Thursday, February 03, 2005


"Bolero" Maurice Ravel
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

There are two main themes to Bolero. The first is the melody, a simple monophonic line with brief tonicizations of the dominant (mostly) throughout the piece. The theme is continually reinforced by repetition by various instruments or groups of instruments. The accompany line relies solely on its rhythmic appeal, and uses triplets to accent 1,2, and 3. Bolero is a Spanish waltz, and so inorder to maintain a waltz feel Ravel, inaddition to the rhythmic line's accents, adds another line of timpani or bass drum on one, and harp and strings on two and three. As the piece progresses, the second and third beats get just as strong as the first, meshing all the beats together into the finale to create a heavier, stronger feel. The melody is first introduced by the flute, because it will gradually build to louder and stronger instruments. It is accompanied by the rhythmic line conveyed litely by a snare drum. This creates a rigid sort of pulse, but a quiet feeling in the music. The period ends with a perfect authentic cadence, sol-fa-me-re-do being in the soprano. The melody and rhythmic pattern is repeated again, this time the flute switching to the rhythmic pattern and clarinet taking over the melody. Several different instruments take turns playing either the melody or the accompaniment, and because of this, the piece gradually builds. There is not many crescendos, but rather the entire piece is a crescendo within itself. Bolero gets stronger and louder by adding instruments that are stronger and louder, mainly brass. After awhile, there is a piccolo and sax duet in the melody, where the picc has modulated to some foreign key, possibly a chromatic mediant relationship, and the saxophone has stayed in the same. This has an interesting and prominent sounding affect on the piece. As the piece builds, first by adding a trumpet, then violins and more brass, it seems like it has become thicker, but still maintains an energetic feel. By keeping the piece in two basic parts, Ravel is able to emphasize the affect of the orchestra as a whole. The simplicity of it all sits in contrast with the slightest change in key or rhythm, so when Ravel starts his finale with a direct modulation to a foreign related key, everyone definitely knows the finale is starting to build. Ravel ends the piece suddenly, with a scalar passage down in all instruments, the brief ending contrasting with the constant pulse created in the piece that the listener is so used to. There is also some kind of swinging jazz-like effect in several parts of the repetitious melody, but at the same time brilliantly keeping a beating pulse by accenting the main beats. The piece as a whole conveys several different emotions; the most prominent being that of a waltz. The beginning emotions are that of calming, quiet, and smooth. The piece gets louder, thicker, and heavier. But the one emotion that is constant is happiness. Again the simplicity in the rhythm and melody, and the solos, give the instruments their own characters, each with a separate emotion. When they all are combined, there is an explosion of energy unlike any other piece.

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