Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Bolero's Mesmerizing Crescendo

Best of the tales repeat post from 2015 

Bolero's Mesmerizing Crescendo - March, 2015 :
I honor this Tales Classical music post to my wife, Sheralyn, as we celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary on March 8, 2015 [UPDATE: On this March 8, 2021 my wife and I celebrated our 39th Anniversary].  
Maurice Ravel's "Bolero" is my wife's favorite classical music piece of all, so this post will feature the great "Bolero."   Also, for a bonus piece, I will have my wife's second favorite piece after Bolero.

Me and Sheralyn together for 39 years, going on eternity
Notes from my previous post, Bolero For My Wife

It is ironic that Bolero, which has a definite Spanish flavor, was written by the great early 20th century French composer and pianist, Maurice Ravel.  While considered one of the great French impressionist composers, like Claude Debussy and Jacques Ibert, Ravel also revealed his love for the classical style in his works. He actually considered himself a classicist.  Ravel had many beautiful great piano and chamber music works, but his orchestral piece Bolero is his most famous and one of his most beloved works.

Bolero is a wonderful teaching piece too as it contains a couple of musical ideas well developed in the classical era and still evident today. Bolero is also a very unique orchestral piece, as we will explain.

The two musical terms I am talking about in Bolero are those of dynamics and crescendo. Dynamics is the volume or intensity of sound [soft, loud, moderate].  The musical term for soft is piano and for loud is forte. A note or passage that is played very soft is called pianissimo and very loud is called fortissimo.   Bolero starts out pianissimo and ends in a fortissimo explosion.  Since this orchestral piece begins very softly, you have to listen closely to hear the opening beats of the snare drum.

The second teaching musical term that you obtain from Bolero is that of crescendo. Crescendo is a passage that is played with a gradual increase in volume or intensity.  Bolero doesn't just have a passage or phrase that is played in a crescendo style.  It is the whole piece that is the crescendo.  As I said Bolero starts out pianissimo [very softly], then piano[softly], then to a moderate sound, then to forte [loudly] and culminates in a fortissimo climax.

Crescendo symbol - means play this measure gradually louder to ff [fortisimo]
The uniqueness of Bolero is that it may be the only piece in the classical or Romantic era that the crescendo dynamics of the piece covers the whole piece. Most of the time when a phrase or section of a Classical or Romantic piece contains a crescendo of sound, it is followed by a decrescendo [gradually lowering of the volume of sound] coming back to it's original intensity.  But this is not true with Bolero.  It never returns to the softness of the opening.  

In this mesmerizing composition, the same theme is repeated over and over for the entire piece.  At first realizing this, you might think "oh, what a boring piece."  To the contrary, when you hear the piece, you will say to yourself, "Oh, what a brilliant, beautiful piece."    

The fact that the same motif is continuously repeated throughout the piece, makes more important and brilliant the use of the crescendo dynamics used by Maurice Ravel.

Here is Maestro Valery Gergiev leading the London Symphony Orchestra. 
For Sheralyn, my love. 

Please turn up the volume and play in full screen and enjoy. 

Maurice Ravel: Bolero:

And for a classical music bonus piece, my wife's second favorite classical music piece of all, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. 

George Gershwin: Rhapsody In Blue:


S Cole said...

A wonderful, visual recording! But maybe you can help me identify a strange sound I've wondered about for some years. After the soprano saxophone has a turn at the melody, it passes to one of the eeriest voices I've ever heard in an orchestra. In the video, it looks like the musicians are playing piccolos, but I've never heard them sound like that before. What are they playing; or, better, what is playing with them to create that odd musical voice?

Big Mike said...

I looked it up...and it is definitely two piccolos along with a celesta [a keyboard instrument--that on google said is like glockenspiel--which I have heard the name but had no idea what it is]. Good get, S Cole!! thanks, you helped me out.