"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) 

1960s The Silver Screen & Bloomington, Indiana

Albert McGrigor has written that ‘although he [Peter Wadland] states that the pianist gave his first solo recital in England since the 1950s at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1976, Bolet had, in fact, played in England throughout the 1960s, both in recital and with orchestra.’   

Gramophone, May 1991

 

Bolet's recitals also took him to some warmer climes.  For example, on Friday Feb 19th  1960 in Charlotte Amalie High School auditorium in the Virgin Islands.

 

Whenever the name of Jorge Bolet is mentioned,  someone will usually remember  that he provided the piano playing (he was described as the ‘piano ghost’) for Dirk Bogarde in the biopic about the life of Franz Liszt.   Indeed this may be the only thing that is recalled.   It was a tremendously big ‘break’ for him but it did not lead to even greater things.

 

Song without end, subtitled The story of Franz Liszt (1960) was a biographical film romance made by Columbia Pictures.    It was directed by Charles Vidor, who died during the shooting of the picture and was replaced by George Cukor.   Its USA premiere was on 11 August 1960 in New York City followed by Finland 14 October 1960 and Denmark  17 January 1961.   [Bolet gave an interview about the experience to Murray Schumach, New York Times, January 8, 1960.]

The Reading Eagle,  17 January 1960, reported a cast party.   ‘The other night producer William Goetz invited reporters to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra with Alfred Wallenstein and Jorge Bolet as guest soloist.  Bolet chose Rachmaninov for his Philharmonic stint.  Later at a private party hosted by Goetz, the Cuban-born pianist played the Liszt compositions from the picture.’

 

In an interview with Elyse Mach, Bolet said, ‘It was a beautiful film, I thought.   I’m glad I had the opportunity to contribute what I did.   As I told Dean Elder at the time, my career had been slow and hard in coming.   And even today it might surprise you to hear or read what many musicians, critics, and pianists, possibly, say.   For example, ‘”Bolet – oh – well, yes; he’s got good fingers but so what?” ’

Van Cliburn (born in Louisiana, 1934 and educated at Julliard) had been the first choice for the studio, Columbia Pictures, the pianist of the hour.   The first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 was an event designed to demonstrate Soviet cultural superiority during the Cold War, on the heels of that country's technological victory with the Sputnik launch in October 1957.  Cliburn's performance  in the finale on 13 April earned him a standing ovation lasting eight minutes.    When it was time to announce a winner, the judges were obliged to ask permission of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to give first prize to an American. “Is he the best?” Khrushchev asked. “Then give him the prize!” Cliburn returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the only time the honour has been accorded a classical musician.

 

But Abram Chasins recommended Bolet.     His response about Cliburn was, ‘Well, I think he might be a good choice if you’re prepared to wait three years until he learns the repertoire.’

 

‘Doing the soundtrack was a real plum, and I owe a great deal to Abram Chasins for my doing it.   I had previously done quite a bit of work with him.   He sort of took me in a time when he thought something had to be done about my playing.   And indeed he really sort of turned my playing around, so to speak, but that’s another story.’   He worked for close on four years with Chasins.

 

Bolet ultimately described his role in the movie as a mixed blessing.   Although it brought his name into the limelight and got him more engagements, there were those who now dismissed him as a ‘Hollywood pianist’. (Farhan Malik)

Dirk Bogarde and Liszt

Bogarde's tormentor (to make him look like a pianist) was Victor Allen, a fifty-five year old pianist, graduate of the Julliard School and a brilliant interpreter of Brahms...  More than eighty minutes of  music had to be learned at the dummy keyboard, then synchronized for the camera with the pre-recorded playing of Bolet and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (conducted by Morris Stoloff).   For three weeks they toiled as fellow perfectionists, with Victor a hard taskmaster given to strong language.   [J. Coldstream, Dirk Bogarde p. 246f.]  

 

Of the heroine, John Coldstream was written: ‘ “My friends call me Cap,” [Capucine] said to her first American interviewer.   “You may call me Capucine.”   It means nasturtium, and it was the name under which this glacially beautiful creature, born Germaine Lefebvre in Toulon, had modelled for Dior and Givenchy.   By the time the producer William Goetz took his ‘four-and-a-half-million-dollar gamble’ by casting her opposite Dirk as the Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, she had never made a film or appeared on a stage, but her English was pretty good.’

 

When Bogarde was the castaway on the BBC’s long-running radio programme Desert Island Discs, broadcast on Monday 28 September, 1964, his third choice of music was: Franz Liszt,  Piano Concerto No 1 in E Flat / Hungarian Fantasy with Jorge Bolet &  Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under Morris Stoloff.   Interestingly, when he was invited back in December 1989, he chose Liszt's Piano Concerto but played this time by Lazar Berman!

