to sleep without knowing their endings? Monsier Ravel has painted a final sound picture─that of the fairy garden – where all the stories are resolved: Sleeping Beauty and all in her castle are awakened when the Prince arrives and we hear the wedding taking place. Tom Thumb and his family escape the wicked ogre and have plenty to eat. Empress Laideronnette has drunk the magic waters which restore her beauty and break the spell of the green serpent who, it turns out, is a kind and gentle King. Through her obedience she has gained respect by all and is known as Queen Discreet. Beauty is preparing to marry her Beast.

Now we may rest happily, knowing that all will come out right—in the end.

The Fairy Garden


Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2008.
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