About this work
The Menuet antique (1895), Ravel's earliest published work, is by no means one of the composer's best-known or most-accomplished efforts. Still, within these eight pages of music, one may clearly observe the distinctive and colorful blend of old (a stylized eighteenth century dance form and an archaic scale) and new (brightly chromatic harmonies) that would become a hallmark of the composer's singular musical language. As is the case with so many of his early works, Ravel later reworked the basic musical concept of the Menuet antique into a more mature effort, the piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin (1914-1917).
Ravel composed the Menuet antique while still a student at the Paris Conservatoire, and the work shows something of the same Chabrier influence that Ravel later heard and disliked in his own Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899). Indeed, some have seen the Menuet antique as something of a companion piece to Chabrier's Menuet pompeaux (1881), despite the lack of any evidence that Ravel himself viewed it as such.
The work is in a typical ABA minuet form, the densely textured, minor-mode outer sections contrasted by much more transparent gestures in the major-mode middle section. Important features of the two outer sections, the second of which is absolutely identical to the first, include the pervasive use of accented major-seventh chords in a modified appoggiatura manner and a reliance on distinct sequential melodic gestures. A striking scale in octaves, rising from a piano to a fortissimo dymanic level (complete with marked sforzandi) over the span of just one measure, precedes the final utterance of the main theme. Dotted note gestures ride atop a steady eighth note pulse during the elfin central "Trio" section. Near the end of the section, Ravel cleverly fuses together the main melodies of both the A and B sections with the Trio melody in the right hand, first-section melody in the left.
In 1929 Ravel made an orchestral version of the Menuet antique, suggesting that he, at least, considered it a work worth preserving.