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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: What are your feelings about Ravel's 'Bolero'?

September 7, 2008 at 9:21 PM

Sorry I'm getting the weekend poll up a little late this week, with back-to-school, the start of soccer and a pops concert, life got a little busy!

I thought of this poll last night, as I was dutifully counting measures in the final piece of our Pasadena Pops concert: Maurice Ravel's Bolero. (Check it out, I found a Youtube version with Andre Rieu conducting! :)

I wondered, how many people here are just trying to endure to the end, and how many are in a deep state of building rapture?

I love Ravel. I love the violin sonata, I love Mother Goose Suite, and how about La Valse? But Bolero?

I suspect its runaway popularity has something to do with the 1984 film by the same name, featuring Bo Derek. ALL of Bo Derek, let's just say.

Basically, the piece is one long orchestral crescendo, and after playing it so many times over the years, there are other thoughts and metaphors that come to my mind, besides Ms. Derek on the beach.

The first thought: the poor drummer. Duh, Dudada Duh, DudadaDudadadadada Duh..... You have to have a drummer with steel concentration. While the rest of the orchestra, sometimes even the conductor, float off into la-la land, the drummer has to keep it all together, playing the same rhythm...has anyone counted how many times? Millions, I think. It might as well be.

Have you ever been felled by a really, really bad virus? At first, you barely know you have it. You feel just a little tingle. A cough here, a little roughness in the throat there. Then you go a little foggy; your head begins to ache a bit. The sniffles start; the cough persists, the throat tightens. But you fight it.. The fever sets in, and you steel against it. The chills come. You can feel the virus reproducing in your body, it comes in waves, dumping new virus into your blood stream. You are reeling from the attack. Then, all at once, you collapse.

If you aren't dead, you are nonetheless full of virus. It will take days, no, weeks, for your immune system to fully iradicate the virus from your system.

I won't tell you my thoughts about "Bolero," lest they influence yours. ;) Do you love it? Do you hate it? Or have you reached sweet apathy?

From Brian Hong
Posted on September 7, 2008 at 10:34 PM
nice rhyming. i don't know the piece. lol.
From Graham Clark
Posted on September 7, 2008 at 11:05 PM
A great big melody that needs little doing to it, other than repetition, dynamic manipulation, and orchestration.

It is a testament to Ravel's self control.

I believe he once said something along the lines of, "Bolero is my most successful work. Shame it's not music."

I think he was mistaken. It is music, and music that works.


From Bill Busen
Posted on September 7, 2008 at 11:03 PM
Two things moved me from disliking it to liking it:

The Olympic Snare Drum Finals aspect you mentioned. Will he crack and run screaming from the room? I tend to listen mostly to orchestras where I know the players, and there are so many solos in Bolero, so I am usually hearing it in a context where the social aspects are keeping my interest.

There is some exchange where Ravel acknowledged the lunacy of the work that I am too lazy to look up right now. Ravel said, "You understand it!", but I forget the comment that that was a rejoinder to.

From Sydney Menees
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 1:43 AM
I didn't respond because, as a violinist and having played this piece, it is SO BORING. But it's actually not that bad to listen to.
From Royce Faina
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 1:39 AM
Laurie, Remember a post regarding songs that makes someone cry? Well, for me having to sit through Bolero.....

Brian- Dude, you've got to be kidding! Evfen I know this one. Bolero is a Nuclear Prune!

From Mendy Smith
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 2:37 AM
I blogged on this one once. Nuf said.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 3:49 AM
I can't stand it. In my community orchestra, we would "audition" pieces to find what suited us best. We tried Bolero once, and I believe that everyone hated it, including the percussionist. We did not play it any more.

Mendy, I'd like to read your blog. What's its date?

From Daniel Orenstein
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 4:51 AM
Laurie, I'm not sure about André Rieu...but if you want to know how a great conductor definitely influences your perception of music, watch Celibidache conducting the Danish radio orchestra (on you tube)!!
From Jerald Archer
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 5:02 AM
I have often wondered how the composer himself would react to what has been done to that piece? If he was able to rake in royalties, like some pop song, he would undoubtly have been a millionaire many times over. This not being the case,I think the piece has underwent the unfortunate mutation from art to commercialism, as have several other classical pieces, those of which are usually found in the classical music CD bargain bins. I felt it was always a piece that orchestras try to use to attract new audience members to be interested in classical music. A practice I frown upon, since I consider it a vulgar form of "selling peanuts" in the opera house. You only end up with an audience full of unaware patrons and a messy floor to boot. On a positive note, it is a great piece for percussionists and contain a wonderful rhythm and melody. It is a great piece to include in music history lessons, and remember that it, along with many other classical works, were utilized in the movies beginning around the late 70's (and still are) to their ultimate ruination.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 5:25 AM
I think I played it once and thought it was the most boring thing I ever had to play, but I can listen to it ok. Somebody spotted Twinkle as really the Wonderful World song. I'm spotting Bolero as really the Little Drummer Boy Christmas song.
From Graham Clark
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 8:22 AM
Bolero is also very similar to the first part of Lloyd Webber's "Memories"


