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#1428618 - 05/02/10 10:39 PM Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19  
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I've played this piece since I was a preteen, and it never ceases to surprise and amaze people who have never heard it before. Why is it not more frequently played, and why, too, is it so badly played? I've heard recordings by respected musicians of the caliber of Ashkenazy, von Sauer, and plenty of others that play it as much as 25% faster than Chopin's very sensible indication, much too detached when he asks for smoothness, skittish, uncontrolled, using some ridiculous mazurka rhythm when it's just not called for, and worst of all, making the soaring, all too brief 9/8 barcarolle section into nonsense by skimming over it.

Fortunately, Rubinstein does get it. If not for his recording that I heard as a child in the Chopin Collection disc, I probably would have neglected this beautiful, wide-ranging and ingenious piece, too. Yet he did not record it until he was 75, and as far as I can tell, he did not program it! Anatol Ugorski's recording is also gorgeous, for a bolder reading that is still relatively true to the score.

So what does Piano World think? At 8 and a half minutes, it's too long for an encore, and it's not as difficult or as deep as the Ballades or the Polonaises, but it is a very effective and engaging piece in its own right which deserves wider attention.




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#1428703 - 05/03/10 12:41 AM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: jeffreyjones]  
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I think it deserves to be played more but not that much more. I like it quite a bit but if we put it alongside all of Chopin's other works and say how much we feel it should be played by comparison, I'd say the current state of things is pretty close to where it should be. I guess I'd put in a vote that we should hear it once in a while instead of yet-another-performance of a scherzo or ballade, but I'd say the same about a bunch of other Chopin pieces, like the rondos, some early polonaises, and (especially) a great many of the mazurkas.

I haven't heard it played by very many people but I can't say I've ever heard it played badly.

I'm thrilled that you're so high on it, and that you have it in your repertoire.

P.S. I haven't had the impression that it's less difficult than those other pieces ....but since you play it, if you're telling us that it is, I imagine you're right.


"Everything I say is my opinion, including the facts." :-)
#1428758 - 05/03/10 02:59 AM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: jeffreyjones]  
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wr Offline
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Every time I hear it or play through it, I am reminded of why it (and various other early Chopin pieces) doesn't get played more often. To be sure, there are some charming bits, but still... Even though it's a shortish piece, the thematic material is weak and generic, and the main theme has definitely worn out its welcome by the last time it comes around. And the structure feels quite clumsy in spots. The coda in particular seems to arrive from nowhere and for no particular reason.

BTW, although some of the Ugorski is nicely played, he also gives a great demonstration of how not to do convincing delayed-note right hand rubato, in the Piu Lento section.

#1428797 - 05/03/10 07:14 AM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: wr]  
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My favorite rarely played Chopin piece is his Op.5 Rondo a la Mazur:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuGonko-Wuk

I heard (can't remember his name) play the Chopin Bolero at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditoreum in NYC when he was around 98.

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#1428995 - 05/03/10 12:48 PM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: Mark_C]  
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Originally Posted by Mark_C
P.S. I haven't had the impression that it's less difficult than those other pieces ....but since you play it, if you're telling us that it is, I imagine you're right.


I have played it for a long time, so my view might actually be distorted by my familiarity with it. It has its difficulties, like the madly fluttering opening in 3/8 (which is VERY fast at mm. 88), or the B-flat minor section in which he asks the player to reach with the left index finger over the left thumb at an increasing interval - from a second to a full octave! On the whole, though, it's easier than any of the Ballades or the mature Polonaises, by which I mean on any given day, I'm more likely to be able to pull off the Bolero. ha

Maybe others just don't see the potential in it that I do. I'm programming it in a June concert, after a pair of Mazurkas and the Etude Op. 10/9, so I'll find out for myself how effective it is or isn't.

#1429009 - 05/03/10 01:32 PM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: jeffreyjones]  
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One small point of clarification : The A-flat major section, starting at measure 156, certainly barcarolle-like, is not in 9/8; it remains in 3/4 with the left hand written in eighth-note triplets - at least that's the way it's scored in the Henle. In fact, the right hand notation is decidedly in 3/4.

I don't know the work well, and while it reminds me somewhat of some of the earlier Polonaises,[1] it doesn't have the unity that they have, even the early ones. It seems somewhat episodic. For my taste I don't think the rewards of playing it would particularly be worth the effort in learning it, but that's said from only a couple of hearings and a perusal of the score.

[1] Coincidentally, I had not heard or read any references to the "Bolero" before as those Bailie [2] refers to when she writes: "the Allegro vivace in 3/4 from b.88 is, as has often been remarked, that of an [emasculated] polonaise beneath a picky RH dotted rhythm motif (of which we have had more than enough long before the last of its umpteen appearances). Evidently, Bailie is not fond of the work!

[2] Eleanor Bailie. Chopin: A Graded Practical Guide. Kahn & Averill, London, 1998, p. 535.

Regards,


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#1429045 - 05/03/10 02:59 PM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: pianoloverus]  
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I heard (can't remember his name) play the Chopin Bolero at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditoreum in NYC when he was around 98.

I think that was Mieczyslaw Horszowski. I heard him twice toward the end, and he was still beyond remarkable. I had tickets for a later concert also, but it was canceled. I think he never performed again.

