Maurice Ravel ~ Unraveling Boléro

Day 304 of Colourisation Project – March 7

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

In the 1979 movie 10, Bo Derek’s character asks, “Did you ever do it to Ravel’s Boléro?” –  a reference to the notion that the music is a good aid for love making.

Metaphorically speaking, Boléro is one long orchestral crescendo, steadfastly building up to an explosive discharge of pent-up tension. I’m not speaking from experience of course, when I say that one can see how the relentless snare-drum underpinning the seventeen minute crescendo could be of assistance. But is that what Ravel had in mind when he was composing this masterpiece?

Photographer: Unknown  ~ Maurice Ravel 1925 ~ Colored by Loredana Crupi

Born this day, 7 March 1875, French composer and pianist, Joseph-Maurice Ravel was one of the most significant composers of the 20th century, best known for what would become his signature piece, Boléro. One of the most familiar and frequently performed orchestral works of the twentieth century, Ravel thought it mediocre and once described it as “a piece for orchestra without music.”

Written in 1928, for Russian dancer, Ida Rubinstein, Boléro is basically a long exercise in orchestration; the same melody being executed by every instrument and instrument combination in the orchestra, in all a set of 18 orchestrations – evidence, according to a 1997 British scientific study by psychologists, that its repetitive nature indicated Ravel was suffering from Alzheimer’s when he wrote the piece!

What would psychologists know? Boléro was an immediate and resounding success, a stunning tour de force! American composer, George Gershwin was impressed and when he got to meet Ravel, he mentioned that he would have liked to study with the French composer if that were possible. A humble Ravel asked in reply, ‘Why should you be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?’


Ravel died of Pick’s disease at the age of 62 after undergoing brain surgery in Paris, on December 28, 1937.

Ravel, who never married and was not known to have had any long-term intimate relationships, said more than once, “The only love affair I have ever had was with music”. Perhaps Bo Derek was on to something after all!

Today’s treat is a result of that love affair. Performing Boléro is the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Russian conductor, Valery Gergiev.



Remember that I wrote a pavane for a dead princess, and not a dead pavane for a princess!  Maurice Ravel

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