Sexy tales: eyesex, scandal, drama, and partial nudity guaranteed.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ravel's "Boléro": Sex? Why Yes, Thank You.

“Boléro” was written by Maurice Ravel in 1928.  Everyone’s heard the stories:  he wrote it to annoy his wife; he wrote it to annoy his cat; he wrote two melodies and decided he was done; etc.  Whether or not any of these are true, it is a fact that the piece is repetitive.  It’s essentially 17 runs of the same (-ish) melody or its answering countermelody.  It’s mainly in C, though near the end there’s a passage in E that kind of jumps out at you before returning to C for the finale.

 It’s also remarkably sexual.  I’m sure there have been many scholarly interpretations of this, but I haven’t bothered reading them, so fuck them all.  This is my show. 

The pulse of the piece does not change; it’s the same steady, ticking triple meter for 15 minutes.  Contrasted with this very square rhythm is the main theme, which is light and lithe.  The second part of the theme, with its accidentals and bending pitches and just-barely-there rhythms, feels like it’s bursting from the accompanying figure.  It exhudes sensuality, especially at the climax - when everybody comes in and the timpani are pounding away (pun not really intended, but still appreciated), it's all like BAM.  It feels like you’re really, really, really itching for a little somethin’ somethin’, but you’re in public, but your bodycandy keeps touching you and you just can’t even handle it and finally you drag him into the nearest closet and let him have his way with you.  It’s like 15 minutes of really, really steadily building sexual tension.  And the remarkable thing is that Ravel lets it resolve; he doesn’t mess with you or anything.  The last minute is one solid E- and C-major orgasm.  When it ends, you don’t feel like you’re still hot and bothered.  You feel like you need a cigarette.

It calls for a monster fucking orchestra, too.  Full strings, lots of brass, winds, three saxophones and an oboe d’amore, that old-school Renaissance clunker.  And almost every percussion instrument in existence.  Except a potato gun.  I’m still waiting for a piece with potato gun.  Still waiting.  The snare drum is the real star in this show:  he plays the same thing for 17 minutes, without stopping.  It doesn’t sound like it should be difficult, but it’s actually killer.  I stood near the snare drummer, and I watched.  The poor guy was sweating.  I’ll bet anything his arms were cramping by the end.  Plus, it starts very quietly, which is ridonkulously hard.

Another nice thing about Boléro, and one reason I think it’s super popular for showcase concerts, is that it’s basically a walking tour of the winds and brass.  Strings players hate it, because it’s ages long and they have really, really dull parts most of the time.  Not like violin 1’s really need any more melody time, anyway…but that’s just my opinion.  But the winds and brass get shown off beautifully.  Without the score in front of me, I’m not completely sure, but I think pretty much all of them get solos or at least melody lines.  I love the trombone part.  The trombone guy, who spends so much of his life sitting in the back not paying attention, finally gets to play, play loud, and scoop to his heart’s content.  Major props.

This piece does, in fact, contain a celesta part.  It is 17 measures long.  I counted.  So when we played it at the final concert of my senior year, I stood motionless behind Philippe till rehearsal box 8 or 9, then after the saxophone solos I played the melody in which I doubled the horns, and then I went back to the percussion chairs and sat motionless (kind of singing along quietly in my yowling cat voice, actually) till the end.  The celesta-person gets about 30 seconds of playing time.  But it’s better than nothing.

Don't listen to the strings players.  This piece is BALLIN.


  1. How in God's name did this get posted on the Web two years ago without a comment. This a complete scream. I don't have a clue who "Celesta Fiesta" is, but she just ousted every stodgy "classical" music writer who has attempted to describe Bolero. How did she do it? Somehow, through means unknown, she figured out that Ravel was not only a brilliant composer, but also a major horndog with a sense of humor. Find this link, music fans; it's your Bolero reality check. As for you, Ms. Fiesta, in the words of Elvis Presley, "Thangya. Thangya verra much."

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Celesta is not a person, she means a celeste, which is in some languages, such as Italian, called a celesta. It is a keyboard instrument, in which the hammered keys strike metal bars instead of strings, so that it has a very light tinkling sound, like a xylophone but more discrete and more delicate. It is a small keyboard of four octaves, the same four octaves which are uppermost on a piano keyboard.
      A celeste has a lovely, sweet, music-box-ish voice. Any pianist who happens across a celeste should be able to play it reasonably fluently except that of course the technique will vary from piano technique, and it does not have the piano/forte versatility of the pianoforte. The reason why I think she is referring to the instrument is that she says she was the "Celesta person" that she stepped over and played the celesta's 30 second part and then went back to the brass section. I will have to listen again for the celeste's part, it is one of my favorite instruments, because Celeste is my name, and I can play celeste, when I am fortunate enough to come across one.

      Yes, this is a rockin' review, and right on! Except that there is only one thema in Bolero, not two, not counter thema, which is the entire point. It was an experiment in breaking away from the multi-inventional music of the day and using instumentation and modulation to hold interest instead. It's a bit repetitive but also mesmerizing.

  2. Seriously. This is just good, ballsy writing. Thank you.

  3. Besides the Bo Derek fiasco, Bolero was used as musical soundtrack in the gay pornographic documentary Erotikus (1974), in which the crescendo is paralleled by the masturbating narrator's growing sexual excitement. His ejaculation coincides with the sudden key change just bedorevthe ending.

    1. And why not? Any orgasm is as good as any other.

  4. This is why one should occasionally click on Wikipedia citations.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This is why one should occasionally click on Wikipedia citations.

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  8. I love your description of the Bolero. I completely agree with it, particularly the bit about the trombone part. Maurice Bejart made a great choreography of this piece. It goes very much in the direction of f your sexual comment... Here is a great version:

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