Page last updated at 13:11 GMT, Friday, 27 March 2009

Hidden clue to composer's passion

Renoir was among the artists who depicted Parisian socialite Misia Sert

The French composer, Maurice Ravel may have left a hidden message - a woman's name - inside his work.

A sequence of three notes occurring repeatedly through his work spells out the name of a famous Parisian socialite says Ravel expert David Lamaze.

He argues that the notes, E, B, A in musical notation, or "Mi-Si-La" in the French doh-re-mi scale, refer to Misia Sert, a close friend of Ravel's.

Well known in art circles, she was painted by Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec.

Ravel never married, but Misia was married three times. Ravel composed some of his work while staying on a boat belonging to Misia and her second husband.

It has never been done before. To take one person and to place them at the centre of a life-long work
Professor David Lamaze, Conservatoire de Rennes

"It has never been done before. To take one person and to place them at the centre of a life-long work," says Professor Lamaze of the Conservatoire de Rennes, who is working on a book about Ravel and Misia.

Professor Lamaze believes Ravel was romantically inspired by Misia. "To put the feeling of love at the very central point of the creation without us knowing it. That is typical of Ravel, I think."


Maurice Ravel. Original Artwork: By Elliott & Fry.
Ravel was intensely private about both his work and his love life

Ravel was notoriously secretive about all aspects of his life, from his compositional process to his private life, which has led to speculation that he may have been gay.

The Mi-Si-La motif appears, in particular, at crucial phases of Ravel's work La Valse, says David Lamaze.

At the beginning, in depicting a man and woman dancing a Viennese Waltz, he entwines Mi-Si-La with A and E - thought to denote Ravel.

Initially planned in 1906 as a tribute to the waltzes of Johann Strauss, La Valse became a much darker work when he completed it in 1920, following his experiences serving in the World War I and the death of his mother.

BBC Radio 3 features Ravel's The Waltz on Saturday at 1215 GMTor catch up later at BBC iPlayer .


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