From Aysha N
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 9:17 AM
Deadly boring.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 9:50 AM
Love it, love it, love it! The subtleties by which it transforms throughout the simple repetition of the motif gets me every time. I get the sensation of driving from the plains into a mountain pass, where the scenery gradually morphs and swells before your eyes. Or a camera zooming out into a large panoramic. Or a brilliant epic plot slowly unfolding.
From Megan Chapelas
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 1:01 PM
Can't decide on my feelings just yet, but since I read this, it's been running through my head nonstop!
From Peter Kent
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 1:44 PM
My appreciation of Bolero is directly proportionate to the paycheck for playing it. It's what we used to call Drug-Store classics....back when drug-stores sold 33RPM recordings and items of this ilk....1812 Ovt, Beethoven 5, Swine Lake etc. were readily available, played by unknown orchestras. People would buy, listen and become authorities on classical music. Bolero is a compositional masterpiece...much more clever than works of Adams, Glass, etc...Those that think repetition supercedes development. However it's subtleties are wasted-on/ignored by the string players that have to slug thru the counting or the T-bone player hoping to make his entrance convincing...As I recall from college days, Bolero and the Seasons were stepping stones to classical literature for colleagues that hithertofore had experienced only wind literature.
From Bob Annis
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 3:37 PM
Far more interesting for the auditor than the player, it is a fine example of one of the earliest uses of music; as a means of altering consciouness. Before we became so sophisticated, and developed technologies whose purpose was to induce altered mental states, this sort of thing was more to be found.

I like it, in reasonable doses, though I usually resort to a more pharmacological method of consciousness-enhancemrnt. But Bolero is certainly a Green way to go for this sort of thing.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 4:49 PM
"Bolero" is boring. But at least the violin parts aren't all that tricky...

"Daphnis et Chloe" is the dreaded one. Counting nightmare, awkward passages, dizzying divisis, all leading to massive amounts of shedding. Bleh.

My favorite Ravel piece is "Le Tombeau de Couperin", piano version.

From Royce Faina
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 5:04 PM
Bob Annis- ...earliest uses of music; as a means of altering consciousness... As in Western Classical Music? Because peoples from Native Americans to Celts, Babylonians etc., have used certain forms of their music to alter states of consciousness. Alister Crowley was doing this before Bolero was composed.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 6:56 PM
It does induce a mood, it kind of puts one in a trance. The problem with being in a trance is, well, counting. So if you are playing it, you have to fight being seduced into that trance. Honestly, I don't know if I've ever heard it as an audience member, played live. I might well like it! But to play it; it's kind of like doing meditation but keeping yourself from the peaceful state that is the whole reason people do meditation!

We decided last night that the snare drum player deserved a Congressional Medal of Honor, he did SO amazingly well. It's all on the drummer, for sure.

From Bob Annis
Posted on September 8, 2008 at 8:21 PM
Western Classical? Oh, no, MUCH earlier than that.

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" - the Beast 666. A latecomer to the scene, Crowley nonetheless served to rekindle awareness of alternative belief systems. And he was SUCH a bad boy.

From Megan Chapelas
Posted on September 9, 2008 at 10:34 AM
Laurie, you're talking about the zone! Ever played Shaker Loops? Minimalist music does that to me as well - you get into a place where you have to be absolutely in the moment, fully concentrated but not too active. Get distracted for a second and you're out - great training for one whose brain likes to take random tours during an orchestra rehearsal!
From Mazz Swift-Camlet
Posted on September 10, 2008 at 2:12 PM
Just now chiming in! ;)

I have never played Bolero, so maybe my feelings are a little bit skewed when I say I would kill or die to be a part of any (good) orchestra that plays that piece. I am and have always been a fan of the slow build in music in general...

Would be nice to experience it from the inside.

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