"I wanted to come face to face with a master: I recognised him as such." (Hélène Grimaud)
  1914-1990

The legendary Cuban American pianist Jorge Bolet

Click here to1914-1990  "I wanted to come face to face with a master: I recognised him as such." (Hélène Grimaud) 

Jorge Bolet's colossal graduation programme.

Leopold Godowsky and two rather famous friends

The Ansonia Hotel in New York City where Godowsky lived for a time.   Possibly it was here that Bolet played for him.

Moriz Rosenthal, pianist

Bolet as a young man

Selection of recital programmes at the Curtis Institute of Music

 On 28 February 1928 Moriz Rosenthal (with whom he would later have a short period of study in Vienna) gave a recital at Curtis which JB may have heard.  

 

The programme included Beethoven Op.109 in E major, Schubert Wanderer Fantasie, Chopin Barcarolle, Albeniz Triana, Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 etc.)

 

CASIMIR HALL,   Sixth Season 1929-1930 

Monday Evening, May 26, 1930 at 8:30 o'clock

Students of Mr. Saperton

Cesar Franck: Prelude, Choral and Fugue & Strauss;

Schulz-Evler Concert Arabesques on the Blue Danube Waltz: Jorge Bolet

 

CASIMIR HALL,   Seventh Season 1930-31

Friday Evening, April 24, 1931 at 8:30 o'clock

Organ Fantasy and Fugue Johann Sebastian Bach in G minor in the Liszt adaptation; Waldesrauschen  Franz Liszt;  Fantasia quasi Sonata : "Apres une Lecture du Dante": Jorge Bolet

 

First Movement from the Concerto in C minor, Op.18 Sergei Rachmaninoff

Irene Peckham  (orchestral part played on a second piano by Jorge Bolet)

 

Saturday Evening, May 16, 1931 at 8:30 o’clock

The Academy of Music, Philadelphia;

Curtis Symphony Orchestra

Overture — "A Roman Carnival" Hector Berlioz, cond. Sylvan Levin

Concerto in B flat minor for Piano and Orchestra, TSCHAIKOWSKY:

First movement (Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso), Jorge Bolet

 

CASIMIR HALL  Eighth Season  1931-1932

Sunday Evening, December 13, 1931 at 8.15 o’clock

Quintet in D major, Opus 51, ANTONY STEPANOVITCH ARENSKY for Piano and String Quartet

Jorge Bolet, Piano, Jacob Brodsky / Leonard Mogill, Viola , Ladislaus Steinhardt / Howard Mitchell, Violoncello

 

Friday Evening, April 15, 1932, at 8:30 o’clock

Sonata in F minor, Opus 57 (Appassionata), BEETHOVEN, Menuett in A minor RAMEAU-GODOWSKY, Etude in A flat major, Opus 1, No. 2 PAUL DE SCHLOZER, Jorge Bolet

 

Friday Evening, January 29, 1932 at 8:45 o’clock

CARNEGIE HALL ,  NEW YORK

The Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Fritz Reiner, Conductor

Overture to "Oberon”, Carl Maria von Weber

Symphony No. 4 in E Minor  Johannes Brahms

Concerto in B flat minor for Piano and Orchestra,TSCHAIKOVSKY, First Movement (Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso), Soloist, Jorge Bolet

 

CASIMIR HALL,  Ninth Season— 1932-1933

Sixth Students' Concert, Tuesday Evening, March 14, 1933, at 8:30 o’clock, Students of MR. SALZEDO AND MISS LAWRENCE

Introduction and Allegro Maurice Ravel (with piano accompaniment), Marjorie Call, harp,  Jorge Bolet at the piano, LYON & HEALY HARPS

 

CASIMIR HALL,  Ninth Season 1932-1933

Wednesday Evening, April 5", 1933, at 8:30 o’clock

Sonata in B minor FRANZ LISZT, Le Cygne (Saint-Saens-Godowsky), Polka de W. R (Sergei Rachmaninov),  Rondo a capriccio, Op. 129 (Ludwig van Beethoven), La Campanella (Liszt/Busoni): Jorge Bolet

 

CASIMIR HALL  Tenth Season  1933-34

JORGE BOLET, Pianist

Monday Evening, April 16, 1934, at 8:30 o'clock

I

Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Opus 24, Johannes Brahms

Nocturne in E flat major, Opus 5 5, No. 2, Frederic Chopin

Rondo from Sonata, No. 1 in C major, Opus 24, Carl Maria von Weber

II

Sonata in B minor. Opus 58, Frederic Chopin

III

Prelude in E flat major, Opus 23, No. 6, Sergei Rachmaninoff

Prelude in G sharp minor. Opus 32, No. 12, Sergei Rachmaninoff

Suggestion diabolique, Serge Prokofiev

Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes from Fledermaus Waltzes of Johann Strauss Leopold Godowsky

The Steinway is the official piano of The Curtis Institute of Music

 

