Ravel’s Bolero goes free from today

Copyright expired at midnight, apparently.

There will be no refuge anywhere from the infamous dead beat.

AFP report: 

Ravel died unmarried and childless in 1937.

His only heir was his brother Edouard, who died in 1960, unleashing a bitter and complex legal battle over the rights which at times has involved Edouard’s nurse and her husband, great-nephews and even a legal director of SACEM.

But on Sunday, the royalties will cease to be paid as Bolero enters the public domain — and belongs to the world.


Ravel on his Bolero:

Je retiens le Boléro comme la plus insolente monstruosité jamais perpétrée dans l’histoire de la musique. Du début à la fin de ses 339 mesures, ce n’est simplement que l’incroyable répétition du même rythme (…) avec la récurrence implacable d’un air de cabaret, d’une accablante vulgarité, qui n’a rien à envier, pour l’essentiel de son caractère, aux hurlements d’un chat tapageur dans une ruelle somber


Source: Edward Robinson, « The naive Ravel », The American Mercury,‎ mai 1932, p. 115-122

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • 1) “Ravel on his Bolero: Je retiens le Boléro comme la plus insolente monstruosité jamais perpétrée dans l’histoire de la musique.”

    Ah, the humble brag, the French perfected the art of self denigration as self promotion.

    2) I challenge any one to play in strict, unwavering, rhythmic exactness for 10 bars — without a metronome — much less for 100 people doing it together for 339 bars. Karajan once said to his Berlin players when they played a little bit off rhythm, “jazz players never play out of rhythm”. Goes to show, it’s hard.

    • ‘Boléro’ was written in a period when Ravel did not have much inspiration – often suffering from bouts of depression and lethargy – and he considered it a nice thing in-between more serious stuff. Nobody was more amazed than he when it became so famous and overplayed, and of course, that was an affront to the composer and of course he condemned it afterwards to defend himself against a wrong kind of popularity. If you have written the String Quartet, Daphnis, l ‘Enfant et les Sortilèges etc. etc., you don’t want to be remembered as the author of Boléro.

  • Is this strictly correct? The legal advice I received (from the PRS) was that royalties apply for the entire duration of the year in which the composer died, and therefore in this case would be payable up to midnight on 31 December.

  • According to IMSLP, Bolero is still likely to be copyrighted in the U.S. until 2025. However, it is public domain in Canada and the E.U.

  • I’m afraid this is another of your unchecked assertions, Norman. As Ravel died on 28 Dec 1937, his works will continue to be in copyright within the EU until 31 December 2017. The U.K. moved from fifty to seventy years in the mid 1990s, in line with EU directives.

    • Ahem. Try and learn a bit about French copyright law, because you’ve just made an arse of yourself (sorry). OK here it is. In French law, as well as in the rest of the EU (directive 93/98/CE), works are in copyright for 70 years: which means that since Ravel died on Dec 28 1937, his works should have continued to be in copyright until December 31 2007. (yep : 1937+70= 2007!)


      In France, there is something called ‘prorogations de guerre’, ‘war extensions’ of copyright. Long story short, since composers and right-holders were deprived of some revenue during the war, a few years were added to the normal copyright duration (see. For works composed after 1920, this extension is 8 years and 120 days. Which means that Ravel’s Bolero (and all his other post-1920 works) enter the public domain 78 years and 120 days after the end of the year Ravel died.

      Which means that Ravel’s Bolero ceased to be in the public domain on April 30, 2016 at midnight.

      You’re welcome.

    • Nope. Under US law, Porgy will not be in the public domain before 2030. I gave up trying to understand US copyright law a long time ago.

      • But remember, P & B isn’t George’s work alone. The text is based on the novel by DuBose Heywood (d 1940) adapted as a stage play by his wife Dorothy (d 1961). George’s brother Ira (d 1983) is also credited with devising/adapting the sung texts (to what extent is unclear). So, plenty of scope for confusion and legal wrangling there!

        • Yes, of course! you are obviously right : in every country I know, the post-mortem extension of copyright (whether 50, 70, 75 years) starts when the last collaborator to a collective work dies. So, contrary to Porgy, Rhapsody in Blue will be in the PD in 2019.

          So you make a very valid point. Thanks!

          However, US copyright rules have always seemed unnecessarily complex to me, even for solo works…

      • US copyright law is very easy to understand. Just count the years since Mickey Mouse was created. No work created in 1928 or later will ever fall into public domain – too many senators depend on Hollywood lobbyist money for that to happen

        • Oh, that’s nonsense about US copyright law. Any work created between 1923 and 1977 has a protection of 95 years from first publication in the US. So obviously, all works will eventually come into the public domain, and this has been happening all the time since 2008. Mind you, the last of these will not emerge until 2062, but that’s not the same thing as never.

          • OK, let’s have another go at that, this time with the brain switched on. It’s all true except for my inability to add. 1923 plus 95 years is 2018 – which is when the first of those works will start to emerge. No idea why I wrote such drivel, except that it is a holiday today and so only running on 50% power… Apologies for muddying the stream…

          • The US copyright law was changed in 1976 and again in 1997. The effect in both cases was keeping works from the twenties and later out of public domain (Disney would have lost the rights to Mickey Mouse in 1984 otherwise). Disney made campaign contributions to 19 of the 25 sponsors of the bill. Since 1997, they have spent 87 million dollars on lobbying – mostly for copyright related legislation

            Let’s resurrect this discussion in 2022, when Mickey Mouse will enter public domain, unless the laws are changed again

            Of course, copyright extension affects many other valuable properties – from Gershwin and Scott Fitzgerald, to such famous 30s creations as Superman, Betty Boop and Popeye (movies like Snow White, Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz are protected for much longer) – but there’s a reason the 1997 law has been called the ‘Mickey Mouse Protection Act’




  • IMSLP has this explanation as to why it is not PD in the US:

    “While public domain in Canada and the EU, this work is probably copyright in the USA until 1 January 2025. By printing the score above with a 1932 copyright claim when the actual first publication took place in 1929, Durand may have invalidated their US copyright, though it would likely take a court case to overturn the copyright registration and renewal. Even then, the failure to comply with the notice requirements are possibly trumped by the GATT/TRIPS restoration amendments as the work was under copyright in its country of origin on January 1, 1996.”

  • Today (May 3) at France Musique radio is an all-Bolero day (Journée Free Boléro), with special programming about the work, the times and the composer. I trust, like other programming at the station, most of it will be available for post-facto online listening. The schedule (with links to online replays) is here:


  • >