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Bhogal, Gurminder Kaur

Arabesque and Metric Dissonance in the Music of Maurice Ravel (1905-1914)

Ph.D. University of Chicago, 2004

This dissertation explores correlations between ornament, specifically Art Nouveau's Arabesque, and Ravel's treatment of rhythm and meter. Through the analysis of four pre-war works -- "Noctuelles" (Miroirs, 1905), "Ondine" (Gaspard de la Nuit, 1908), Daphnis et Chloé (1912), and the Modéré and Pantoum (Trio, 1914) -- I show that Ravel evokes the intricate and supple character of fin-de-siècle ornament through irregularly grouped short rhythmic values and metric dissonance. Ravel's conception of ornament as a significant structural and expressive component of the musical work subverts traditional expectations of ornament while identifying closely with contemporaneous developments in the visual arts. A study of ornament's aesthetic history and emergence as a vibrant creative force in fin/debut-de-siècle visual art exposes its affiliation with marginalised themes (such as fantasy, sexuality, mystery, and anxiety) and artists' celebration of these associations through centralised ornament. Ravel places similar structural emphasis on ornament to explore themes of nocturnal mystery in "Noctuelles", feminine seduction in "Ondine", and desire, longing, and anxiety in Daphnis. Ravel's disenchantment of ornament in the Trio reflects his increasing distance from debut-de-siècle trends and movement towards wartime ideals of a neoclassical aesthetic. This study traces Ravel's changing style and aesthetics through the hermeneutic potential of two musical structures conventionally deemed peripheral: ornament and meter.