Maurice Ravel composed Bolero in 1928, late in his career, initially with the title of another Spanish dance form, the Fandango.
Both dances typically move in triple metre, and the moderately-paced music is traditionally accompanied by castanets or percussive handclapping, and guitar. Spain heavily influenced Ravel’s work: he identified with the culture due to his mother’s Basque heritage, and the country provided an alluring taste of the exotic for French composers and audiences.
Bolero originated as a commission from the Russian Ballerina Ida Rubinstein, who had left the celebrated 'Ballets Russes' to form her own company. Rubinstein and Ravel conceived the work as an orchestration of the Spaniard Isaac Albeniz's piano suite Iberia, but were denied the necessary copyright permissions. Thus, Bolero answered the brief for a Spanish themed ballet to open the 1928 winter season of the Paris Opera.
Ravel considered the work “a masterpiece… without any music in it”. It is rhythm, not melody, that sustains his Spanish works – and in Bolero, Ravel penned one of classical music’s most iconic rhythms.
Recorded 21 April 2018, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert.
Producer: David McCaw
Engineer: Darryl Stack