Ravel’s Boléro & My Writing

I’m working sort of diligently on my main Work in Progress about the gay world immediately pre and post-AIDS and created a few sentences I wanted to share with you before I tell you about my Rabbit Hole experience with Ravel’s Boléro .

Turning back to the window after hearing a couple of guys oooo and ahhh, (Lisa) stood watching two particularly active men. Tilting her head and squinting, they became notes on a musical staff, Ravel’s Boléro pulling the men through the staccato eighth and sixteenth notes. She watched as they tumbled three-quarter speed through the lines on the page, each thrust into a man’s body creating the accent at the end of the wave before a new crest of orgasms began. The symphonic orchestra in her head, mixing with We Are Family on the motel’s radio, created something resembling a Stravinsky composition.

The paragraph formed as I was writing in silence, Boléro being what began in my head and then I had to look and see when the movie 10 came out… 1979… exactly where Lisa would have heard the song first. Lisa was also in band and would have known details about the music. Then as she came back to herself, the combination of Boléro and We Are Family, a disco song, would have created the cacophonous sound of a Stravinsky orchestration. I have never liked Stravinsky, so that was an easy one to “hear.”

Example of the complicated cacophony Stravinsky offers.

Herbert von Karajan

Moving to YouTube to listen and the first orchestra I heard was the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra with Herbert von Karajan as Conductor. I watched mesmerized and needed to know more. First, I scrolled through the comments, blessedly I read Spanish, too, because everywhere I read the next few days had a lot of Spanish comments and articles. In the comments, I see the word “Nazi” in relation to Karajan, so off I go to Wikipedia and learn that sure enough, he was a Nazi during WWII. When he traveled around the world to conduct orchestras, he had been picketed, his evenings of conducting interrupted by protesters (including here in the United States). While I do not know the year this particular video was created, the orchestra is all white men. He died in 1989, so before then. While his conducting was amazing and my favorite, I just cannot watch him anymore.

Maurice Ravel

Then I head in a different direction learning about the actual piece Boléro by Frenchman Maurice Ravel who, thankfully, was not a Nazi. Boléro was a commissioned piece for a ballet.

I find the rhythm, the pace and instrumental shifts as interesting as it starting pianissimo (as soft as possible) and ending fortissimo (as loud as possible).

I have listened to orchestras from around the world play Boléro… professionals and students, loving each performance. There are Flashmobs that are worth watching.

Two ballet performances in particular are worthy of your time. Both were choreographed by Maurice Béjart, one with a ballerina, Maya Plisetskaya and one with a ballerino, Jorge Donn… an extremely homoerotic piece that is amazing to watch.

Jorge Donn dancing Boléro

I have a preference for the slower pace… between 62 and 76 beats per minute. These were the beats Ravel himself set in his scores. It annoyed the crap out of him to have the conductor speed up as the piece goes on, something that, apparently, is really common.

When Piero Coppola was doing the first recording of Boléro in 1930, Ravel sitting next to him, Coppola says:

Maurice Ravel… did not have confidence in me for the Boléro. He was afraid that my Mediterranean temperament would overtake me, and that I would rush the tempo. I assembled the orchestra at the Salle Pleyel, and Ravel took a seat beside me. Everything went well until the final part, where, in spite of myself, I increased the tempo by a fraction. Ravel jumped up, came over and pulled at my jacket: “not so fast”, he exclaimed, and we had to begin again.


Conductor Arturo Toscanini

Toscanini premiered Boléro with the New York Philharmonic in 1929. I am sharing that because the original recording is in YouTube and knowing that was the first playing in public of the piece gives me shivers of happiness! How lucky we are to be able to hear this! Instrumental foibles and all.

Where’s the Part About Writing?

Listening to Boléro, my writing has been going really well. This book is flowing along. Not fast enough for my taste, but at least it is going. I must have listened to it 100 times now, and watched half of that.

Gustavo Dudamel

When I need to take a break, I love watching Gustavo Dudamel, a Venezuelan Conductor who is delightfully animated as he directs the Wiener Philharmoniker. Someone commented: How to be a good conductor… really love music or have a controlled seizure. This fits Dudamel perfectly.

And then there is writing this post. No one might care, but I have a new blog post out and I am very happy about that!

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