His most memorable piece (for me) was the B minor Scherzo. He made all that agitated figuration into something lyrical.


"Everything I say is my opinion, including the facts." :-)
#1429051 - 05/03/10 03:11 PM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: jeffreyjones]  
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I have happy memories of playing the first page of the Bolero when fairly young and finding it very exciting. It then gradually dawned on me that the rest of the piece just didn't do it for me - sorry Chopin!

It is ingenious. I consider it a "fake improvisation", by which I mean that the spirit of improvisation is there, but cleverly tweaked and improved to the point that nobody could possibly improvise something that good on the spot. The winning entry in a contest that never actually took place.

When considering the popularity of this piece, at the risk of sounding like a complete philistine here - where are the tunes? To my mind, the only thing close to a memorable hummable/singable melody takes place in the A flat section (bars 156 onwards), and even that is gone so fast. Episodic, no lasting memorable melodies, very clever... not a recipe for popularity. Most popular classical works from this period have at least one hummable theme that sticks in the mind afterwards - something the mind can latch onto easily as part of remembering what the work was like overall.


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#1429164 - 05/03/10 06:49 PM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: BruceD]  
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Originally Posted by BruceD
One small point of clarification : The A-flat major section, starting at measure 156, certainly barcarolle-like, is not in 9/8; it remains in 3/4 with the left hand written in eighth-note triplets - at least that's the way it's scored in the Henle. In fact, the right hand notation is decidedly in 3/4.


In the Jan Ekier National Edition, I believe it's scored in 9/8. I do agree with you, though, the left hand figure is barcarolle but the right hand is not bound to its meter, it's pure Bellini fioratura. Incidentally, what do you think the relationship of that section is to the main part? Do you think it's played as if an eighth note was equal to an eighth of the previous bar, or as if a quarter note of the previous bar equaled a dotted quarter? Most seem to do the former to give it a more expansive quality.

Last edited by jeffreyjones; 05/03/10 06:51 PM.
#1429203 - 05/03/10 07:48 PM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: jeffreyjones]  
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Originally Posted by jeffreyjones
In the Jan Ekier National Edition, I believe it's scored in 9/8. I do agree with you, though, the left hand figure is barcarolle but the right hand is not bound to its meter, it's pure Bellini fioratura.

I own the National Edition of the "Various Works", and there's no change of time signature in the Boléro at bar 156. The music remains at the 3/4 set at bar 88, and only the key signature changes. None of the first editions have a time signature change at bar 156, and there's no mention in the National Edition source commentary of a 9/8 there in any autograph.


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#1429352 - 05/04/10 01:47 AM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: Julian_]  
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That's what I get for relying on my memory. I guess it's not right to slow it way down then!

#1429615 - 05/04/10 04:21 PM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: jeffreyjones]  
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I think the Boléro is a fine piece, though not having the same depth as the other pieces of the same length, ie. the ballades , scherzi, fantaisie or barcarolle, and the later polonaises. As a danceform, it so tries to be a polonaise, a strange effort by Chopin not to be polish at all costs...After the opening flourishes one could discern a bit of Satie, of all people, then a polonaise breakes lose, a bit of song in the a-flat section, and quite a convincing return to the rest of the material to round things off, and a fine piece to program, unusual, beautiful, and not a 2 minutes affair, FINE!


Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure, but not anymore!
#1429616 - 05/04/10 04:31 PM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: dolce sfogato]  
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Originally Posted by dolce sfogato
.....it so tries to be a polonaise, a strange effort by Chopin not to be polish at all costs.....

I think Chopin does an interestingly good job of making a bolero Polish....or making a polonaise Spanish. ha

Whichever way we should put it. smile

IMO it's an ingenious mix of Polish and Spanish. But the piece just isn't "good" enough for it to be more on the map.


"Everything I say is my opinion, including the facts." :-)
#1429627 - 05/04/10 04:45 PM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: Mark_C]  
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A piece is never on it's own in a program, that makes this piece a very very very welcome alternative for all the other ones we are smitten to death with, I also want to make a case for the variations op.12, and why not, the rondo op.16, and for goodness sake, yes, the 1st sonata!


Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure, but not anymore!
#1429782 - 05/04/10 10:48 PM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: dolce sfogato]  
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Originally Posted by dolce sfogato
A piece is never on it's own in a program, that makes this piece a very very very welcome alternative for all the other ones we are smitten to death with, I also want to make a case for the variations op.12, and why not, the rondo op.16, and for goodness sake, yes, the 1st sonata!


Whoa. We have a wild man here.

#1429786 - 05/04/10 10:57 PM Re: Chopin's Bolero, Op. 19 [Re: jeffreyjones]  
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Originally Posted by jeffreyjones
Originally Posted by dolce sfogato
A piece is never on it's own in a program, that makes this piece a very very very welcome alternative for all the other ones we are smitten to death with, I also want to make a case for the variations op.12, and why not, the rondo op.16, and for goodness sake, yes, the 1st sonata!


Whoa. We have a wild man here.


I agree with Dolce Sfogato, I don't know if the polonaise posthumous in G-# minor is famous amongst the performers or not, but I don't see so much renditions on youtube, and it is great!


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