Fwd: Brain_disease_shaped_Ravel's_Bolero

From: Wade T. Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Date: Tue Jan 22 2002 - 23:35:05 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T. Smith: "Re: sex and the single meme"

    Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id XAA17566 (8.6.9/5.3[ref pg@gmsl.co.uk] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from fmb-majordomo@mmu.ac.uk); Tue, 22 Jan 2002 23:39:21 GMT
    Message-Id: <200201222335.g0MNYxB21533@terri.harvard.edu>
    Subject: Fwd: Brain_disease_shaped_Ravel's_Bolero
    Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2002 18:35:05 -0500
    x-sender: wsmith1@camail.harvard.edu
    x-mailer: Claris Emailer 2.0v3, Claritas Est Veritas
    From: "Wade T. Smith" <wade_smith@harvard.edu>
    To: "Memetics Discussion List" <memetics@mmu.ac.uk>
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
    Content-transfer-encoding: quoted-printable
    Sender: fmb-majordomo@mmu.ac.uk
    Precedence: bulk
    Reply-To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk

    ---------------- Begin Forwarded Message ----------------


    Ravel's last music bears the mark of his deteriorating brain.

    22 January 2002

    Brain disease influenced Ravel's last compositions including his Boléro,
    say researchers. Orchestral timbres came to dominate his late music at the
    expense of melodic complexity because the left half of his brain
    deteriorated, they suggest1. Timbre is mainly the province of the brain's
    right hemisphere.

    French composer Maurice Ravel suffered from a mysterious progressive
    dementia from about 1927 when he was 52 years old. He gradually lost the
    ability to speak, write and play the piano. He composed his last work in
    1932, and gave his last performance in 1933. He died in December 1937.

    Neurologists have puzzled over his illness ever since. Many have suggested
    Alzheimer's disease. But François Boller, of the Paul Broca Research
    Centre in Paris, believes the symptoms began too young, and that too much
    of Ravel's memory, self-awareness and social skills were preserved for
    this diagnosis to be correct.

    Ravel probably suffered from two conditions, Boller proposes. One,
    progressive primary aphasia, erodes the brain's language centres. The
    other, corticobasal degeneration, robs patients of movement control.

    Ravel became trapped in his body, says Boller: "He didn't lose the ability
    to compose music, he lost the ability to express it."

    The composer's failings, particularly his loss of language, were
    predominantly in faculties dealt with by the left half of the brain.
    Musical abilities are spread throughout the brain; different areas deal
    with pitch, melody, harmony and rhythm.


    Boller and his colleagues believe that two of Ravel's last pieces show the
    early effects of the weakening left hemisphere, with the timbre-processing
    right brain coming to the fore. The works are Boléro written in 1928, and
    his 1930 piano concerto for the left hand.

    Boléro contains only two themes, each repeated eight times. But it has 30
    superimposed lines, and 25 different combinations of sounds. Ravel himself
    described it as "an orchestral fabric without music".

    Likewise the concerto for the left hand features shorter phrases than
    Ravel's previous works, and subsumes the soloist into the orchestra more
    than his other piano concerto. Mathematical analyses also indicate that
    this work differs from the rest of Ravel's compositions.

    "It's a captivating hypothesis, and in keeping with what we know," says
    Alzheimer's researcher Giovanni Frisoni of the National Centre for
    Research and Care of Alzheimer's Disease in Brescia, Italy. But it will
    probably be impossible, he warns, to ever know for sure what drove Ravel
    to write the way he did.

    "Boléro occupies a funny place in Ravel's oeuvre," agrees Deborah Mawer, a
    music researcher at Lancaster University, UK. But it's hard to distinguish
    between his musical development and his gradually altering mental state,
    she cautions. Ravel became interested in mechanization and modern
    machinery at the end of his life, which could account for the
    repetitiveness of the piece.


           a.. Amaducci, L., Grassi, E. & Boller, F. Maurice Ravel and
    right-hemisphere musical creativity: influence of disease on his last
    musical works?. European Journal of Neurology, 9, 75 - 82, (2002).

    ----------------- End Forwarded Message -----------------

    ===============================This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    see: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Jan 22 2002 - 23:52:50 GMT