Music blog

Music news and views

07 March 2017

Torvill and Dean meet British Library Music Collections

What do world-champion ice-skaters Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean have in common with British Library Music Collections?

The answer lies in the content of the Zweig Collection, a cornerstone of the British Library’s holdings of music manuscripts, and the subject of one of our current exhibitions, a study day and a performance later this month.

In 1984, Torvill and Dean shot to fame at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, receiving twelve perfect 6.0s and six 5.9s for their performance. They skated to Ravel’s captivating Boléro (1928). 

Within the Zweig Collection, we are fortunate to hold a version of this work for piano four hands  (Zweig MS 74). This dates from around 1929 and is for the most part in Ravel's own hand. The French composer was born 142 years ago today, 7 March 1875, so it seems fitting to celebrate this well-loved work in this post.

Boléro takes its name from a Spanish popular dance or song, in which the dancers are called “boleros” or “boleras”. However, it quickly found favour beyond Spain, and was particularly popular in Paris. Ravel’s composition is characterised by obsessive repetitions of a single theme and a distinctive underlying rhythm. As the work progresses, the orchestration increases, and the work culminates with a dramatic climax.

Ravel-Bolero-Repeated-RhythmRepeated underlying rhythm in Ravel's Boléro

Initially conceived under the title Fandango, Boléro is one of Ravel’s late works. He described it as “a masterpiece…without any music in it” and also once declared that he wanted it performed in a factory.

At the top left of the first page, the words “Reduction pour Piano a 4 mains (original)” in pencil have been almost completely erased, but beneath them, “Maurice Ravel” is still easily legible. Over the erased portion, in what appears to be the same hand, is written in pencil “1 - Manuscrit Piano 4 m.”.

Ravel-Bolero-Zweig-MS-74-folio-1Ravel's Boléro (reduction for piano 4 hands). British Library Zweig MS 74, folio 1 recto

Although written largely in ink by Ravel himself, this manuscript includes annotations and corrections in pencil throughout. Some of these are in the composer’s hand, but, as with the inscription at the beginning, more still are the work of someone else. This could well have been an editor, their purpose being to bring the manuscript into line with the published score.

This manuscript can be browsed in full on the British Library Digitised Manuscripts website: