Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Frédéric Chopin

The bolero had become a popular dance in France in the early 1830s, just before the exiled Chopin had arrived there in 1831 to take up what would turn out to be permanent residence. The dance has Spanish origins, of course, but when Chopin wrote this piece he had not yet visited Spain. His lack of exposure to the Spanish idiom shows, for while the piece has exotic flavor, it often sounds more Italianate than Spanish. Moreover, the composer cannot jettison his Polish roots here -- assuming he had made a conscious effort to suppress them.

The piece begins with three unlikely chords -- unlikely because they could just as easily be announcing a funeral march. But that was the effect Chopin was striving for -- grabbing the listener's attention, setting his audience up for a huge contrast. When the main theme appears, one does notice a Spanish character in it; yet the music here, light and playful, often detours into Italy and Poland, yielding, in the end, a sort of musical melting pot of ethnicities. An alternate theme is more typically Chopinesque, though it is tinged with an exoticism in its dreamy, relaxed demeanor. The ending is colorful, but again presenting an ersatz though attractive Spanish quality.

This was the only bolero that Chopin wrote and, despite minor flaws, it is a worthwhile composition, not least because it displays the composer's expressive range in keyboard color and atmosphere. A typical performance of the Bolero lasts from seven to nine minutes.