DIPLOMAS in PIANO 1934 went to: Lilian Lia Batkin, Jorge Leopoldo Bolet,  Rosita Escalona, Florence Eraser, Martha Louise Halbwachs, William Henry Harms, Jr., Jean-Marie Robinault — in absentia

 

CASIMIR HALL,   Fourteenth Season — 1937-83

RECITAL by JORGE BOLET, Pianist, Graduate Student of Mr. Saperton

Tuesday Evening, October 19, 1937, at 8:50 o'clock 

Organ Fantasia and Fugue in G minor (Bach-Liszt )

Rondo from the Sonata in D major, Opus 53 (Franz Schubert )

Fantasie in F minor, Opus 49( Frederic Chopin) also Etudes: E flat major, Opus 10, No. 11, C sharp minor. Opus 10, No. 4  C sharp minor, Opus 25, No. 7, A minor, Opus 25, No. 11 

Sonata in B minor (Franz Liszt)

Suggestion diabolique (Serge Prokofiev)

Preludes: E flat major. Opus 23, No. 6  & G sharp minor, Opus 32 (Sergei Rachmaninoff)

Waltzes from "Die Fledermaus" Strauss-Godowsky

 

THE IRIS CLUB   LANCASTER, PENNSYLVANIA

Wednesday Afternoon, January 5. 1938, at 2:30 o’clock

Jorge Bolet 

 

FRIDAY EVENING, MARCH 31, 1939 AT 8:30 O'CLOCK

CASIMIR HALL  - CLAUDE DEBUSSY 1862-1918 

Masques, La Puerta del Vino, General Lavine — eccentric, La Terrasse des audiences du clair de lune, La Serenade interrompue, Mouvement

Jorge Bolet, Piano

...

CASIMIR HALL

FACULTY RECITAL by [Bolet's teacher] DAVID SAPERTON

Tuesday Evening, March 26, 1940, at 8:30 o'clock

PROGRAMME OF COMPOSITIONS BY LEOPOLD GODOWSKY

 

Passacalia

Composed as a tribute to the memory of Franz Schubert on the eve of the hundredth anniversary of his death. The theme is based on the first eight bars of the Unfinished Symphony.

 

Four selections from Phonoramas (Java Suite): 

Gamelan, The gardens of Buitenzorg , Chattering monkeys at the sacred Lake of Wendit , In the streets of old Batavia

 

Ten studies on Chopin's Etudes:

Opus 25. No. 1 in A flat major, third version

Opus 10, No. 2 in A minor, second version — Ignis Fatuus

Posthumous etude in E major, first version. Originally in A flat major

Opus 2 5, No. 6 in G sharp minor

Opus 25, No. 5 in E minor, first version

Opus 10, No. 5 and Opus 25, No. 9 combined, in G flat major — Badinage

Opus 10, No. 6 in E flat minor for the left hand alone

Opus 10, No. 11 and Opus 2*. No. 3 combined, in F major

Opus 10, No. 7 in G flat major, second version. Originally in C major — Nocturne

Opus 10, No. 7 in C major, first version — Toccata

 

Triana (transcribed from Albeniz)

Symphonic metamorphosis on theme from the "Artist-Life" waltz of Johann Strauss

Is there a Latin-American school of piano playing?

Miami  Herald 1.9.96, James Roos

 

Frank Cooper is quoted as saying ‘There’s really no Latin American piano school per se.’  

 

Traditionally Latin pianists after there genius was detected early and nurtured by expert local teachers left their countries, usually in their teens, to study in France, Germany, Austria and Russia.  

 

The Brazilian Guiomar Novaes (on of 19 children) was a prodigy at age 5; she was taught in Sao Paolo by an Italian, Luigi Chiafarelli, but then sent at age 15 by the Brazilian government to Paris in 1911.   There were 388 applicants for 12 places, only 2 for foreign students.   The jury included Debussy and Moszkowski.

 

Horacio Gutiérrez (born in 1948, Havana) is a virtuoso pianist originally from Cuba. He moved with his family to the United States in 1961, at the age of 13, and studied in Los Angeles with Sergey Tarnowsky (1882-1976), Vladimir Horowitz's first teacher in Kiev, and later at the Juilliard School of Music under Adele Marcus (1906-1995), a pupil of the legendary Russian pianist Josef Lhevinne.

Graduation and the wider world

The Pennsylvania census taken on 23 April 1930 lists George (sic) and Marie Bolet as lodgers in the house of a French lady, Marie Roufineau (b.1866), at 611 Locust Street, Phila., PA.

In June 1931 the Bolet family home in Cuba was listed as 28 San Bernardino Street, Vibora, Havana.
Jorge was residing at 1721, Spruce Street Philadelphia according to a passenger manifest.  The family do seem to move around a lot and there will be reasons for this.  See history of Cuba below.

On Josef Hofmann

"I did not get to know Josef Hofmann very well.   I used to play for him once or twice during the school year, but he merely heard me.   I just went to his studio and played whatever I was currently working on, and that was it."  

