Maurice Ravel, a French composer was diagnosed with a progressive younger onset dementia when he was 52 years old. In an excerpt from an article published in Nature (Whitfield, 2002), researchers suggest Ravels Boléro was influenced by his dementia.
“French composer Maurice Ravel … from a mysterious progressive dementia from about 1927 when he was 52 years old. He gradually lost the ability to speak, write and play the piano. He composed his last work in 1932, and gave his last performance in 1933. He died in December 1937.
Neurologists have puzzled over his illness ever since. Many have suggested Alzheimer’s disease. But Francois Boller, of the Paul Broca Research Centre in Paris, believes the symptoms began too young, and that too much of Ravel’s memory, self-awareness and social skills were preserved for this diagnosis to be correct.
Ravel probably suffered from two conditions, Boller proposes. One, progressive primary aphasia, erodes the brain’s language centres. The other, corticobasal degeneration, robs patients of movement control.
Ravel became trapped in his body, says Boller: “He didn’t lose the ability to compose music, he lost the ability to express.”
Another story which was published in the New York Times about Dr Anne Adams, who was a Canadian scientist turned artist is also fascinating. She was a former teacher in mathematics and chemistry and a scientist, and who like Ravel, also had a rare form of dementia (PPA).
At age 53, she painted “Unravelling Boléro” a work that translated the famous musical score into visual form.
It’s fascinating how with some dementias, a persons creativity changes. My own creativity and my strategic thinking certainly has, and like Ravel, much of my memory, self-awareness and social skills have been preserved. Interestingly, I wrote about this as far back as 2014.
Listen to Boléro…
Blakeslee, S, (2008). A Disease that allowed torrents of creativity, The New York Times
Whitfield, J. (2002). Brain disease shaped Boléro. Nature, https://doi.org/10.1038/news020121-1