"Tzigane, morceau de virtuosité dans le goût d'une rhapsodie hongroise." (Ravel ).
In the early 1920s, Ravel showed a particular interest in writing for the violin, slowly developing the Sonate pour violon et piano for Hélène Jourdan-Morhange. In 1922 he heard the Hungarian virtuoso Jelly d'Aranyi playing Bartok's Sonata no.1, with the composer, and he decided to write a showpiece in the Hungarian manner for the young violinist, incorporating as many technical challenges as he could devise.
The first performance was set for a concert in London on 26.iv.1924 at the Aeolian Hall; Ravel however did not finish writing the piece until shortly before the performance, and d'Aranyi had only a couple of days to prepare it. The work was a huge success, both at its première and subsequently, though some critics have judged it harshly:
"The other new work, which had been completed only just in time for the performance, was the Tzigane for violin and piano. It is rhapsodical in the literal meaning of the word, being a series of episodes in the Hungarian manner strung together. One is puzzled to understand what M. Ravel is at. Either the work is a parody of the Liszt-Hubay-Brahms-Joachim school of Hungarian violin music and falls into the class of La Valse, or it is an attempt to get away from the limited sphere of his previous compositions to infuse into his work a little of the warm blood it needs." (The Times (London), 28.iv.1924).
And the composer Henri Sauguet took this opportunity to voice the disdain which some of the younger generation felt for Ravel's music: "Last night I went to the Ravel Festival, given by the SMI, to hear Tzigane which is quite the most artificial thing Ravel has ever put his name to. It is poor - very unexciting indeed. The principles that motivate those pages are so out-of-date that I am astonished anyone can still believe in them. Wildly successful, of course, with the lorgnetted ladies and the portly gents. As a whole, the works that were played last night seemed very antiquated to me. Especially the Quartet. I understand more and more why Ravel has no time for the music of today. It must appeal to him about as much as his music appeals to us at the moment." (Sauguet to Poulenc, in Poulenc , p.74, letter 86).
"Forêt d'embûches pour les violonistes." ( Hélène Jourdan-Morhange in Colette , p.167).
The original accompaniment for the piece was for piano or piano luthéal. Later in 1924 Ravel scored a version with orchestral accompaniment.