Ravel began composing it in March 1914. During the summer of 1914, he worked in the French Basque commune of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. He had been born across the bay in the Basque town of Ciboure. His mother was Basque.
At the same time he was working on a piano concerto based on Basque themes entitled Zazpiak Bat (The Seven are One, referring to the seven traditional Basque provinces). Although abandoned, it left its mark on the trio.
The outbreak of war in August 1914 spurred him on to finish the trio so that he could enlist. He finished it in September. He was accepted as a nurse’s aide by the Army in October. In March 1916 he became an ambulance driver at the Verdun front (Vaughan Williams did the same job with the Royal Army Medical Corps in France and in Salonika). He fell ill at the end of that year and was demobilised in March 1917.
Movements are marked Modéré, Pantoum (Assez vif), Passacaille (Très large) and Final (Animé).
Yehudi Menuhin, violin, Gaspar Cassadó, cello, Louis Kentner, piano, 1960:
Not an ideal recording technically, but nor is the equally musical Jeanne Gautier, André Lévy, Vlado Perlemuter, 1954, also on YouTube.
A good student performance is by Iason Keramidis, Felix Drake and Lidija Pavlovic, Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe, July 13 2012:
At the beginning of this work, aren’t we close to the world of On Wenlock Edge? Vaughan Williams had studied with Ravel, who was his junior by two and a half years, in Paris for three months in early 1908. In February 1912, he attended the French premiere of On Wenlock Edge in Paris at which Ravel played the piano part. Isn’t it possible that the influence went both ways?
In music in the German-speaking world there was jitteriness in these years, but not the stillness and vulnerability which one hears in some French and English music on the eve of 1914.
Ravel, Ciboure, 1914