About this work
Maurice Ravel composed his diminutive Menuet sur la nom d'Haydn (1909) as part of celebrations to mark the centenerary of the Austrian master's death. The Menuet is a movement of a larger work to which many other Parisian notables, including Debussy, Dukas, and D'Indy, made similar contributions. Ravel had been interested in archaic musical forms and styles since his early student days at the Conservatoire -- his first published piece was the mock-Classical Menuet antique (1895) -- and his parodistic skills were considerable, as evidenced in his good-natured imitations of Chabrier and Borodin (1913).
Still, when he sat down to compose his homage to Haydn, Ravel did not try to capture anything of the earlier composer's style beyond the vague superficial strokes. Instead, the Menuet is an agreeable mélange of old and new, a work somewhat Classical in gesture and form but distinctly Ravelian in harmony and narrative aesthetic.
The Menuet is reasonably short, spanning only 54 bars in the space of about a minute and a half. Part of the game Ravel plays is to employ Haydn's own name as a five-note motif. By interpreting H as the Germanic spelling of B natural, A and D as their respective pitches, and Y and N as D and G, respectively (according to a scheme that assigns the rest of the alphabet to pitches in revolving groups of seven), Ravel arrives at the musical formula HAYDN = B-A-D-D-G. Most of the occurrences of this subject are marked in the score, including several that use either inversion (i.e. turned upside down) and/or retrograde motion (backwards). The Minuet is a good deal more chromatic, and more reliant on typically Ravelian seventh and ninth chords, than anything Haydn would have written; at the same time, its basic dance flow is not at all contrary to the Classical style. Features such as dense, sliding parallel sonorities and characteristic, unexpected harmonic shifts bear the unmistakable stamp of Ravel's own musical language.