 

One year later (1961), Bogarde was to star in a very different film, Victim, ‘a drum-tight thriller with a neat twist in the tail’.    One of the co-writers of the screenplay was Janet Green – a thriller/whodunnit specialist who counted Midnight Lace among her credits – and it was directed by Basil Dearden.   A successful barrister, Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) has a thriving London practice. He is on course to become a Queen's Counsel and people are already talking of his being appointed a judge. He is apparently happily married to his wife, Laura (Sylvia Syms).   Farr is approached by "Boy" Barrett (Peter McEnery), a younger working class man with whom Farr shared a romantic but asexual relationship. Farr rebuffs the approach, thinking Barrett wants to blackmail him about their relationship. What Farr does not know is that Barrett himself has fallen prey to blackmailers who know of their relationship.

‘This is the seedy, nasty world of pubs and drinking holes around Cecil Court, St Martin's Lane and the Charing Cross Road in London's West End.  The blind man and his creepy amanuensis are inspired characters, unforgettably disturbing and unpleasant, sitting in the corner of the pub, parasitically soaking in all the neurotic whisperings. Perhaps the blind man is inspired by Tiresias in TS Eliot's The Waste Land, foresuffering all the cheap and sordid goings-on.’   (Peter Bradshaw)

‘It carried an ‘X’ certificate, which to the fans of its star, Dirk Bogarde, seemed decidedly odd. His reputation as the idol, not just of the Rank Organisation’s flagship cinema but of all the country’s Odeons, had been based largely on performances as Dr Simon Sparrow and Sydney Carton, and in other undemanding fare...’ (John Coldstream, The Spectator, 3 September 2011).  

Cuban Missile Crisis

In 1961 Bolet recorded a Chopin recital for the Everest label.   This was a drastic year in Cuban-American relations.   The United States wanted Castro out of power. In one attempt to overthrow Castro, the U.S. sponsored the failed incursion of Cuban-exiles into Cuba in April 1961 (the Bay of Pigs Invasion).    In 1962, Cuba was the centre of world focus when the U.S. discovered the construction sites of Soviet nuclear missiles. The struggle that ensued between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the Cuban Missile Crisis, brought the world the closest it ever came to nuclear war.  

 

On 25 March 1961 he gave a Beethoven 4 with  London Symphony Orchestra and Charles Mackerras.   The Times describes it as ‘so satisfying...most impressively well-judged.   Thus the four repeated Fs that open the development of the first movement had their full magical effect: Mr Bolet toyed with them just sufficiently to suggest the indefiniteness of the structural crossroads at which the work stands at this point’.

Behind the Iron Curtain

From 26 May to 19 June, 1961 Bolet made his first trip behind the Iron Curtain, to Poland where he gave 10 concerts in six major cities starting in Kraków on the 26th.   There were eight concerto dates with orchestra and two solo recitals.   During the trip, he played on one of Chopin's pianos.   US President Kennedy had called culture and the arts the "great democrat" among men and nations.   The opera singer Martina Arroyo had toured Poland in 1962 and received an enthusiastic welcome in Szcezecin, Poznan, Koszalin, Olsztyn, Bydgoslca, Wroclow, and Rzeszow.

 

It may be that Bolet felt some nostalgia on this trip as both Godowsky and Hofmann, inspirational men in his life, had Polish origins.   Josef Casimir [Józef Kazimierz] Hofmann, the first Director of Curtis and for whom Bolet played on occasion,  had been born in Kraków on 20 Jan 1876.   His mother, Matylda, sang in light operas at the Kraków Theatre, where her husband was conductor.   At the age of three young Josef learnt the rudiments of music from his father and proved himself to be one of the most precocious musical prodigies in history, and – as it turned out - equally gifted in mathematics, science and mechanics.

 

Felt some nostalgia?  Perhaps, but Bolet actually disliked travelling in Poland during the communist regime very much and for his only subsequent concert visit to Poland - a performance with the Warsaw Philharmonic -  he (and partner Tex Compton) insisted on leaving the country on the last flight out on the night of the concert.   He was unnerved by the constant, very unsubtle surveillance.

 

1961 was a tense and dramatic time in the Warsaw Pact countries (Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Albania).   Reuters reported for the New York Times that on Sunday, 13 August, East Germany closed the border early today between East and West Berlin.    ‘The quietness of East Berlin's deserted streets was shattered in the early hours of the morning by the screaming of police sirens as police cars, motorcycles and truckloads of police sped through the city.’    The measures were directed at stopping the flow of refugees from East to West through West Berlin. The flow of refugees has recently been reaching 1,700 daily.

1962-3
Debut in the Royal Festival Hall, London

1962

On 29 May Bolet performed a big programme of  Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 57, Appassionata, Liszt’s B minor and Chopin’s Third Sonata in London.   He ‘held his audience enthralled’ but things were ‘less happy’ in the Chopin where hr missed ‘some of the lyrical exuberance of the opening movement and the lightness of the scherzo, though it was taken at a breathtaking speed... In short, the playing was magnificent but it was not quite Chopin’.


"His London recital debut at Royal Festival Hall in 1962 was an unqualified triumph, though it unaccountably did not lead to his return until another decade had passed. His letter to his manager at Columbia Artists was a mixture of triumph and desperation: “I hope these [reviews] please you! I know they will. I really can’t do any better. Everyone here is extremely happy and I believe things will really start happening for me in Europe. Maybe the U.S. will discover me over here one of these days!”  (Francis Crociata)

 

1963

5-7 February, with Berliner Philharmoniker, under Witold Rowicki, Bolet preformed his Prokofiev No. 2.

24 June: the Glasgow Herald reports JB’s first concert in the city, Tchaikovsky’s first concerto with the SNO in the Kelvin Hall.   ‘He has a formidable technique and an almost frightening fluency.   This was no conventionally routine reading but a distinctive individual one.’   JB seems to have lost touch with the orchestra in the finale.   This reminds one of Vladimir Horowitz.   ‘His first major European success came in Germany in 1926, when he deputised for an indisposed pianist in Hamburg, playing the Tchaikovsky First at an unrehearsed performance which Horowitz began as an unknown pianist from Russia and ended – amidst a storm of chromatic octaves – as the The Tornado from the Steppes.  The Tchaikovsky First was also chosen for his New York debut of 1928, a concert at which Horowitz was joined by that scourge of head-strong soloists, Sir Thomas Beecham, also making his New York debut. Both artists were determined not to be upstaged and their failure to reach agreement on tempi led to Horowitz’s breaking free in the last movement to finish a whole bar ahead of the orchestra.’   (Michael Glover)

In July, Bolet’s mother Adelina died in Dade County, Florida.

There is a letter to JB from Audrey Michaels, dated 21 October 1963 and sent to his home in northern Spain (Apartado 5, Fuenterrabia – an address that proves elusive to the modern researcher) about publicity material.

‘While the reviews from Cincinnati were good, I favor just mentioning your very impressive world schedule on the last page and featuring the Tanglewood reviews.   The price is $520.   The layout is quite stunning and will be done in black and white and a reddish-orange color.   There is a sensational picture of you on the front at the piano - one of those taken of you 2 years ago in Berlin.’

New Zealand & South Africa, 1964

In 12 September - 8 October 1964, Bolet toured New Zealand.  As a sample of an international concert pianist’s itinerary, we may look at a little of his schedule.  

Auckland Saturday 12 Sept concert

Hotel Chalet Chevron; dinner 10 Sept. to breakfast 14 Sept.  

Auckland to Hamilton, Monday 14 Sept,

NZR bus departs 10.45am arrives 1.45pm.

In late October and November of the same year, Bolet made a tour of South Africa including a solo recital in Cape Town.  He presumably flew there from New Zealand.

This was his first appearance with the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra on Thursday 22 October 1964, in a performance of Liszt’s Piano Concerto no. 1 and his Hungarian Fantasia. Weber’s Der Freischütz Overture and De Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat constituted the rest of the programme. This was conductor Peter Erös’s final concert in Cape Town; he had studied composition with Kodály and conducting with László Somogyi in Budapest.

 There is some interesting correspondence about the tour which was organised by the agent Hans Adler.   He had left Nazi Germany for South Africa in 1933.  His passion was to offer South African music lovers the highest quality of international concert presence.  He was Chairman of the Johannesburg Music Society (South Africa's oldest Musical Society) from 1954 through till 1969.  The Society was among the first to invite many international artists and groups to perform in South Africa, and quickly expanded.   Johannesburg soon became the centre of performers' broad African tours, that included the large cities of South Africa (Pretoria, Durban, East London, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth) as well as visits to Kenya, the former Northern and Southern Rhodesia, Mozambique, the Islands of Mauritius and Reunion, the former South West Africa, Angola and sometimes the former Belgian Congo.