  

                    Bolet's debut in January 1932 at Carnegie Hall

"At that performance, I also had the good fortune of meeting Rachmaninov.   During the second half of the concert, David Saperton took me up to Godowsky’s box to hear the remainder of the concert.  When the concert was over, Godowsky grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘There’s somebody I want you to meet.’   Simultaneously Rachmaninov was coming out of an adjoining box putting on his big overcoat with the sable collar,   Godowsky spoke to Rachmaninov in Russian, so I don’t know what was said.   But we shook hands and passed a few pleasantries before he hurried off."

  

JB met him again a few years later after Rachmaninov’s concert at the Salle Pleyel.  Bolet was taking French courses at the Alliance Francaise.  (Elyse Mach  p.36f.)

Carnegie Hall debut

In 1932 [aged 17] JB performed with the Curtis SO under the fearsome conductor Fritz Reiner at Carnegie Hall in New York City.   Many eminent musicians were in the audience: Rachmaninov, Milstein, Zimbalist, Horowitz, Hofmann, Godowsky.   The programme included Weber's "Oberon" overture,  Brahms's fourth symphony and the first movement of Tchaikovsky's B-flat minor concerto with JB as piano soloist.   A review in the New York Times for 30 January says: ‘He has a brilliant technique.   From the thunderous succession of chords that open the pianist’s part...he was equal to the technical difficulties.  More, he played with the fine abandon of youth.’ 

Leopold Godowsky

It is during these early years of the 1930s that Bolet had some sessions with the legendary pianist Leopold Godowsky, going up to New York City for lessons.   JB’s teacher at Curtis, David Saperton was Godowsky’s son-in-law and had arranged the connection.   (Godowsky resided in the luxurious Ansonia Hotel on the Upper West Side, at 2109 Broadway, between West 73rd and 74th Streets, but moved into an apartment with his daughter Dagmar on Riverside Drive overlooking the Hudson River after his wife Frieda’s death in December 1933.)   Bolet would practise some of Godowsky’s fiendishly difficult music (few other of his contemporaries were up to the task) and then play it to the composer.


‘Jorge’s scores of these pieces bore Godowsky’s markings in red crayon—the daunting “Passacaglia,” based on themes from Schubert’s “Unfinished” symphony; the “Fledermaus” and “Kunstlerleben” symphonic metamorphoses; the “Java Suite”; the Sonata in E minor; pieces from the “Triakontameron.” ’ [Albert McGrigor]


Bolet listed these lessons for 1932-3 in a submission to Grove's Dictionary; but they do not seem to have been systematic lessons.   Gregor Benko has said, 'I remember a party at Sidney Foster’s house when he, Bolet and Abbey Simon reminisced about Leopold Godowsky, who apparently used sarcasm and insults with students..., and it left an indelible impression on these great artists, who had all played for him and suffered abuse.'   Godowsky's biographer, Jeremy Nicholas, states: ‘Occasionally, Saperton and Bolet would go to New York and visit Godowsky, and Bolet would play Godowsky to Godowsky, as it were, and get advice from him. He said that in that sense, yes, he had studied with Godowsky. Of course he also, in the same way, had advice from (and played for) Hofmann as he was head of piano at Curtis. But his main teacher was Saperton, though Bolet told me the greatest purely musical influence was the French musician Marcel Tabuteau, first oboe with the Philadelphia Orchestra – the greatest musical mind I have ever known.’

Who was Godowsky?

Leopold [Leonid] Godowsky, (b Soshly, nr Vilnius, 13 Feb 1870; d New York, 21 Nov 1938), was an American pianist and composer of Polish birth. Following the death of his father, he exhibited a precocious aptitude for music under the guidance of foster-parents in Vilnius.  He gave his first piano recital when he was nine and subsequently toured throughout Lithuania and East Prussia. From 1887 to 1890 he was a protégé of composer Camille Saint-Saëns in Paris, supporting himself by playing in fashionable salons both there and in London.  Visiting the USA in 1890 he joined the staff of the New York College of Music, and later held teaching posts in Philadelphia and Chicago. During the 1890s he started to make concert arrangements of other composers' works, including the first of his studies on the études of Chopin, which Jorge Bolet was to champion - there is a recording of a selection of etudes and waltzes set down in 1977, as JB's first recording in Britain.


Godowsky's appearance at the Beethoven Hall, Berlin, on 6 December 1900 established his reputation as a consummate virtuoso.   He took up residence in Berlin, from where, until 1909, he embarked on annual European tours. From 1909 until 1914 he was director of the Klaviermeisterschule of the Akademie der Tonkunst in Vienna, in succession to Sauer and Busoni, returning to the USA for concert tours between 1912 and 1914, as well as making his first gramophone recordings. 


