Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ravel's Bolero to fuck by?

I read this history about the Ravel's Bolero some years ago and I think that makes sense. Well, I have to say I never heard this music with the same ears again. I don't think is possible being so precise but I'd like to try someday. Of course, with my sense of humor I'll probably have a laugh attack. But if I hear it close to someone attractive to me... Nothing happens, because I'm too shy.

Oh, this music plays in the film "Conan, the Destroyer" (1984).

Music for basic banging
Philharmonic Phantasies

There is a story that Maurice Ravel, attending an early performance of his Boléro, noticed a respectable, middle-aged woman get up from her seat after the music had been going on for ten minutes or so. She proceeded up the aisle and out of the theatre in a state of high dudgeon. Ravel is said to have turned to his companion and whispered, "She understands!"

Two generations of program annotators misinterpreted Ravel's comment, whether out of ignorance or expediency it's hard to tell. They claimed that the good lady was disgruntled by the score's obstinate use of the same tune over and over and the conviction that the composer was assailing the audience with a musical shaggy dog tale. According to that interpretation, Ravel's comment confirmed her poor impression.

But nowadays even musicologists have wakened to the erotic dimension of life and a more plausible subtext can readily be found in the story. Very likely Ravel made his remark with a satisfied little leer. The worthy matron understood the music, all right, and it was saying things to her that she did not come to the concert hall to hear. One imagines that she was not much inclined to hear those things anywhere else either, but let's be charitable and forego that line of speculation.

Boléro begins with a simple rhythmic figure that persists throughout the piece except for the last two or three measures. It is played pianissimo by two military drums and pizzicato strings. After four measures establishing the pattern, a solo flute introduces the work's only melody, built of two 16-bar phrases. It is a slinky, insinuating and sensuous tune passed from one instrument to another in a long, uninterrupted crescendo that eventually involves the whole orchestra playing full blast. Suddenly, just a moment before the end, the melody is subtly modified and not so subtly modulated into a different key (C major to E-flat, but who's counting by now?), the rhythm is pounded out triple-forte for four more measures and the music comes to an end with a wickedly ejaculatory chord.

As easy as it is to analyze musically, Boléro can be described still more succinctly in terms of male arousal. There's nothing subtle about the strutting, deliciously arrogant horniness of the tune nor about its inexorable saunter to salacious satisfaction. Even the change of key corresponds exactly to passing that point of no return of which we're all so fond. And the big bang at the end, well, I leave it to you to interpret that one...

Is it music to fuck by? (Excuse me, I mean, is it music to which one might profitably engage in sexual congress?) Definitely, particularly if you're into choreographing your lovemaking and timing the main events. A sense of humour helps too.

Allow me to illustrate. Although it is contrary to the norms of musicological discourse to write of one's personal life, Boléro is such an immodest hunk of sound that I am prepared to waive my professional standards, this once, for the general good.

Back in the mists of time when I was young, I had a lover who liked to perform little sexual experiments, all in the interest of science and philosophy, she assured me. This was when music was on LP recordings and no one worried about safe sex. It was even before Bo Derek appeared in a movie called Bolero or tried to seduce Dudley Moore to the score's steamy strains in 10. (Weren't you so happy when he went back to Julie Andrews?)

One evening she put a recording of Boléro on the turntable and announced that we would make love to it. Well, no, she announced that we would make love to each other - on a schedule she had contrived according to the events in the music. She had assigned herself multiple orgasms at various instrumental entries in the score while I was to defer mine until the last two measures. I might have questioned the fairness of the arrangement had she left me any time, but before I knew it, the flute was slinking its way through the opening phrase and we were peeling off each other's clothes.

Our concert of concupiscence was played without pause, but there was a lovely intromission timed precisely to match the entry of the saxophone. You might call it saxual intercourse. Or you might not. My lady seemed to come right on cue every time but, I'm ashamed to admit, I didn't hold up my end of the bargain. Sometime around the change of key I became so absorbed in watching her lovely face that I forgot the task at hand and, though she pumped and squeezed me mightily with her virtuoso vagina, I was still hard at it when the music died away. I must have gone on for another 20 measures or so. Worse, she had an orgasm that hadn't been part of her plan.

Our relationship didn't last much beyond that night, but she was gracious in her disappointment. She gave me a little kiss on the cheek saying, "Oh well, think of it like this: How many men can outbang Boléro?"

Articles by Richard Todd except as noted.

Take your own conclusions. Here, beautifully choreographed by Maurice Bejart (1927-2007). Awesome!

Unfortunately, I don't know the names of the marvelous dancers but you can find all their names and many other information in this site: