Boléro

TUESDAY, September 17, 2019

Popular for 91 years…

This composition by Maurice Ravel remains one of the most famous pieces of music ever written. It consists of just one complex idea that is repeated over and over again, always with different instrumentation. Ravel late in life suffered from something very much Alzhiemer’s, not quite the same thing but similar in that he gradually lost his mental sharpness.

Many people have suggested that this mental decline had already started when he wrote Bolero, because of the way the music does the same thing over and over and over. They speculated that his increasing preoccupation with simple, repetitive ideas was linked to his decreasing faculties.

I find that idea unlikely. He composed other very fine music after Bolero, with all of the variety and mastery of his earlier music.

This is yet another astounding group of young musicians playing on an astonishingly high level of mastery. I am trying to pick videos that can be watched, because for developing musicians it is terribly important to see the instruments, the conductor and how it is all put together. These young musicians play Bolero a bit faster than we usually hear it, which the great conductor Toscanini also was famous for, so much so that Ravel got into an argument with him over the “too fast” tempo. Ravel wanted it slower. Toscanini told him that it wouldn’t work that way, and my vote is for the opinion of the the famous Italian conductor and not that of Ravel – who had a serious case of composer-tunnel-vision re interpretation.

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8 thoughts on “Boléro

  1. I think with the repetition, the faster tempo somehow is good to keep it flowing. I think there is enough variety for the “repetition” not to feel like boring.

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  2. I really liked this song, at the beginning it felt like the song was waiting for something to come, then the major upbeat part to me, was what the beginning was waiting for, and then at the end I really liked how the song resolved itself without leaving the sense of longing that the beginning had.

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    1. It’s a world-changing idea for sure. As far as I know no one else every thought of writing one basic tune and then having it repeat again and again, but always with different instruments and always building.

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