Godowsky remained in America until 1922, when he embarked on an extended tour of East Asia, including a visit to Java (Indonesia) which was to provide the inspiration for the Java Suite (Phonoramas) written on his return to the USA; during this tour he also undertook a major series of Bach transcriptions. The years 1926–30 saw the publication of numerous other transcriptions, including the 12 Schubert songs, and original compositions, as well as a return to the European concert stage. In 1928 he began a series of recordings in London, including major works by Beethoven, Schumann, Grieg and Chopin. In 1930, however, while recording Chopin's E major Scherzo, Godowsky suffered a stroke which left him partially paralysed; his remaining years were overshadowed by material anxieties, exacerbated by personal tragedy.


Godowsky was a perfectionist and the fear of doing a trifling wrong hindered his playing. Consequently, it was acknowledged that his best work was not in public or in the recording studio, but at home. After leaving Godowsky's home one night, Josef Hofmann told Abram Chasins: "Never forget what you heard tonight; never lose the memory of that sound. There is nothing like it in the world. It is tragic that the world has never heard Popsy as only he can play."


Although Godowsky felt that his most mature compositions were the Suite for the left hand and the Passacaglia (on the opening eight bars of Schubert's ‘Unfinished’ Symphony), it was through his intricately polyphonic transcriptions, especially the 53 Studies on the études of Chopin, that he became most widely known as a composer.  [Charles Hopkins]

The famous (notorious) Etudes

Godowsky's most famous work in this genre is the 53 Studies on Chopin's Études (1894–1914), in which he varies the (already challenging) original études using various methods: introducing countermelodies, transferring the technically difficult passages from the right hand to the left, transcribing an entire piece for left hand solo, or even interweaving two études, with the left hand playing one and the right hand the other.

The pieces are among the most difficult piano works ever written, and only a few pianists have ventured to perform any of them. Among such pianists are Marc-André Hamelin, who recorded the entire set and garnered a number of prestigious awards.  Other pianists who frequently perform Godowsky are Boris Berezovsky and Konstantin Scherbakov.

Fledermaus paraphrase; a Bolet speciality.

The paraphrase on Die Fledermaus (‘The Bat’)  took its themes from two acts of  Johann Strauss’s comic operetta premiered in Vienna in 1874.   Godowsky obligingly indicates which numbers he is using by placing the appropriate lyrics above or within the stave. Thus the opening bars have ‘Oh je, oh je, wie rührt mich dies’ (the Act I Trio), followed by ‘Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein’ (the ensemble from Act II) and, at varying intervals, snatches of ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ (Adele’s Laughing Song, Act II). In other words, there is no narrative logic to the themes: Godowsky uses them instead to weave his ingenious web at will: ‘Johann Strauss waltzing with Johann Bach’, according to Albert Lockwood (Notes on the Literature of the Piano, 1940).


Godowsky’s Die Fledermaus metamorphosis was completed in November 1907. He was evidently pleased with himself, judging from the letter he wrote to Maurice Aronson the day he finished work on it: ‘Aside from what you know of the Valse, I have added several original features. Between the second theme of the first valse and the first theme of the second valse, I introduce a very short parody on Richard Strauss (something like Till Eulenspiegel and a bit of Salomé cacophony). It is rather amusing, not unmusical but queer, stranger than the beginning. The transition between the second theme of the second valse and the first theme of the third valse is perhaps the most delicately impassioned passage I have ever written—it has genuine vitality!"


Godowsky’s three Symphonische Metamorphosen Johann Strauss’scher Themen, Drei Walzer-paraphrasen für das Pianoforte zum Concert Vortrag were published by Cranz in 1912. Die Fledermaus is dedicated to Frau Johann Strauss (that is Strauss’s widow, Adele, his third wife).


[Jeremy Nicholas]

Early 1930s continued

JB spent his summers in Havana.   The passenger manifest for the SS Virginia records that he arrives from Cuba on 11 September 1933 at the Port of New York; he was 18 years old.   His father’s address is given as Calle 6, #216, Vedado, Havana and his sister’s as 1016 [1816?], Spruce Street, Philadelphia.


Bordered in the east by Central Havana (Habana Centro), and in the west by Miramar, Vedado was developed from 1859 in an area that had been kept wide open in colonial days to have full view of pirates approaching the city. The name Vedado means: 'reserved' or 'prohibited'.    From the 1930s to the 1950s, it was a notorious gambling nightlife mecca for Americans.  It was also the neighbourhood where doctors, lawyers and business people lived before the revolution.   Down the wide tree-lined Avenida de los Presidentes (Calle 23 and G) many luxurious 19th century French-style mansions represent Cuba's architectural heritage.


In 1933 Bolet’s sister Maria first went as a missionary to Spain, arriving in Madrid.  In the past she, along with a congregation, had a rented mission hall on Calle Villegas in the old part of Havana.  Eventually it became the Church of the Nazarene in Havana.  

In 1934 Jorge graduated from Curtis. In his graduation recital (April 16 Casimir Hall, Curtis), he performed a colossal programme, including Brahms/ Handel variations, Chopin’s third sonata in B minor, Godowsky’s complex paraphrase of waltzes from Johann Strauss’ Fledermaus, which became one his specialities.    (On Saturday, 3 April of the same year at the Teatro Principal de la Comedia, Havana, he played a ‘warm-up’ concert with the same programme as his graduation in May.)


