with even a smattering of classical music knowledge is familiar
with Ravel's Bolero. Indeed, its incredible popularity eventually
annoyed even Maurice Ravel himself.
years, Bolero was featured in the movie "10" (1979) as an accompaniment
to Bo Derek's lovemaking, as well as being utilized by Torvill
and Dean, the renowned British ice dancing couple, in the mid-1980's.
exciting composition have been the product of a very troubled
rhythm of the orchestral piece is said to be an example of "musical
perseveration," indicating that Ravel was in the early stages
of dementia, according to Dr. Eva Cybulska, a psychiatrist in
Dartford, England. Perseveration is the endless repetition of
a word, sound, or action in response to a stimulus, and is characteristic
of sufferers from Alzheimer's disease and other degenerative
conditions of the brain. In the case of Bolero, the same musical
phrase is repeated 18 times without variation, although the
differences in orchestration demonstrate the brilliance of the
To be sure,
Ravel did show the first signs of neurological problems in 1927,
at age 52, the year before Bolero was introduced. In 1929, he
developed muscle problems and aphasia (impaired communication
skills--eventually he could no longer speak, read, or write).
Unsuccessful brain surgery led to his death in Paris on Dec.
against it was, unfortunately, not a new experience for Ravel.
In 1889, at 14, he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he
remained until 1905. During this period, he composed some of
his best known works, including the Pavane pour une infante
défunte, the Sonatine for piano, and the String Quartet.
Although he entered three times, he never won the coveted Prix
de Rome for composition (the works he submitted were judged
too "advanced" by ultraconservative members of the jury).
were filed, and as a result, the director of the Conservatoire,
Théodore Dubois, was forced to resign. He was replaced
by Gabriel Fauré, with whom Ravel had studied composition.
personal life was not terribly eventful. He served in World
War I for a short time as a truck driver at the front, and was
discharged from the army in 1917. He never married.
according to some critics, "music was a kind of ritual, having
its own laws, to be conducted behind high walls, sealed off
from the outside world, and impenetrable to unauthorized intruders."
Igor Stravinsky compared Ravel to "the most perfect of Swiss
watchmakers," no doubt extolling those qualities of intricacy
and precision to which Stravinsky attached so much importance.
Ravel--a troubled genius and superb composer. Was he helped
or hurt by dementia?