Pianist plays Ravel at Firth Hall concert

Pianist  Steven Osborne  playing at  Music in the Round's Exploring Beethoven weekend
Pianist Steven Osborne playing at Music in the Round's Exploring Beethoven weekend

ONE of the UK’s foremost pianists, Steven Osborne, is at Firth Hall next week when he plays a programme of music by Ravel in the Sheffield University Concert Season.

It is a further concert in the disability, health and wellbeing strand in the season and, after Beethoven and deafness this Friday, dementia is the focus, via the French composer, next Tuesday.

It’s not certain when the malady began affecting Ravel but it definitely plagued him in the last five years of his life, which ended in December 1937 at the age of 62.

It would not have been affecting him, however, when he wrote the music Steven Osborne is playing, which includes Gaspard de la Nuit, Sonatine, Pavane, Jeux d’eux and La Valse, as his entire solo piano output was written up to 1916.

Osborne, who plays an incredibly wide-ranging repertoire, has recently added a much raved-about recording of the complete Ravel solo piano music to his recorded output.

There have been claims that he was in the early stages of dementia in 1928 when he wrote Boléro, including an article in a journal of neurology that said it indicated the impact of neurological disease.

They are contradicted, though, by the composer who at the time of writing it said he deliberately set out to create the repetitive theme – “I am going to try to repeat it a number of times on different orchestral levels but without any development,” he said.

He saw it an accompaniment to a ballet, not as a purely orchestral piece – “it has no music in it” – and was dumbfounded by its public success.

Looked at in the cold light of facts, Ravel’s dementia problems appear to have started after he suffered a major blow to the head, not thought serious at the time, in a taxi accident in 1932. Among other things, he became frequently absent-minded and found he couldn’t write down the music in his head.

He agreed to brain surgery on the advice of an eminent neurosurgeon who assumed there was a brain tumour and performed the operation on December 19, 1947.

No brain tumour was found and seven days later Ravel was dead.