The pianist Abbey Simon (b.1922) said that at Curtis he learned as much from listening to Bolet and Sidney Foster as he did from his lessons with Saperton and Hofmann.   ‘When I got out of Curtis in 1940 I was still pretty much a hick.   At Curtis, it was almost exclusively 19th century music, very little Bach, Mozart, Schubert.’    [From an interview, at his home in Geneva, to the New York Times 26.2.88]


Bolet also graduated from Stony Brook (Preparatory) School, Long Island, New York in 1934.  He had gone there to do one year of study to broaden his education. 

The passenger manifest for the SS California: JB arrives at the Port of New York from Havana on 17 September 1934 aged 19.   His status is now described as DIPLOMAT.  The word PIANIST is crossed out and GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL is written in by hand.   His father’s address is listed as Calle K, 191 [?] Vedado, Havana.   The Cuban government (through the Secretaria de Educación) was now giving him a grant.

A little more Cuban history 1929-1932

In January 1929, exiled student leader Julio Antonio Mella,  the founder of Cuba’s Communist Party, was assassinated in Mexico. He was out walking with Tina Modotti, the Italian photographer, and died in the house of Diego Rivera.  (Mella’s mother was an Irish woman named Cecilia McPartland.)  Mella had been a leading opponent of  the President, Gerardo Machado y Morales (born 1871).  The Cuban communists always blamed Machado.


Along with the murder of Mella and the economic crisis that followed the extreme drops in sugar prices during the Wall Street Crash of 1929, opposition against Machado grew rapidly.


In October 1929, the Wall Street Crash dragged Cuba into its worst economic crisis. From 1928 to 1932, the price of sugar droped from 2.18 cents per pound to an all-time low of 0.57 cents. 


In January, 1930 the government announced a general reduction in the salaries of all public employees (except soldiers), and a new law forbids all public demonstrations by political parties or groups not legally registered.


Student demonstrations lead on October 1 to Machado's government suspending constitutional guarantees and charging the students with "following orders from Moscow."   Machado warns that he will act "without weakness or hesitation."  By the end of November all schools are closed in Cuba, and Diario de la Marina, the oldest newspaper on the island, is forced to suspend publication.


And just as the opposition grew, Machado's retaliations became harsher and more violent than before. His secret police, known as the "Porra," went furiously after the opposition, and their brutality became another reason to oppose Machado.


In 1931, the old leaders of the independence movement led a revolt against Machado that involved student groups, organized labour and secret societies of middle class professionals. Out of this volatile and chaotic situation Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín emerged as a voice of reason, but Machado retaliated with the bloodiest campaign to date.


On 14 February, 85 university professors are indicted on charges of sedition and conspiracy to overthrow the government. Among these was Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín.   In July, 1931 rumors circulate throughout Cuba about an imminent revolution.


On December 23 1931, as the political opposition all over the island called for fair elections, Machado announced that he would stay in office until May 20 1935, "not a minute more or a minute less."


"By the end of 1932," wrote Jules R. Benjamin in The Hispanic American Historical Review (Vol. 55, #1 - Feb. 1975), "the militant response of the Cuban proletariat to both the depression and the dictatorship had become one of the major threats to the regime.  United States attitudes during this period further complemented the disorientation of nationalist ideology.  Washington began to take a stand in favor of political reform in Cuba and held forth the progressive goals of the early New Deal as indicative of its new policy toward the island."

To Europe!

De Tijd (Dutch newspaper)  8 May 1935

European debut in The Netherlands

It was in May 1935 that Bolet made his European debut.   (He possibly sailed to Europe on 26 January 1935.)   There were recitals in Amsterdam in the Small Hall of the Concertgebouw (Wednesday 8 May) and The Hague, in the Diligentia Hall (Friday 10).   The reviews are highly encouraging, one referring to the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s Fantasía Bética, an impressionistic  description of Andalusia.

 

"We are thankful that he did not use his really sensational technical gifts merely to dazzle.   In his hands the de Falla became something of great musical importance."  Avondpost, den Haag, 11 May 1935

 

"A new star in the musical firmament, a pupil of Godowsky...a fervid imagination, no trace of nervousness.   We hope he will not become one of those brilliant keyboard wonders of today [?here today, gone tomorrow?]  for his musical gifts are too genuine and precious." Vaderland, den Haag, 11 May 1935

 

The Nieuwe Rotterdam Courant [9.5.35]  described the audience of the Amsterdam recital as "small but entranced".

 

And then Paris, London, Vienna, Madrid, Milan.   From memory, without consulting his files, Bolet told journalist A. Ramirez in 1943: the Salle Chopin (Paris), Bechstein Saal (Berlin), Aeolian Hall (London), the Diligentia Hall (the Hague) , the Conservatorio Verdi (Milan) and in 1936 (Spain) concertos with José María Franco (Madrid), concerts in the Teatro la Comedia; and also in Gijón, Oviedo and Pamplona.   It is worth noting that the Spanish concerts were in April, 1936, barely three months before the outbreak of the Civil War on 17 July.

