From Ballet To Boléro

Classical Academy | Composers | Orchestral Music


When Maurice Ravel's most famous piece, Boléro premièred on 22 November 1928 at the Paris Opéra, we would not have recognized it - it was presented to the world as a ballet...


Dancer Ida Rubinstein had asked Ravel to make an orchestral transcription of six pieces by Isaac Albéniz, but when a copyright issue arose Ravel decided instead to write a completely new piece based on the musical form and Spanish dance called bolero. On holiday with his friend Gustave Samazeuilh he sat down at the piano and played a melody with one finger: "Don't you think this theme has an insistent quality?" he said. "I'm going to try and repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can". 


At the première, the work was a sensational success, with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska and designs by Alexandre Benois and this scenario printed in the program and written by Rubinstein:


"Inside a tavern in Spain people dance beneath the brass lamp hung from the ceiling. The female dance has leapt onto the long table and her steps become more and more animated."


Imagine yourself in a lively Spanish tavern and listen to Ravel's Boléro on this wonderful recording - it will put you in a spin.

Find out more about ballet music with our introduction to the genre.