Maurice_Ravel2Maurice Ravel, the composer, suffered in the last years of his life from a condition that was sometimes called Pick’s disease and would probably now be diagnosed as a form of frontotemporal dementia. He developed a semantic asphasia, an inability to deal with interpretations and symobls, abstract concepts, or categories. His creative mind though, remained teeming with musical patterns and tunes – patterns and tunes which he could no longer notate or put on paper.

Theophile Alagnouanine, Ravel’s physician, was quick to realise that his illustrious patient had lost musical language but not his musical inventiveness. One wonders, indeed, whether Ravel was on the cusp of dementia when he wrote Bolero, a work characterised by the relentless repetition of a single musical phrase dozens of times, waxing in loudness and orchestration but with no development. While such repetition was always part of Ravel’s style, in his earlier works it formed a more integral part of much longer musical structures, whereas in Bolero, it could be said, there is the reiterative-pattern and nothing else.

Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia


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