A “Naked Violin” and a “Mechanical Rabbit”: Exploring Playing Relationships in Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello (1922)
We are fortunate to have been left an unusual and very personal account of the players’ work with Ravel on this piece at the time of its creation. The ”naked violin” and ”mechanical rabbit” of the title are characterisations of the two instruments that appear in Hélène Jourdan-Morhange’s Ravel et nous (1945). (Jourdan-Morhange was one of Ravel’s most important collaborators in the 1920s.) Her description of the violin as “stripped of decent attire” suggests that this piece presents a peculiarly ”exposed” approach, and this chapter explores some of the ways in which the explication of the musical relationships embodied in this extraordinary piece of chamber music offer a particularly distinctive picture of the ways in which relationships between players in chamber music are also played out through the instruments. The chapter establishes the nature of some of the “games” in which players of this music engage, exploring in particular the roles of open strings and harmonics in shaping the interactions. In order to understand the implications of Jourdan-Morhange’s characterisations, some comparisons are drawn with Ravel’s other pieces from the surrounding decade.