In a video that looks just like a segment of Disney’s Silly Symphonies or Fantasia, artist Simon Brethé animates the pentagram, making the notes of Ravel’s Bolero do feats ranging from charming a snake (the oboe) to serenading a girl at her window (the saxophone). At one point in the performance, one member of the string ensemble gets his bow tangled in the pentagram, a distraction that, subsequently, wreaks havoc in the entire orchestra.
According to a youtube commentator, though, this animation is not faithful to Ravel’s original orchestration: the author put another saxophone instead of a clarinet, and a tuba in lieu of a trombone. “This is so common in bad artists that don’t take the time to research something as simple as where you freaking put a violin,” he laments.
Is this comment accurate? Perhaps. Does it negatively impact the overall quality of the animation? Not at all.
The Bolero, arguably Ravel’s most famous composition, was written for a large orchestra consisting of, piccolo, 2 flutes , 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 saxophones, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, piccolo trumpet, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, bass tuba, timpani, 2 snare drums, a bass drum, one piece/pair of orchestral cymbals, tamtam, celesta, harp, strings.
On top of an unchanging ostinato rhythm played on snare drums, you can hear two melodies, each of 18 bars’ duration and played twice: the first is diatonic, while the second, written in the Phrygian mode, introduces more jazz-influenced elements (think syncopation and flattened notes).
Originally composed as a ballet for dancer Ida Rubinstein, it premiered at the Paris Opéra on November 22, 1928. Its original scenario imagined a tavern in Spain, where people dance beneath a brass lamp hanging from the ceiling; in response to the cheers, the female dancer leaps onto the long table and her steps become more and more frenzied.