On 1 August 1964, the Belgian Congo became the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to distinguish it from the neighbouring Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville), formerly French Congo.   Unrest and rebellion plagued the government until 1965, when Lieutenant General Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, by then commander-in-chief of the national army, seized control of the country.  It is highly unlikely our dapper Cuban-American in his starched white tie tinkled the ivories amidst such political unrest, rainforests and malaria.

A letter from H. G. Adler, 11 Mazoe Road, Emmarentia ext., Johannesburg, dated 25 August 1964, addressed to Miss Walter, JB's agent, states:

"The Johannesburg Musical Society have selected Programme 1 for our first concert (Saturday 17 October) and Programme 2 for our second (Sunday 1 November) etc.   Regarding the second part of the South African Broadcast Corporation programmes on 18th October, this should have been about 40-42 minutes of actual music.   As Mr Bolet submitted to me only about 27 minutes of music (Beethoven 32 Variations [10´] and Franck Prelude, Choral and Fugue [17´], I added 2 Liszt Etudes, Feux Folets and Wilde Jagd which I presume will be in order.

"Regarding visas, this is now really a matter of extreme urgency and I hope that visa applications have already been made by Mr Bolet.   In case Mr Tex Compton accompanies Mr Bolet, then he must make a visa application as well.   Both these gentlemen must be in possession of valid health certificates against small pox (and possibly against yellow fever).   Mr Compton's plane ticket will be deducted from JB's fee."

Australia,  Spring 1965

In March Bolet arrived by Quantas at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport to begin a 14 week ABC concert tour of all the states of Australia.  The Sydney Morning Herald, March 22, 1965, reports that  ‘he now lives in seclusion in a fishing village on the coast of Spain.’   

 

Sydney Morning Herald May  13, 1965

‘A tensely coiled spring lying at rest looks serene and, when tension and turmoil were not actually dominant, it was this same uneasy and deceptive sort of serenity that coursed as a current through the recital given in the Town Hall last night.   Certainly neither his thunderingly potent concerto performances here last week nor the general tone of his tour publicity intimated a close sympathetic  liaison between Mr Bolet and music as well-mannered and house-trained as a Haydn sonata of the more poetic components of the four Chopin Ballades.  Yet the pianist’s very individual approach...proved to be exciting enough where it was musically apt.’   In the Ballades,  ‘somehow a sense of deep and convincing involvement with the music’s finer emotions was lacking.’

 

Felix Werder's wacky report in The Age, May 19, 1965!

Bolet ‘opened a Lisztian box of tricks at last night’s Town Hall recital’.  Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Etudes  ‘are a veritable stud of pianistic nightmares that enter the circus ring of virtuosity dressed in dazzling splendor and breath-taking bravura.   Here one cannot speak of a performance: it is an act, a seemingly gaudy ritual, in which hands fly all over the piano, notes are juggled, left hanging in the air only to await the class of that poised hand as it swoops for a thundering chord.   All sensibility is buried under an avalanche of sound – almost a turbulent Nile flood...   Dr. Bolet [sic] gave a fierce rendering of this Guy Fawkes night music...  One may say, perhaps, that he is a great performer rather than a great artist.   he gave some indication of his musical stature, however, in Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31 Op. 110... [but] for all his delicate touch, he failed to give depth to the tragic arioso dolente which he treated as a sort of Schubertian left-over...  Three-quarters of the hall was empty, showing once again how concert promoters have lost touch with the musical needs of our community.’  

Nights in the gardens of Spain, 1960s

Newspapers refer to Bolet living on the northern coast of Spain in the 1960s.   The place was  Fuenterrabia,  (Hondarribia, ‘sand ford’ in the Basque language), a colourful fishing village situated on the west shore of the Bidasoa River, just on the border with France, and also only half an hour away from San Sebastián. 

 

Hondarribia has been settled since the time of the Romans, and became a full-fledged village in the 13th century. As a town historically on the border, whether between Navarre and Castille, or between Spain and France, Hondarribia has enjoyed a tumultuous past.    The town was repeatedly besieged by French and Navarran forces throughout the 1300s up until the Thirty Years' War in the mid-1600s, when Spain and France reconciled their borders under the Treaty of the Pyrenees. After the signing of this treaty (which fixed the French border to its current state), Hondarribia remained a border town, across the Bay from France.

 

‘Down at water level, where the broad boulevards just back from the pretty harbour are lined with pavement cafés, it feels like a resort, but its fortified Casco Antiguo, a delightful little enclave just higher up, offers a real sense of history.  Filled with sturdily attractive medieval mansions, it centres on the Plaza de Armas, where the pick of the crop, the Castille de Carlos V, dates all the way back to the tenth century.’   (Rough Guide)

Bolet had Falla's Noches en los jardines de Espana in his repertoire, performing it for example in January 1942 in Havana.

