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Maurice Ravel's most famous musical composition turns out to be (ironically) one that he considered to be his least important work. I am, of course, talking about Maurice Ravel's Boléro.
The French composer wrote this Spanish-themed, one-movement orchestral piece for his friend the Russian dancer and actress, Ida Rubinstein. The story gets messy, though. You can read about what happened here on Classic fm.
The music composition itself is a simple, yet a fascinating piece that is very rhythmic and concentrates on repetition. It maintains a constant rhythm that is set by the snare drums and repeats the melody 19 times. The simple melody is first played by the flute, but each time it is repeated by a different orchestral instrument (clarinet, bassoon, oboe, saxophone, and so on) until the finale, when it is played by nearly all of the instruments of the orchestra. (See video below.)
Ravel was very close to his mother, Marie, who was Basque but had grown up in Madrid. It is said that her Spanish/Basque heritage was a strong influence on his life and music. And perhaps that was reflected (whether he realized it or not) in his composition, Boléro, which he supposedly based on the musical form and the actual Spanish dance called bolero.
Lesson Plans for Ravel & Boléro
And here are a few fun lesson plans designed around Ravel and Boléro:
- Boléro: Rhythms, Obsession, and Art - Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO)
- Bolero to Bachata - LPO
- DSO Kids: Maurice Ravel
- Use Ravel's Bolero to help teach KS2 music
Check out this video: