Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cheesy Classical Music You Should Know: Ravel's Bolero (Part I)

Now that the World Series is over, it's time to start thinking about the Super Bowl--and the ads that'll be on the Super Bowl broadcast.

During the third quarter of last season's game, Coke ran an ad that used Ravel's Bolero, a piece that even the composer might concede is among the cheesiest music ever written.

The ad, by advertising company Wieden & Kennedy, was set in Africa, but the music is based on the distinctive Spanish dance rhythm. Ravel's mother was Basque, and although he didn't make his first trip to Spain until 1924 when he was almost 50, he used the sounds of the country in early pieces like Rapsodie espagnole suite (completed in 1908) and his opera L'Heure espagnole (composed at around the same time, and premiered in Paris in 1911).

In the same year Ravel sat down to write Bolero, he made a triumphant tour of North America. Everywhere he went--from Houston to Montreal--people greeted him as a star. Ravel was overwhelmed: "You know, this doesn't happen to me in Paris," commented the composer after a Carnegie Hall performance of his orchestral music that was met with roaring applause and a standing ovation.

Flush with good ol' American style fame, Ravel returned to the City of Lights; one of his first duties was to fulfill his promise to dance impresario Ida Rubinstein to write ballet music for her. The result, of course, was Bolero, which received its premiere at the end of the year, in November 1928 at the Paris Opera.

What's all this got to do with the Super Bowl? Not much, beyond the aforementioned ad. But with its Spanish groove and colorful orchestration, Bolero is worth getting to know better.