The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (17 May, 1935), reporting the Berlin début, talked of a phenomenal technique but said that everything was guided more by intellect than by emotion.

London, 1935

On 31 May 1935 8.30pm Aeolian Hall, London, Bolet made his first appearance in Great Britain, playing on a Steinway piano.   This Hall was at 135-137, New Bond Street and had begun life as the Grosvenor Gallery, built by Sir Coutts Lindsay in 1876 who in 1883, decided to light his whole gallery with electricity.


JB’s programme included Beethoven’s sonata Appassionata, César Franck’s Prelude Choral & Fugue and pieces by Chopin: Etudes Op. 10 (E flat) and Op. 25 (A minor) and the Ballade No. 1 in G minor.


The Times 4 June 1935 reports:

“Unfaltering control... his powerful fingers enable him to annihilate any technical problems.”  The Appassionata was occasionally too theatrical but the essential urgency was well suggested, “though at times, especially in his rather prosaic treatment of the Andante, much of the poetry of the work seemed to vanish”.   In the Chopin tenderness was only achieved in a curiously deliberate fashion.  Liszt's Waldesrauschen and Strauss/Godowsky Fledermaus were also included in a programme which “seldom called for spontaneity, the quality most lacking from Mr Bolet's style”.   


The Telegraph (1.6.35) wrote that it took JB some little time to reveal his true form.   In its earlier stages his playing obviously reflected the strain incidental to so important an occasion.   The Franck was unduly melodramatic and there was a too militant assertiveness in the Beethoven, in the handling of the emotional crises.

Moriz Rosenthal could trace his musical lineage to Chopin & Liszt

Rosenthal born Dec 18, 1862 in Lemberg (L’viv), eastern edge of the Austro-Hungarian empire.   Studied with Karol Mikuli (pupil of Chopin) 1872-4 and with Liszt (whom he met in Vienna in October 1876), from 1876-8 and from 1884-86.   His first tour of South America was in 1934.   In 1936 he did three concerts in Rome (at the Augusteo) and & recitals in the Wigmore Hall.   Arrives in November on the Normandie in the USA.   US tours in 1936-7 and 1937-8.  In NYC he lives at the Great Northern Hotel between 56th and 57th Streets (‘neither great nor northern’).  Last public concert in New York Town Hall 15.11.41.

Upon his graduation in 1934, the Cuban government sent JB  to Europe for further training under Moriz Rosenthal  in Vienna (possibly living at Ebendorferstrasse 8) during early 1935. "Five classes of advanced piano technique," said JB but he later told friends the lessons were useless.   

 

Rosenthal had been a student of Franz Liszt (whom he met in Vienna in October 1876), from 1876-8 and from 1884-86.    “In Tivoli, near Rome. . . I was fortunate to be his [Liszt] only student and to receive daily instruction in the fall of 1878.  Every afternoon I appeared at the Villa d'Este, where I found the master composing either in his study or sometimes on the terrace, where he was gazing forlornly into the blue. The glowing Roman autumn, the picturesque beauty of the area, the Master's noble instruction - all these things blended into an ecstasy which I still feel today.”   In contrast, JB said that Rosenthal once mentioned Liszt’s sonata and said sarcastically as he hammered out the theme (when it makes its first ‘lyrical’ appearance), ‘You call that a composer?’  (Stephen Heliotes.)   Hard to beat was Rosenthal's wit.   He heard Vladimir Horowitz's Vienna debut, playing Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, in which he blazed through the octave passages; but the elder statesman reported “He is an Octavian, but not Caesar.”  

 

Later, intense coaching sessions with Hofmann’s pupil Abram Chasins produced tangible results, and Bolet always acknowledged Chasins’s influence on his playing."   JB sometimes played Abram Chasins' Fantasy on “Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeiffer” {Schwanda the Bagpiper polka],  described as ‘a pretty tune wrapped in bombast’ by Bernard Holland.   A recording of it exists on Marston CDs.

1936

There were concerts on 21 & 28 March and 4 April in Madrid.   La Voz, Madrid  reports that in the Teatro Espanol ‘el genial pianist Jorge Bolet’ will perform under the direction of maestro José María Franco.   This was Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto, the Emperor: ‘su interpretacion...digna de los grandes artistas’.   Bolet is described as an ‘artista bien dotado, con técnica magnifica.’    Also in the programme were Mendelssohn [Fingal’s Cave  overture]  and  Preludio para un tibor japonés by Julian Bautista (in which the pianist was Aurelio Castrillo).


On 17 May 1936 Bolet boarded the SS Columbus at Cherbourg, France and arrived in New York on the 24th.    He is listed as possessing $100 and was aged 21.   His US visa issued in Madrid, on 7 May 26 and his final destination was Philadelphia.   His mother, Mrs A Tremoleda, is listed as residing in Vedado.   He had last left the United States on 26 January 1935.


After a summer in Cuba where he gave two piano recitals in Havana, he arrived on the SS Pennsylvania at the Port of New York on 28 September 1936, as a ‘returning USA resident’.   He is aged 21 and his address is a friend’s house, M. Barnhouse , 1701 Delancey St., Philadelphia, PA.   This is the address of Donald Grey Barnhouse, Senior Pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1927-1960.  


‘Barnhouse was a renaissance man who wanted a more prominent music program and regularly exhorted evangelicals “to rise above artistic philistinism.” He prized the arts, loved singing hymns, and played the piano for personal enjoyment. He also encouraged his family to experience music by taking piano lessons, attending operas and The Philadelphia Orchestra, singing hymns as a family, and hosting Jorge Bolet, the soon-to-be famous pianist who was then studying at the Curtis Institute.   Barnhouse also tried to encourage his church to appreciate excellent music.’ 


Young Jorge Bolet in the Casimir Hall, Curtis Institute (Wednesday, 9 Dec 1936).   This is a very rare recording.   Overtones 1936, the magazine of the Curtis Institute, has the following:  "Summer 1936 fairly teemed with the peregrinations hither and yon of Curtis Institute people bent upon more or less musical pursuits.   This year the President (Mary Louise Curtis Bok) herself took to the sea and cruised the Arctic Circle. Looming high amongst professional travels was Dr. [Josef] Hofmann's monumental South American tour. Mr. (Fritz) Reiner conducted opera at Covent Garden in June.   Jorge Bolet, Curtis graduate, gave two piano recitals in Havana.  Jorge, by the way, is back at The Curtis Institute, studying, this time, conducting.


On 9th December, Jorge Bolet, pianist, was "guest" in the Curtis Institute "hour." The program featured works of Franz Liszt, commemorating the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the pianist-composer's birth and the fiftieth anniversary of his death. Mr. Bolet, who is a graduate in piano under Mr David Saperton, opened the concert with Liszt's Fantasie and Fugue in G minor on a Bach Chorale.   Barbara Thorne, soprano, pupil of Miss Harriet van Emden, then sang Es muss ein Wunderbares sein, Du bist wie eine Blume, and Die Lorelei, with Ethel Evans, pupil of Mr Harry Kaufman, at the piano.


Returning to the piano, Mr. Bolet played the Liebestraum, Waldesrauschen, Valse impromptu, and La Campanella, [in a version with additions by Busoni?] which brought the concert to a conclusion. 

During the years 1936-39 there were concerts in USA, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Dominican Republic.    Bolet’s concerts in Havana were for Pro-Arte Musical, for the Lyceum, the Anfiteatro, Teatro La Comedia and the Auditorium, with the Filarmonica and the Sinfonica.

It was in 1937 that he made his first public US appearance, in Philadelphia.   This was with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy in the Academy of Music, which is located at 240 S. Broad Street between Locust and Manning Streets in the Avenue of the Arts area of Center City.   It was built in 1855-57 and has been known as the Grand Old Lady of Broad Street.

Naumburg Prize

In April 1937, JB was awarded the Naumburg Prize, in the thirteenth competition.   There were 55 international competitors and in the final 3 US pianists and Bolet.   The impresario Arthur Judson, the biggest in the US at this date,  added JB to his list.


A report in the New York Times for 7 April 1937 states: ‘It was announced yesterday that pianists Ida Krehm and JB etc. had been selected as winners of the annual Walter W. Naumburg Music Foundation [13th] competition.’   The prize was a recital in NYC next season.   The judges included Walter Spaulding of Harvard University, Wallace Goodrich of New England Conservatory, Bruce Simmonds of Yale, Adolfo Bett, formerly of the Flonzaley Quartet and singer Povla Frijsh.


There is a review by H. Taubman in the New York Times about Bolet's debut (the Naumburg Prize) at the Town Hall, NYC on Tuesday, 19 October 1937.   The recital included Bach/Liszt G minor Fantasia and Fugue, the rondo from Schubert’s D major sonata (with its delightful rocking-horse/merry-go-round finale), a Chopin group including the Fantasy Op. 49 and 4 etudes, Liszt’s B minor Sonata, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Godowsky.


 ‘Jorge Bolet, 23-year-old Cuban pianist, made a striking debut at the Town Hall yesterday afternoon, injecting excitement into a season that has leaned heavily thus far on mediocrity.’

He subordinates his enormous technique to the music; ‘such understanding is the pathway to rank among the first-rate artists’.  His Chopin sang ‘tenderly, nostalgically, heroically by turns but never effetely.   Mr Bolet tended to be prodigal of his powers...several times he tore into the piano as if he was about to dismantle it and astonishingly the resultant tone was rounded and pleasing in quality.’   But he should learn to limit his compass of dynamics.’


In an interview with Elyse Mach in 1988, he said that nothing much came of this recital, despite fabulous reviews.  ‘I had no manager.’    [In the same interview he states that ‘Abram Chasins really turned my playing around.’]


