Maurice Ravel was a French composer, probably best known for his orchestral work, Bolero. He is also well known for his famous 1922 arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition.
He was born in 1875 in Ciboure, France (near Biarritz, part of the French Basque region, bordering on Spain). His mother was Basque while his father was a Swiss inventor and industrialist. His parents encouraged his musical pursuits and sent him to the Conservatoire de Paris. During his schooling in Paris, Ravel joined with a number of innovative young composers who referred to themselves as the “Apaches” because of their wild abandon.
He studied music at the Conservatoire de Paris in Paris, under Gabriel Fauré. He was also heavily influenced by Debussy's impressionist style. Ravel was also highly influenced from music around the world including American Jazz, Asian music, and traditional folk songs from across Europe. Ravel was not religious and was probably an atheist. He disliked the overtly religious themes of other composers, such as Wagner, and instead preferred to look to classical mythology for inspiration.
During the First World War, Ravel was not allowed to enlist because of his age and weak health and instead became an ambulance driver.
In 1932 Ravel was involved in an automobile accident that severely reduced his health. In 1937, he had an operation that he hoped would restore much of his health, but the operation was a failure and he died soon afterwards.
When American composer George Gershwin met Ravel, he mentioned that he would have liked to study with the French composer if that were possible. The Frenchman retorted, “Why should you be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?”
Stravinsky once referred to Ravel as the “Swiss Watchmaker”, a reference to the intricacy and precision of Ravel's works.