Reference: Amaducci, L., E. Grassi, and F. Boller. Maurice ravel and right-hemisphere musical creativity: influence of disease on his last musical works? European Journal of Neurology. 2002, 9: 75-82.
By Devon Fornelli
The article begins by saying that in Neuroscience it is thought that language and music are two sides of same coin. Though amusia without aphasia and inverse have been described, verbal and musical impairments often occur together. It is documented that “Ravel suffered a progressive cerebral disease of uncertain aetiology, and it involved the left hemisphere” (Amaducci et al). Also Ravel experienced aphasia and apraxia and became unable to compose. From what is known, Ravel’s diagnosis by those who have analyzed the description of symptoms, it is suggested that his condition was a primary progressive aphasia (PPA), and possibly overlapping with cortico-basal degeneration (CBD).
The author suggests that Ravel’s final two compositions – Bolero and the Concerto for Left Hand include characteristics of “right-hemisphere abilities showing the influence of disease on the creative process.”
Studies suggest that musical functions are not lateralized to one hemisphere to the same degree that language and praxis are (Schlaug et al., Ligeois-Chauvel et al., Peretz).
The signs of decline for Ravel were noted to start ca. 1927 when he started getting lost in the music at a concert accompanying his violin sonata. There were also uncharacteristic blunders in his hand-writing.
Ravel was involved in car accident in 1932 where he injured his face and chest, but likely did not have cerebral concussion. It was shortly after this that his decline started.
The neurologist Alajouanine followed his case from 1933-36. It was noted Ravel was no longer able to write or play the piano, and also had an impairment of production and comprehension of spoken words. He also lost the ability to read a score.
Ravel was operated on and the surgeon found his right hemisphere was sunken. One hypothesis is that Ravel had Alheimer’s disease (AD)– but other studies contradict this based on the fact that he had “semantic and visuospatial memory, which tend to be affected by AD”(Amaducci et al.) up until his death.
The symptoms that were diagnosed by his doctor included aphasia, apraxia, agraphia, alexia. As stated, he was unable to sight-read a score. As well, he forgot most of his compositions except the first few bars. (This was the period when he wrote Bolero and his Concerto for Left Hand).
However, he retained much of his abilities up until his death. Though during the operation, his right hemisphere was seen to be deflated and damaged, this evidently did not affect certain abilities.
This article is valuable in the sense that is ties together the scientific diagnosis of what deterioration was occurring in Ravel’s brain based on the testimony from the doctor as well as accounts about Ravel’s life from himself and those around him.
Mostly, I feel that this article illuminates the likelihood that tasks can be shared between different locations in the brain when damage or deterioration has occurred. This is made obvious by the description from ravel’s surgeon (who opened up the cranium and noticed the right hemisphere was deflated) since it is noted that Ravel was still able to recognize his music up until the surgery. However, the author made reference to several accounts of abilities that Ravel lost, besides his aphasia and other cognitive impairments. For example, he lost other motor function in that he was unable to swim at a certain point, but other motor functions were intact. Ravel’s deterioration was much more detailed and complicated than I can detail in this blog. What is impressive is how much function he retained in light of the damage that was noticed to his right hemisphere.