Bolet had already performed this recital on Tuesday evening, 19 October at Curtis.  

Organ Fantasia and Fugue in G minor (Bach-Liszt)

Rondo from the Sonata in D major, Opus 53 (Franz Schubert)

Etudes: E flat major, Opus 10, No. 11 , C sharp minor. Opus 10, No. 4/  C sharp minor, Opus 25, No. 7/  A minor, Opus 25, No. 11, Fantasie in F minor, Opus 49 (F.Chopin) 

Sonata in B minor (Franz Liszt)

Suggestion diabolique (Serge Prokofiev)

Preludes: E flat major, Opus 23, No. 6 & G sharp minor, Opus 32 (Sergei Rachmaninoff)

Waltzes from "Die Fledermaus" (Strauss-Godowsky)

Sister Maria

Bolet came from a strongly religious background and several siblings became missionaries for the Protestant faith.    There is a notice in the Reading Eagle around this time, which states that ‘at a Bible conference at Mt. Gretna, where the Rev. James R. Graham Jr., missionary from Xinjiang, China gave a series of talks, music was managed by ‘Señor Jorge Bolet of Havana, Cuba, graduate of the Curtis Institute’.   Reading Eagle, 4 Sept., 1937, Reading Pennsylvania.


In a letter from these years, sister Maria writes to a friend, ‘I am so crazy about my little brother that I can understand how proud you must be of yours.  My greatest pride about my little brother is that he really loves Jesus Christ as his savior and he prizes him more than the world with all its glories.  He knows the real value of things and is spiritually alive when so many are dead to God and blind to spiritual things in spite of character and culture. May your brother too find his treasure in Christ.’


Maria often worries about Jorge’s health.   ‘Jorge’s concert was a success I thought of you then and wanted you to have heard him.  He went with mother to Santiago de Cuba, a city far away from Havana in the east of the island to give a concert; they will come back next Saturday.  I am afraid he will get too tired, he is not strong now.  We are going in the boat until Key West, then take the train and will arrive to Jax (Jacksonville, FL?) Saturday 17th.’


Of her missionary work she writes:

 ‘We are having a small girls’ camp again this year at the Fleidnors mission house in the ancient city of El Escorial, not far from Madrid and we covet your prayers for us at this camp…Word has come from the village that I am forbidden to bring the village the protestant girls from Madrid as I did last year, accusing the girls of bad behavior while in the village which is all a lie of the priest and a plot to keep us out…


‘I have been busy and very happy teaching in the Bible school of the West Indies Mission besides attending to the work of our little magazine Revelation.  Part of my work in the Mission has been superintending the children's work…Spain must be evangelized at any cost.  It seems a totally impossible task as long as Generalisimo Franco is in power and the Roman Church in full control…Spain has a right to have an opportunity to hear the good news of salvation..’

In the programme booklet for the concert of February 1938 there is an advert for the venerable Philadelphia firm of Sautter’s Ice Cream & Cakes, 1415-1417 Locust St/ 41 South 13th.

1938 and the Philadelphia Orchestra

On a February afternoon, Friday 4th and the following Saturday and Tuesday, JB made his first appearance with the Philadelphia Orchestra (in its 38th season) and its famous conductor Eugene Ormandy.   Ormandy was born Jenő Ormándy-Blau in Budapest in 1899.   He became internationally famous as the music director and conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, beginning his tenure in 1936.  The maestro's 44-year-long association with the Philadelphia is one of the longest enjoyed by any conductor with a single orchestra.  He was friends with the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and his recording of the Four Symphonic Poems from the Kalevala (also known as the Lemminkäinen Suite) for EMI in 1978 is justly famous.

 

The programme began with Menotti,  Amelia goes to the ball (overture).   Then JB played Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto.   This had last been played by Horowitz on Feb 10/11, 1928; he composer himself had Amelia was finished in the summer of 1936 in Austria and premiered on April 1, 1936 in the Academy of Music with Reiner at the helm.   The score was dedicated to Mary Louise Curtis Bok.

 

Edwin H. Schloss in the Philadelphia Inquirer states that this was ‘an unusually fine performance of the difficult concerto – which is a nice work if you can get it.   Yesterday’s soloist did get it and beautifully.’   He mentions a ‘silken touch, luxuriously rippling technique and (best of all) a head and heart... greatest of ease and the best of good taste.’  The concerto is ‘super-Muscovitish’ in its plaintive mood and Tchaikovskian glamour which makes it a work easily cheapened into sentimentality by Grade B keyboard exhibitionists.   ‘Young Bolet avoided that bog.’  The only possible rife in the lute was the fear that young Bolet does not seem to have acquired ‘a tone of sufficient force and resonance to match his other equipment’.

 

Leopold Godowsky died on Monday 21 November in the Lennox Hill Hospital, NYC.  Bolet was to continue to champion his works for the rest of his career, making a recording of a selection of his arrangements of Chopin’s études and waltzes for the DECCA label in 1978.  

JB's arrival on 15 September 1938 in Miami, Florida.