RE: Brain_disease_shaped_Ravel's_Bolero

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Wed Jan 23 2002 - 01:46:48 GMT

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    Subject: RE: Brain_disease_shaped_Ravel's_Bolero
    Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2002 20:46:48 -0500
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    There is alas a relatively rare form (1.5% of all victims) of Alzheimer's
    who contract it in their late 40s: aptly if unhelpfully called Early Onset
    Alzheimer's. The progression of the disease is swifter than for those
    victimes who tend to get it in their 70s, and death geerally takes place
    within 10 years. Any function can be affected: mental activity, motor
    activity, swallowing, etc. It sounds like Ravel could have fit this profile.


    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: []On Behalf
    > Of Wade T. Smith
    > Sent: Tuesday, January 22, 2002 6:35 PM
    > To: Memetics Discussion List
    > Subject: Fwd: Brain_disease_shaped_Ravel's_Bolero
    > ---------------- Begin Forwarded Message ----------------
    > Ravel's last music bears the mark of his deteriorating brain.
    > NATURE
    > 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.
    > Un-Ravel
    > 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.
    > References
    > 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 -----------------
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    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
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