Completed in 1924, the Tzigane is Ravel’s last essay in the Hungarian style. The original version, for violin and piano—with or without the unusual ‘luthéal’ attachment that created a cimbalom-like sonority—was arranged by Ravel soon after for violin and orchestra. Some of the Hungarian-style thematic material in the Tzigane sounds as though left over from, or derived from, the Sonata for Violin and Cello. The major/minor triadic harmony is prominent, though not as a melodic motive. The opening G-string motive is very reminiscent of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies, and Ravel’s own Duo has a comparable figure. As another instance of Ravel’s own traits, his favoured tonality of A minor is again in evidence, centering the solo violin melody that begins the fast section, ‘Moderato’ (bar 76), and cadencing to the main key of D minor only at the end of the second phrase.
High your elbow brings the bow across to the deep string; when you draw it you draw out my entrails: With a wrenching intensity you sculpt the phrase, then singe the air with the determination of your down-bow. Your hair shivers as you resume the attack, inundating the auditorium with your dark, shuddering tone. Isolated in the spotlight, your body is a blend of tension and serenity, a suicide’s razor before it kisses the wrist. Listen! There’s violence in that melody, there’s death in that dance! You are Ravel’s gitane, determinedly asserting her identity. In the face of all who would rather forget, you affirm that in Lucifer’s blackness there’s a brightness no other angels possess. The slide of your fingers between the pitches, the biting attack of your bow; the brilliance of your left-hand pizzicati, the idiosyncratic pulse of the beat: Infused with savage resolve, you walk the razor’s edge.
Swift as blood, slow like honey, into the night-space you pour out your spirit. In searing tenderness your violin soars; out of silence you coax secrets. You are the object of all eyes as you stand in the spotlight, but for yourself you are no object: Your concern is not about how you move but about what moves you. You spread your legs, flex your knees, and play the melody in pizzicati. Gone is any notion of the female body as a burden; absolute in its freedom, with precision and grace your body deploys itself in its own private space.
Close to the bridge, with the lightest of touches, your bow caresses the strings: Out from the f-holes there comes a quiet, an almost oriental calm. But it is the calm before the storm: Matteo sweeps a wild glissando, your hair flies out as your torso flings back; from your solar plexus you play, making savage music.
Matteo takes a solo turn, offering an ornamented version of the melody; when you come back in you change things again: Now you’re the most nubile girl at the firemen’s ball, indulging a suitor, awarding him a whirl. Radiant is your smile as you sway and bob, but all the while you’re under no illusion that this is anything more than an amusement: Elsewhere is your celebration! And then you take me there: In a pyrotechnical display of technique, you play the melody spiccato, producing notes with the force and colour of fireworks. The moment is everything; you’re in a space where you can do no wrong. Your bow is a blur as you remind the world what a privilege it is to be alive; poised on your sandals, you lower the neck of your violin and bend your body into the speed. Despite the rapidity time expands; my being resonates with your body: Totally absorbed in the moment, I am at one with you. Listen! In the limpid notes of the high register, Matteo now plays the hypnotic dance. You’re having none of it: You send a sequence of eerie harmonics to haunt his naïve transparency.
Now Matteo invites you back into the dance; you lean into the melody and take it up with spiccato bow. You flex your knees as you gather speed; now you’re in perpetual motion. Is this your long spiral up the Tower of Babel, is this your attempt to restore the original tongue? Your body now is compact, profiled for speed: Your bow moves in a blur. Gone are the days when you aimed to please, to provoke a reaction and prove your worth: Now you’re in a place where no one can reach you, a place where you’re at one with yourself. And then, renouncing the infinite, your arm swoops up off the strings and comes down to declaim in three triumphant notes that music is the original language, and silence is its condition.