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Ravel, Anne Adams and primary progressive aphasia

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(@capriccio)
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Several years ago, I heard a podcast about Ravel, the progressive brain disease that eventually killed him, and the genesis of Bolero. It was on Radiolab, one of my favourite mostly-science podcasts, and it was fascinating.

Then today, this popped up when I opened YouTube:

It's another take on the same topic.

Here's the Radiolab podcast - the story itself starts about 3 minutes in. Radiolab takes a little getting used to, but it's worth the effort. (The Radiolab series entitled Gonads is mind-boggling; and the episode called Colors is similarly astounding.)

https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/unraveling-bolero

 


   
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 Jen
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What interesting commentary (on a piece I’ve always thought so uninteresting that it’s a pity it is the best known of Ravel’s works)!

I enjoyed the analysis-as-you-listen.  But then, it is fascinating to learn of parallels with Anne Adam’s painting of Bolero, and the disease they both had that appears to lead to obsessive creativity and repetition.

Thanks, @Capriccio for the links.

Hmmm… I know so little of Ravel’s music: only the piano concertos, the string quartet, and the orchestration of Pictures, of course.  Maybe it’s time to change that?


   
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(@dinah)
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I've had the polar opposite of @jen 's idea of Boléro! It was one of the first pieces I heard live in concert, and ever since, I always found it rather fascinating: this insistent rhythm of the snare drums, and the gliding melody above it, starting in the flute, gaining momentum as more and more instruments join in, crescendoing to a crushing climax, then coming to an abrupt end! Some might find it too simple, or at least repetitively boring, but I think it's very mesmerizing, hypnotic, bewitching! (Goodness, I wonder what does that say about my brain?! 😳)

I've read before that it was an early manifestation of the degeneration of Ravel's cognitive abilities, but never delved much deeper into the subject!

That Radiolab discussion was really shocking, it left me in tears, actually! It's so tragic what that disease can do to brilliant minds, like Ravel and Anne Adams (of whom I'm learning for the first time). Thank you so much, @capriccio, for sharing it with us. And thank you, too, for the YouTube video. Very enlightening. 🙏

Now, like the podcast presenters, I'll never listen to Boléro the same way again. And I'll never forget Adams' wonderful visual creations (I did look them up!) What a beautiful, complex and fragile thing the [human] brain is?

 


   
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 Jen
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Does any piece of music divide opinion more than Bolero? 😊

But I agree Dinah, absolutely,  with your comments on the Radiolab podcast.  I too found it to be illuminating, fascinating, and very moving.


   
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(@capriccio)
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I come down on your side, @dinah, rather than @jen's. I love Bolero, except for the ending. (What are you doing, Ravel?. You got me all wound up and then you just leave and slam the door on your way out?)

I'm quite a fan of repetitive music in general, from the ostinato bass in Bach's Passacaglia in C Minor (I know the whole work is not repetitive, but that insistent base!), to Couperin's Les baricades misterieuses, to Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel. Even Gavin Bryars' Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet, which stunned and perplexed me when I first heard it (it starts off very quietly):

https://app.idagio.com/recordings/36155477?trackId=36155450&utm_source=pcl

However, I draw the line at Satie's suggested 840 repetitions of Vexations! And what on earth was Bach doing here - was it a teaching piece or simply his form of doodling?

https://app.idagio.com/recordings/11742544

 


   
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 Jen
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This is very interesting, because I too am a fan of repetition in music, especially chaconnes and passacaglias. And I much enjoy the almost mechanical repetitions in music like Steve Reich’s.  But Bolero does not call to me at all - it gets me rushing to the ‘off’ button. (I think that’s not so much down to the repeated rhythm of the snare drum, which is quite satisfying, but there’s something about the pair of melodies that grates very quickly).

That 8 voice canon by Bach is a puzzle, though! If it is really by Bach I’m imagining it can only be an exercise to test an idea in its most extreme form 🤷🏻‍♀️


   
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 Jen
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I’ve been looking at that curious canon (it does appear to have written by Bach) and I find it quite astonishing.  

Agreed that it’s quite likely a teaching example, never intended for performance. Unsurprisingly it’s so simple on the page, but what a surprising effect.  I’d have been convinced it is a contemporary composition!


   
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(@tim-h)
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Thanks for the links to the Radiolab podcast and I especially enjoyed the details in the Listening In video on youtube.

Have you heard of "Vexations" by Erik Satie?
https://app.idagio.com/recordings/39150571

It's a short melody repeated. I am not certain if it was Satie's original intention, but at some point, someone came up with the idea that a complete performance of it should be performed 840 times. There was a performance of it this weekend at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome (MACRO).

Also, some Japanese artists recently collaborated to have the piece reinterpreted by 21 different artists. The resultant recordings are at this link: (One of my favorites is Vol. 19)
https://vexations840.bandcamp.com/


   
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(@capriccio)
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I know the original Satie, but hadn't heard this Japanese collaboration. Listening to No. 19 as I write. I'll give the whole lot a listen later.

Ooh! Now listening to Vol.18. Very interesting.


   
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 Jen
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Posted by: @tim-h

Also, some Japanese artists recently collaborated to have the piece reinterpreted by 21 different artists. The resultant recordings are at this link: (One of my favorites is Vol. 19)

Wow!  I love the concept, and Vol.19 is stunning.  Starting now from Vol.1… Thank you, @tim-h


   
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 Jen
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The more I listen to this project, the more I like it.  It’s a treat to explore these weird and wonderful sound worlds in the company of a familiar theme.

We’ve talked about childhood memories of musical boxes elsewhere on these forums, but how quietly and insistently sinister does Vol.3 sound?


   
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(@capriccio)
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@jen Oh dear, you've got me going! I hate October, because all the TV and streaming channels, at least here in the USA, insist on bombarding you with adverts and trailers for whatever frightening movies they have in store for us to "celebrate" Halloween. Being a complete and utter wimp when it comes to horror, I hate getting even a brief glimpse of these things.

And now here I am thinking "Chucky" as I listen to this. Some creepy doll or clown sitting in the corner of an unsuspecting child's room, with the music playing each time they appear.

Satie's original is disturbing in itself, so it really lends itself to creepy interpretations.

I'm going to listen to a little of this to get me into a safer space!

https://app.idagio.com/recordings/18224474?utm_source=pcl

https://cncert.in/r/7cd

 


   
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 Jen
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Sorry Rose! 

I’m not a fan of October either, partly Hallowe’en, but even more the clocks going back and it suddenly being dark in the middle of the afternoon.

It’s curious though that despite Satie’s theme being a series of unresolved tritones (or something of that sort, it’s hard to tell through all the accidentals), I find it to be oddly settling.

Not as reassuring  as Mendelssohn, though 🤔


   
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