The madman / Bolero | Maurice Ravel / Ida Rubinstein / Νίκος Καββαδίας, 1928


Ida Lvovna Rubinstein (1885-1960) was a Russian actress, dancer, patron and Belle Époque figure. She commissioned and performed in Maurice Ravel’s Boléro in 1928.

Before he left for a triumphant tour of North America in January 1928, Maurice Ravel had agreed to write a Spanish-flavoured ballet score for his friend, the Russian dancer and actress Ida Rubinstein.

Romaine2BBrooks2C2BIda2BRubinstein2C2B1912< Valentin Serov – Portrait of Ida Rubinstein (as Salome), 1910


Boléro’s famous theme came to him on holiday in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

He was about to go for a swim when he called a friend over to the piano and, playing the melody with one finger, asked: “Don’t you think that has an insistent quality? I’m going to try to repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.”

He began work in July. By Ravel’s standards the piece was completed quickly, in five months – it had to be ready for Rubinstein to choreograph.

“Once the idea of using only one theme was discovered,” he asserted, “any conservatory student could have done as well.”

< Romaine Brooks, Ida Rubinstein, 1911- 1912

Boléro was given its first performance at the Paris Opéra on November 20, 1928. The premiere was acclaimed by a shouting, stamping, cheering audience in the midst of which a woman was heard screaming: “Au fou, au fou!” (“The madman! The madman!”). When Ravel was told of this, he reportedly replied: “That lady… she understood.”

”Μες στ’ αυτιά μου βουίζουν ώρα πολλη ήχοι μουσικῆς. Το Μπολερο του Ravel. Μοιάζει τη σκέψη ἑνος τρελού αυτό το κομμάτι, μια σκέψη που θέλει να ξεφύγει, ν’ ἁπλωθεῖ μα δεν μπορεί και χτυπιέται γυρίζοντας. Μια ἀχτίνα φωτός που παίζει σ’ ένα δωμάτιο σκοτεινό! Ἕνα έντομο κλεισμένο σ’ ένα δοχείο.”

Νίκος Καββαδίας
γράμμα στην αδερφή του Τζένια, 21.3.41

The dancing ensemble Ida Rubinstein in the ballet ‘Bolero’ by Maurice Ravel, Vienna State Opera, Vienna, 1929

Ravel – Bolero

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *