About this work
Ravel began composing what later became known as his Sonatine when the Anglo-French magazine Weekly Critical Review conducted a competition for the first movement of a piano sonata. He was at an advantage with a unique style that gave him the ability to take the traditional sonata form, which had come to a "dead end" during the second half of the nineteenth century, and bring life to it by avoiding pitfalls and clichés. When the magazine went bankrupt, Ravel added two more movements to his competition piece, and thus completed his Sonatine. Representative of his first formative period, the work is bright and clear, and only gently touches the listener's emotions. Using fluidity, light coloring, and the intervals of the fourth and fifth as unifying features, the work is written using primarily the three middle octaves of the piano. Ravel was known for his tightly written pieces and Sonatine was no exception; it easily reminds one of the refined objets d'art of the eighteenth century. The opening Modéré-doux et espressif -- is written in strict sonata form, has a first theme around the tonality of F sharp minor, a second around D major and B minor, and a development section of intense excitement. The second movement -- Mouvement de menuet -- is an uncomplicated minuet in D flat, which flowers in its final measures. The work closes with virtuoso writing marked Animé. Moving nervously between 3/4 and 5/4, waves of music pour forward with a few horn calls in the left hand.
When on June 16, 1904, the first movement of the Sonatine was performed for its dedicatees Cipa and Ida Godebski (Ma Mère l'oye was dedicated to their children), it was very well received, and when the full work was given by Paule de Lestang on March 10, 1906, under the patronage of the Lyon Revue musicale, enthusiasm was so great that Durand put it into immediate publication.