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Eur J Neurol. 2002 Jan;9(1):75-82.

Maurice Ravel and right-hemisphere musical creativity: influence of disease on his last musical works?

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Department of Neurological and Psychiatric Sciences, University of Florence, Florence, Italy.


The problem of finding correspondence between a particular neuronal organization and a specific function of the human brain remains a central question of neuroscience. It is sometimes thought that language and music are two sides of the same intellectual coin, but research on brain-damaged patients has shown that the loss of verbal functions (aphasia) is not necessarily accompanied by a loss of musical abilities (amusia). Amusia without aphasia has also been described. This double dissociation indicates functional autonomy in these mental processes. Yet verbal and musical impairments often occur together. The global picture that emerges from studies of music and its neural substrate is by no means clear and much depends on which subjects and which aspect of musical abilities are investigated. An illustration of these concepts is provided by the case of the French composer Maurice Ravel, who suffered from a progressive cerebral disease of uncertain aetiology, with prominent involvement of the left hemisphere. As a result, Ravel experienced aphasia and apraxia and became unable to compose. The available facts favour a clinical diagnosis of primary progressive aphasia (PPA), with the possibility of an overlap with corticobasal degeneration (CBD). In view of Ravel's clinical history, we propose that two of his final compositions, the Bolero and the Concerto for the Left Hand, include certain patterns characteristic of right-hemisphere musical abilities and may show the influence of disease on the creative process.

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