The Cool Machine

Stephen Walsh

  • Ravel by Roger Nichols
    Yale, 430 pp, £25.00, April 2011, ISBN 978 0 300 10882 8

‘Trying to pin Ravel down,’ Roger Nichols writes in his penultimate paragraph, ‘is about as futile as trying to catch Scarbo in a bucket.’ It may seem a disconcerting admission to find at the end of a 350-page biography; but in fact it’s a positive and exact assessment, characteristically honest, and at the same time a high compliment to its subject. Both in himself and in his work Ravel has always eluded labelling, and it seems that the more closely you look, the more precision recedes. Nichols, a modest and tolerant man, quotes lavishly the observations of those who knew Ravel, those who loved him or hated him, those who liked or disliked his music, the critics who reviewed it, the musicologists who have studied it; Ravel passes through the midst of them all and goes his way.

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