Maurice Ravel composed his Bolero in 1928 for the dancer Ida Rubinstein.
Throughout his life, he was to have a very divided relationship with this work, which quickly became very successful and is usually immediately associated with his name.
Looking at the compositional-technical aspect of the 15-minute piece, one quickly notices that the structure is amazingly simple. Over an ostinato rhythm in ¾ time, which is played by the snare drum throughout the piece, two 16-bar melodies blossom alternately. The Bolero reaches its exciting climax through a relentless crescendo, the growing number of instruments and impressive harmonic reversals. Ravel himself knew, of course, that great art looks different.
And so the composer stated that Bolero was a “pure orchestral piece without music, nothing but a long, progressive crescendo”. And elsewhere, “I have made only one masterpiece, that is the Bolero; unfortunately it contains no music.” Ravel was thus alluding to the much lower response of the public to his much more complex other works.
This Bolero, with its thoroughly haunting melody and rhythm with recognition value, was very often “re-used” for other projects.
It should be pointed out here that a bolero is a dance just like a waltz, a pasodoble, a tango or a minuet. Some people think the name was Ravel’s invention. Yet another sign of how incisive this composition was for the memory of mankind.
After Ida Rubinstein’s performance, choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, which fascinated and shocked Parisian audiences in equal measure with the dancer’s lascivious movements, Maurice Béjart also created a famous ballet version in 1961.
In 1939, Benny Goodman and his orchestra recorded a swinging version of the piece. This version also became a success.
In 1968, the Italian composer Ennio Morricone used the rhythm of Ravel’s Bolero for the theme song of the Italian western “Il Mercenario” (“The Dreaded Two”).
And in 1976, Bruno Bozzetto parodied the Walt Disney model “Fantasia” in his film “Allegro non troppo”; the Bolero is the background music for the third episode, in which a bizarre evolution is described.
The US feature film from 1979 “Ten – the Dream Woman” with Bo Derek should also be familiar to the not so classically ambitious audience. Ravel’s Bolero plays an important role there in a highly erotic sense.
Finally, at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, the couple Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean danced to a gold medal on the artificial ice to the sound of Ravel’s Bolero.
From then on, at the latest, there was no one who didn’t carry this catchy tune around with them every now and then.