When people find out how large my music collection is (it takes me 6 months to listen to everything at 11 hours of listening per day), I always get asked one of three questions:
What’s your favorite song?
What’s your favorite album?
Who’s your favorite group?
I have never really had an answer for any of those questions because my musical taste is so varied. I do know that The Beatles rank high in all three categories. However, it’s difficult to compare classical music to rock music to country music, and I have a lot of all three genres.
One of my favorite compositions is “Boléro” by Maurice Ravel (1876-1937). Having grown up as a pianist, violinist, and vocalist, I was familiar with “Boléro” from a very early age. Ravel composed it in 1928; it premiered at the Paris Opéra on November 28, 1928.
I’m not familiar with any big name classical music composer in today’s world, so most classical music is a rehash of the same thing by different orchestras with different conductors. That often results in music that is played too fast, too slow, or just right, depending on what one grew up listening to.
In my opinion, “Boléro” doesn’t sound good if it’s played too fast or too slow. So in my research for this Music on Mondays post, I discovered that Ravel’s original score had the pace set at 76 beats per quarter, but that was crossed out and 66 was written in. Thus, printed scores usually compromise with a stated pace of 72 beats per quarter. “Beats per quarter” means that a quarter note gets the beat, so there would be 72 quarter notes per minute.
Ravel’s own recording of “Boléro” lasts 15’50”. However, in a 1930 interview, he stated that “Boléro” lasts 17 minutes. Thus, I went to YouTube to find a recording that is somewhere between 15’50” and 17 minutes or so. I found a version that is 15’49” by the London Symphony Orchestra, one of my all-time favorite orchestras. Leave it to them to be so precise.
The London Symphony Orchestra has been conducted by Valery Gergiev since January 1, 2007, so this is a fairly recent recording, although I don’t know what year specifically.
“Boléro” was background music for the 1979 movie “10” starring Dudley Moore, Julie Andrews, Bo Derek, and Brian Dennehy. In the movie, “Boléro” was identified as the ideal piece of background music for making love. Sales of “Boléro” spiked after the movie was released; no surprise there.
Bo Derek starred in a 1984 movie titled “Bolero” but I have not seen it, and Wikipedia wasn’t much help other than telling me that it was a bad, bad movie, winning Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay. In 1990 it also was nominated for Worst Movie of the Decade. I did not find out whether or not the “Bolero” movie uses the “Bolero” music in it.
Now I’m going to take you to another favorite version of “Boléro,” this one by the classical/progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Keith Emerson was classically trained as a youth but eventually developed his own style by combining classical, jazz, and rock music. He is widely regarded as one of the top keyboard players of the rock era, and he shows it with “Abaddon’s Bolero.”