A special kind of magic can occur when a composer works within stringent constrictions. When one thinks of Ravel, works such as Boléro, the String Quartet in F, Le Tombeau De Couperin, Daphnis et Chloé, and La Valse. Like sonic paintings, these pieces sparkle and reflect the myriad of orchestral and tonal colors a master orchestrator like Ravel had in his palette. His Sonata for Violin and Cello, which began as a single movement work dedicated to Debussy entitled simply Duo, is, as Ravel remarked: “… music…stripped down to the bone. The allure of harmony is rejected and increasingly there is a return of emphasis on melody.” Akin to switching from oil paints to charcoal, there is a return to (and re-examination of) line and shape. Brilliant color is supplanted by masterful shading.
The piece is a peculiar and specific beauty; so transparent in sections it glimmers like glass panes. Driven by rhythm, texture, and a dose of the exoticism so fashionable in Parisian circles at the time (both Ravel and Debussy attended the 1889 Paris Exhibition and encountered Eastern instrumental sounds that would forever after impact their works), it also exposes a more melancholic Ravel. In moments the work is so modern and strident that upon first listen one might attribute it to Ligeti or another more recent composer. As a whole it is elaborate precision at its finest.