Ravel’s ‘crazy’ Boléro is 90 this year

This autumn sees the 90th anniversary of French composer Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, one of the most popular pieces of classical music in the world despite – or perhaps because of – it being so unconventional.

Ravel actually thought most orchestras would refuse to play it and in later years lamented “I only wrote one masterpiece but unfortunately it has no music in it” (he preferred his more complex works). After one early performance a woman reputedly cried out “he’s crazy”, to which Ravel said “she’s spot on”.

It repeats a tune 18 times over a quarter of an hour, without variation or rhythm changes, with gradually more instruments and volume. It starts with a snare drum, pianissimo, then brings in a flute and builds up to the whole orchestra fortissimo possible (as loud as possible).

Next month there is a chance to hear music by Ravel and his contemporaries at Les Journées Ravel festival in Montfort l’Amaury, ...

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