Bolero was was first performed in 1928 and has since become the most famous composition of Maurice Ravel. The piece is in the key of C major which features no flats or sharps and the in 3/4 time, meaning that there are three beats per measure with the quarter note serving as one beat. It is a one movement piece that was originally commissioned for an opera by famed Russia actress Ida Rubinstein. It was initially composed for a full orchestra made up of a piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, one English horn, two clarinets, one bass clarinet, two saxophones, two bassoons, one contrabassoon, four horns, one piccolo trumpet, three trumpets, three trombones, one bass tuba, one timpani, two snare drums, one bass drum, one pair of symbols, one gong, one celesta, one harp, and strings.
Ravel was heavily inspired by the Spanish dance known as the “bolero” for this piece. The piece itself is very repetitive to the point where it is the same phrase of music replayed over and over by different sections and at different dynamic levels throughout the duration of the approximately 19 minute piece. Although, open further investigation, there are slight variances with each repetition that can only be discerned from careful listening. That being said, it is still a lovely piece to listen no matter how much you want to dissect it.
My first experience with this piece was at my second ever Opening Gala for the New York Philharmonic. This was the grand finale piece after a featured performance by Yo-Yo Ma. For the first time since I had started following classical music, the performers at this convert were wearing color rather than black and white and this confused me for the first few pieces. However, it all became clear during Bolero when the curtains that were hung at the back of the stage “changed” colors with each repetition of the phrase, (with the use of colored spotlights of course). The effect created by this action was dazzling and, pardon the pun, shed a whole new light on the piece that I found to be quite appropriate. As always, thank you for reading and please share you thought in the comments.