1928: Ravel: Bolero in C major

FRIDAY, October 2, 2020 – 4:12 AM

Ravel: Bolero in C major, age 53

Popular for 91 years…

There has never been a time when the masses have not loved this piece. It is not only Ravel’s most famous composition but also the one that is instantly recognized. I doubt there are many people on planet earth who have not heard this.

But who is the best?

I picked this video because of the camera work. I wanted something that would show the instruments being played. But I fell in love with the performance. I could listen to the trombone solo 50 times and never get bored.

Theme A

Theme B

  • 2:22 bassoon: Always one of the strangest looking instruments. It’s for the brooms in “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, and it’s “Grandfather” in “Peter and the Wolf”.
  • 3:17 sopranino clarinet: It’s a smaller and higher clarinet in Eb. It’s pitched a 4th higher than standard Bb clarinet. I had never heard the name before. But odd pitched clarinets are popular in places like Turkey, or so I read.

Theme A

Theme B

  • 6:02 tenor saxophone:  It’s a late arrival in the orchestral instruments. You won’t find saxes of any kind in Beethoven. Even today people think of it more as a pop or jazz instrument.
  • 6:56 soprano sax: It’s an octave higher than tenor sax.

Theme A

Theme B

  • 9:38 trombone: This is a killer trombone part, and you have to be really good to play it because it goes up to high Db, a very high note for an orchestral trombone player. This guy is superb. He uses slide vibrato. It’s the best job I’ve heard of this solo.
  • 10:31 more winds, intervals, chords: Now he’s using triads and chords, very rich sound.

Theme A

Theme B

Theme A

Theme B

Instrumentation:

  • piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
  • 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba
  • timpani, snare drum
  • harp, celesta
  • strings

It went viral…

Read about it HERE: This composition by Maurice Ravel remains one of the most famous pieces of music ever nwritten and was hugely popular the minute people heard it.

Two themes…

There is an A theme and a B theme. He alternates them, using these two ideas over and over again, always with different instrumentation. His idea was to create something totally new, and it was just a huge experiment.

I hated this, and now I very much like it…

I used to think this was music written for people who don’t know anything and who need to hear the same tune repeated over and over again. I went years without listening to it, on purpose. But when I started studying the music more closely I completely change my mind. I now think it’s brilliant.

Tempo controversy…

Ravel wanted it slow and sensuous. Toscanini wanted it much faster. He won, Ravel lost. But today conductors have reversed that, going to the slower tempo Ravel preferred. Why does the slower tempo work today? Because the top soloists are better, and they can pull of something more liquid, expressive and polished.

 

 

9 thoughts on “1928: Ravel: Bolero in C major

  1. I think with the repetition, the faster tempo somehow is good to keep it flowing. I think there is enough variety for the “repetition” not to feel like boring.

  2. I really liked this song, at the beginning it felt like the song was waiting for something to come, then the major upbeat part to me, was what the beginning was waiting for, and then at the end I really liked how the song resolved itself without leaving the sense of longing that the beginning had.

    1. It’s a world-changing idea for sure. As far as I know no one else every thought of writing one basic tune and then having it repeat again and again, but always with different instruments and always building.

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