Will Someone Please Tell Me If Ravel’s ‘Boléro’ Is About Sex Or Not?
Fran Hoepfner

I read somewhere, in a prior century when 12" LP covers and their often-elaborate liner notes on the back were a thing, that Bolero was inspired by a table dancer Maurice saw in a bar/pub/saloon/inn/tavern somewhere. I thought I had the album myself, but alas, my only Ravel title on vinyl is a collection which does not include that one. So I must have read it during one of my endless trips to libraries and record stores, back in the seventies when both those places were still a thing, and I as a nerdy, artsy, bookwormy teenager definitely was not.

As I recall, the erotic nature of the piece describes the rising (shall we say) enthusiasm of the (presumably male) clientele as the lady does her act, and the sudden, almost anti-climactic end, utterly out of character with everything to come before it in the piece, is the poor gal beating a quick exit to a safer place off the barroom floor when the effects of her craft have brought the room to maybe a bit too (shall we say) eager a mood?

So if it’s about sex, maybe Ravel was making it about the workaday hazards of a common tavern girl, trying to make a living and being perhaps a bit too good at it for her own good?

I wonder if the abrupt ending has something to do with a father/tavernkeeper finally ruling, dad-like:

okay, enough is enough, sweetheart….

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