Bolero




„Modern dance music with exactly the same melody, harmony and rhythm, which the drum indicates ceaselessly. The only element of variation is the use of an orchestral crescendo” wrote Ravel about his composition.

 

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) composed his best known work in 1928 for the dancer Ida Rubinstein. The choreography was staged in November 1928 at the Paris Opera, but the Bolero as we know it today, was first heard in the concert hall a year later, when Toscanini conducted it in a performance by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. According to anecdote, Toscanini conducted it at virtually double its prescribed tempo. When Ravel asked him why, the Italian replied “It’s the only way to save it.”

Although some regard Bolero as nothing more than a brilliant study in orchestration (“Fifteen minutes of orchestral effects and no music” being one common formulation, sometimes attributed to Ravel himself), it is one of the most regularly performed symphonic pieces in the repertoire. Ever more instruments state the enchanting melody over the characteristic ¾ Bolero rhythm, banged out on the side drum, creating an ever more complex texture. With more and more instruments involved, the sound inflates until at the end, when it can swell no more, it explodes in a tremendous forte.