Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Duration: 14–17 Minutes
Genre: Ballet (today mostly performed only in concert)
Time of Creation: 1928
World Premiere: November 22, 1928 (Paris)
Table of Contents
Ravel's Boléro in 5 Sentences
Boléro was something of an experiment for French composer Maurice Ravel himself, as the melody, harmony and rhythm remain unchanged throughout the piece. The only element that adds variety is the changing timbres. The piece opens with a snare drum and plucked strings playing the boléro rhythm. This rhythm is played throughout, while more and more instruments are added as the piece progresses, giving the overall effect of steadily increasing loudness. The Boléro quickly became incredibly famous, something Ravel was rather uncomfortable with throughout his life due to the technocratic nature of the piece.
4 Highlights from Ravel's Boléro
Highlight 1: Opening rhythm and first melody
The Boléro consists of two melodies played alternately and in a total of 18 variations. Here you can hear the beginning of the piece – snare drum and plucked strings start with the Boléro rhythm, then the first melody joins in:
Highlight 2: Second melody
Then the second melody is introduced:
Highlight 3: Interesting timbres
As the piece progresses, more and more instruments join in. Noteworthy are the sometimes unusual timbres Ravel achieves by having different instruments play the same melody in different keys:
Highlight 4: "Turning" and conclusion
The longer the piece goes on, the more one gets the feeling that it could go on for all eternity following the same pattern. But shortly before the end, one is shaken up by an abrupt turn – the music “turns” and ends with the loudest part of the piece:
3 Questions and Answers about Ravel's Boléro
Question 1: What is special about Ravel's Boléro?
Ravel’s Boléro is a unique piece because Ravel imposed barriers on himself when composing it: Melody, harmony and rhythm remain unchanged throughout. Only the timbres change, and as more and more instruments are added, the overall effect is one of increasing loudness.
Question 2: What is the Bolero originally?
The Bolero is originally a Spanish dance in ¾ time. Ravel’s famous piece was originally intended as a ballet, but over time evolved into one of the most performed orchestral pieces ever.
Question 3: Which instrument plays the Boléro rhythm?
In Ravel’s Boléro, the snare drum and plucked strings take on the Boléro rhythm, which they sustain throughout the piece.
2 Recommended Recordings of Ravel's Boléro
Recording 1: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim (Live, 2014)
The dynamic range of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under the baton of Daniel Barenboim is astonishing:
Recording 2: Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France, Lionel Bringuier (Live, 2018)
The Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France’s interpretation, conducted by Lionel Bringuier, is not as dynamically wide-ranging as that of Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, but it is no less stirring: