Some compositions are so ubiquitous they are recognizable in their first few bars, even by people who are not music aficionados. French composer Maurice Ravel's "Bolero" is one of those pieces, known for its relentless snare drum beat throughout, as it gradually builds tension from a sweet, simple tune to a grand, flourishing climax.
Ravel wrote the piece for a friend, a Russian ballet dancer, while on holiday shortly before touring North America in 1928. According to Classic FM, the composer was about to go for a swim when he called a friend over to the piano and played a simple theme with one finger, saying, "Don’t you think that has an insistent quality? I’m going to try to repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.”
That he did, with tremendous success—and with the sacrifice of the poor percussionist charged with repeating the same 24-beat note pattern throughout the piece, for a whopping total of 5,144 drum strokes on the snare drum. While different instruments are introduced as the piece progresses, creating a buildup of sound that eventually incorporates the full symphony orchestra, the lone snare drummer never gets a break. They play the same rhythm over and over and over, just gradually increasing in volume.
But what would "Bolero" be without the signature snare drum? Or the orchestral buildup? What if someone were to play "Bolero" on just one instrument? What if several someones played it on the same instrument? Would that even work?
Such experimentation with well-known pieces can be risky. But four cellists managed to pull off an incredible feat by performing "Bolero" together on a single cello. While it's not the full 15-minute piece, it's doggone impressive how rich and full the piece feels on just this one instrument. Watching the cellists physically coordinate the playing of it is sheer entertainment, beautifully executed—and the little bullfight shoutout to the Spanish theme is just delightful.
Enjoy this fun performance by the Wiener Cello Ensemble 5 +1, shared by Classic FM:
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