Maurice Ravel (Mar 1875 - Dec 1937)

Composed In



15 minutes


Piccolo, 2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (1 doubling oboe d’amore), cor anglais, 2 clarinets (1 doubling E-flat clarinet), bass clarinet, 3 saxophones, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass tuba, 3 timpani, percussions , celesta, harp and strings


Bolero was Maurice Ravel’s most famous work. To the historians, it is famous for its longest-sustaining single crescendo in orchestral repertory. On the other hand, it is widely accepted by the musicians as one of the most well-composed works, and the most repetitive 15-minute music they have heard or played. Bolero was commissioned by Ravel’s friend, the dancer and actress Ida Rubenstein, who specifically wanted Spanish element in the work. Ravel built the composition from a single theme, which would grow into an entire orchestral work.


About the Composition

Bolero looks like a simple piece, but it is more than its surface simplicity.

An ostinato (repeating motif) rhythm in the percussion opens at the beginning and maintains its steady pulse throughout the piece. Different instruments play the theme in turn, as follows:

  1. Solo flute (in the instrument’s low range)
  2. Solo clarinet (in the low range)
  3. Solo bassoon (high range)
  4. Solo E-flat clarinet (higher in pitch than B-flat clarinet)
  5. Solo oboe d’amore (between the oboe and the English horn in pitch and tone)
  6. Muted trumpet and flute (flute floating like overtones parallel to trumpet line)
  7. Solo tenor saxophone (an unusual inclusion in orchestras because Ravel liked jazz)
  8. Solo soprano saxophone
  9. French horn and celesta
  10. Quartet composed of clarinet and three double-reeds (organ-like in timbre)
  11. Solo trombone (replete with sensuously sliding passages)
  12. High woodwinds

In the 13th variation, the strings emerge from their background role and lead the remaining variations. In the climax, the main C major is modulated to E major for a brief time, before reestablishing itself quickly, bringing the piece to an exultant, albeit abrupt, conclusion.

Maurice Ravel

Fun Facts about the Composer

  • He allegedly remarked that due to his perfectionism and devotion to his work, he could never have a lasting intimate relationship with anyone, except for maybe his music.
  • He was rejected for military service and drove an ambulance during World War I.
  • His closest personal attachment was his mother, who he lived with until she died in 1917.
  • Meticulous about his appearance and demeanour.
  • Had a rivalry with Debussy and once said, “If I had the time, I would reorchestrate La Mer.”

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