CASE HISTORY – December 2006

Medical history of Maurice Ravel. Primary progressive aphasia


Articles PDF


The medical history of the worldfamous French composer Maurice Ravel has been a fascinating object of study for biographers as well as for medical research. In his fifties, Ravel developed symptoms of dysphasia and difficulties with playing the piano, which were aggravated after a car accident. Additionally, signs of agraphia and apraxia, difficulties with reading, lack of energy and depression developed progressively in the late years of his life. He had many musical ideas in his mind, but he could not write them down. It is hypothesized that Ravel’s medical symptoms were caused by damage of the left hemisphere  and may refer to primary progressive aphasia, a clinical subtype of frontotemporal degeneration. Other conditions like Alzheimer disease, traumatic brain injury or superimposed pathology have also been considered. Whether the cerebral lesions influenced Ravel’s musical creativity and style is a subject of discussion. Certain patterns characteristic of right-hemisphere musical abilities can be noted in his last works. However, there are no evidencebased data about his final diagnosis or about the relationships between the disease and musicrelated abilities.