Ravel's Bolero



After a week of cultural delights in Vienna, we spent a week in France to recover from our exertions before returning to Israel a few days later. And so it was that, as usual, on our first full day in the beautiful Limousin region we tuned our radio to the classical music programme. As the hours passed the realization gradually dawned that from seven in the morning throughout the day we were being subjected to the same piece of music played over and over again: Ravel’s Bolero.

That particular piece of music is popular all over the world, and has accompanied several films as well as being played on radio programmes and in numerous concert halls in variations and arrangements of all kinds. That day, on the French radio, we heard every possible combination of instruments and assorted ensembles, but always maintaining that consistent rat-a-tat-a-tat rhythm, sometimes augmented by additional syncopations. Hearing the Bolero once or twice or even thrice in succession, interspersed by chit-chat and commentary by various experts in the studio, is all well and good, but twelve straight hours of the same interminable tune eventually becomes tedious, annoying even, and eventually maddening. Yes, from seven in the morning until seven in the evening (and possibly even beyond, but I had switched the radio off by then) that was all we heard.

Like classical music programmes all over the world, the French one has its good and bad points. Fair enough, one hears a lot of music by French composers, there is a general aversion to playing an entire work, e.g., all four movements of a symphony by Beethoven, and the broadcasting day always ends (after eleven p.m.) with jazz, but on the whole there is variety and interest. That, however, was not the case on that day in early May.

The reason for the repetition was revealed a few days later when I read the Figaro newspaper of the following weekend. It turns out that from the first of May 2016 it is no longer necessary to pay royalties on performances of the Bolero to Evelyne Pen de Castel, the daughter of the second wife of the husband of the masseuse of Ravel’s brother’s wife. Get that? As the Figaro points out, the situation was ‘Ubuesque,’ but it meant that a great deal of money continued to pour into the coffers of the happy heiress. But no longer. Finito della Commedia.

And so, it would seem, the French radio took the opportunity to cock a collective snook at the unfortunate lady, who presumably – perhaps even hopefully – squirmed as she thought of all the royalties she would not be earning on that particular day. It’s consoling to think of those serious and respectable producers at the French classical music programme rubbing their hands in glee as they planned that day’s programming, their eyes lighting up with the joy of schadenfreude (no English equivalent exists for that particular emotion, and that is interesting in itself).

They say that revenge is a dish best eaten cold, and I can only hope that those faceless men and women behind the microphone enjoyed their meal.