Why Ravel Did Not Revel in Bolero

Dec 4, 2019

YouTube: a performance of Bolero from Michael Tilson Thomas

If you're a fan of classical music, you've probably heard the famous piece, The Bolero by Maurice Ravel. Producer of the weekly Boise Philharmonic Showcase, Jamey Lamar, shares some musical backstory with Boise State Publc Radio:

"The Bolero is a Spanish ballroom dance which inspired a whole raft of tributes from French composers including Chopin, Saint-Saëns, Bizet, and Debussy. But none of them compares in popularity to the one by Maurice Ravel. It has become familiar in every realm of pop culture, but the composer himself almost instantly regretted writing it, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it is disturbingly monomaniacal from a formal standpoint. Take pity, for instance, on the snare drum, who must repeat the same two bars of music for sixteen minutes straight. On top of this figure (ostinato is the technical term), Ravel’s sinuous and evocative tune, a darn good one to be sure, is repeated—verbatim. Seventeen times. Legend has it that at the premiere, one woman cried out that Ravel had lost his mind. His response was that the woman had understood his piece perfectly. Secondly, it became incredibly popular.

For Ravel, it stung to have this one, absurd work—a kind of musical experiment, and something he claimed was not even really music—become the one he was asked about everywhere he went."

Hear the Boise Philharmonic Showcase, engineered and produced by Jamey Lamar, each Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 pm, each Sunday at Noon, and each Monday at 9:00 am on Boise State Public Radio Music. 

YouTube: a performance of Bolero from Michael Tilson Thomas