Bolero - A muscial symptom of Ravels disease

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Bolero - A muscial symptom of Ravels disease

Bolero by Ravel is an instantly recognisable piece of music. What people don't realise is that its also a creation of a diseased mind. The structure of the music is symptomatic of someone with frontotemporal dementia.

This excerpt talks about the disease with Ravel and a painter Dr Adams. More on the link.

In 1994, Dr. Adams became fascinated with the music of the composer Maurice Ravel, her husband recalled. At age 53, she painted “Unravelling Bolero” a work that translated the famous musical score into visual form.

Unbeknown to her, Ravel also suffered from a brain disease whose symptoms were identical to those observed in Dr. Adams, said Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist and the director of the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Ravel composed “Bolero” in 1928, when he was 53 and began showing signs of his illness with spelling errors in musical scores and letters.

“Bolero” alternates between two main melodic themes, repeating the pair eight times over 340 bars with increasing volume and layers of instruments. At the same time, the score holds methodically to two simple, alternating staccato bass lines.

“ ‘Bolero’ is an exercise in compulsivity, structure and perseveration,” Dr. Miller said. It builds without a key change until the 326th bar. Then it accelerates into a collapsing finale.

Dr. Adams, who was also drawn to themes of repetition, painted one upright rectangular figure for each bar of “Bolero.” The figures are arranged in an orderly manner like the music, countered by a zigzag winding scheme, Dr. Miller said. The transformation of sound to visual form is clear and structured. Height corresponds to volume, shape to note quality and color to pitch. The colors remain unified until the surprise key change in bar 326 that is marked with a run of orange and pink figures that herald the conclusion.

Ravel and Dr. Adams were in the early stages of a rare disease called FTD, or frontotemporal dementia, when they were working, Ravel on “Bolero” and Dr. Adams on her painting of “Bolero,” Dr. Miller said. The disease apparently altered circuits in their brains, changing the connections between the front and back parts and resulting in a torrent of creativity.

“We used to think dementias hit the brain diffusely,” Dr. Miller said. “Nothing was anatomically specific. That is wrong. We now realize that when specific, dominant circuits are injured or disintegrate, they may release or disinhibit activity in other areas. In other words, if one part of the brain is compromised, another part can remodel and become stronger.”

Thus some patients with FTD develop artistic abilities when frontal brain areas decline and posterior regions take over, Dr. Miller said.

 http://www.nytimes.com/2008...

By netchicken: posted on 10-4-2008








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