 

Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) completed his most famous orchestral work, Noches en los Jardines de España (“Nights in the Gardens of Spain”) in 1916.   

 

 

He attached no specific programme, but the  title of the three movements suggest the Spanish pictures that he sought to evoke. The first movement is called In the Gardens of the Generalife - the jasmine-scented gardens surrounding the summer palace of the king’s harem at the Alhambra.

A web-blog in Spanish - which I take on trust but cannot verify, by someone who got to know Bolet and who had visited him in the spring of 1966, states that he was living in the Villa Egoki, an attractive house in the Basque style overlooking the beautiful bay between Fuenterrabia and Hendaya.   Is this to be equated with the address he gives in biographical dictionaries as ‘Apartado 5’?   He lived there for, perhaps, 6 years in total with Tex Compton.

  

‘Pierre Loti [pseudonym of Julien Viaud, 1850 – 1923, French novelist and naval officer],who had sailed many seas and oceans, claimed that this bay was the most beautiful piece of scenery on the planet.    I arrived at Villa Egoki with Alberto Bolet, and Rosita, his wife.

 

‘Alberto was as chatty and outgoing as  Jorge was quiet - he could almost seem taciturn and introverted.   His height and build transformed him into a dark giant (‘gigante moreno’), endowed with a deeply penetrating gaze.   I must confess that this penetrating but impenetrable look and the fact that he did not say much had an intimidating effect on me.   Later I discovered that when he relaxed, behind those unfathomable eyes there lay hidden an affable, friendly personality and an intelligent conversationalist.

 

‘In Villa Egoki Jorge lived with Tex Compton, an American who had sacrificed his own business career to concentrate his energies on helping Jorge achieve great success [...]’  

 

The writer then compares their relationship to that of Somerset Maugham and Gerald Haxton.   This is an intriguing observation.   Frederick Gerald Haxton (1892–1944), a native of San Francisco, was the long term secretary and lover of the distinguished British author W. Somerset Maugham.   He and Maugham met at the outbreak of World War I when they both began serving from 1914 as part of the Red Cross ambulance unit in Flanders, France.   Later they settled on the French Riviera in the villa ‘Mauresque’. They lived there almost exclusively until they were forced to flee the advancing Germans at the commencement of World War II.   Indeed it is thought that Haxton’s flamboyant nature, said to be portrayed in the character Rowley Flint in Maugham’s novella Up at the Villa, was the key to Maugham’s invitational success with the various members of the society at whatever location that the pair was visiting at a given time.

 

‘Tex, like Haxton, was outgoing and friendly.    When we arrived at Villa Egoki he greeted us, smiling, warm and jovial.   He could have said he was the host himself.   Then he prepared drinks and snacks in the garden, and he served an impeccable lunch.  In the garden, peaceful and quiet, no kind of noise reached us, and the warm spring day was very nice.   Jorge smoked a lot and spoke little, maybe because he knew what I could only guess -  the tense relationship that existed between Tex and his brother.    After coffee, we went to the living room, white from the carpet to the ceiling, where a black Bechstein grand paradoxically dazzled.  Jorge sat at the piano and in that moment was transformed.    He played several transcriptions, wonderful transcriptions by Godowsky of Schubert songs,  plus the ballet music from Rosamunde,  but offered the surprising confession  that his secret dream was to play and record all Mozart's piano concertos. (He never did.).

 

Jorge performed locally , too.   ‘Last September he played in San Sebastian -  in an extraordinary way  - the Second Concerto by Rachmaninoff.    In general he is suited more to the big sound than to the intimate world,  to repertoire that is tender and delicate.    He is a pianist for Liszt rather than Chopin - more eagle than nightingale  - for firing us with enthusiasm in the duel with a full orchestra than for moving us with a chiaroscuro.’   ABC 19 November 1966

 

En general le convienen más las amplitudes, los paisajes sonoros de pleno sol, que el mundo intimista, el repertorio tierno y delicado.   Es un  pianista más para Liszt que para Chopin; más águila que ruiseñor... de encender el entusiasmo en duelo con nutrida formación sinfónica, antes que conmovernos con un claroscuro.   [Antonio Fernandez]

At the United Nations, 1967

24 October 1967 at the United Nations (the secretary-general at this time was from Burma,  U Thant).   The Vienna Symphony Orchestra,  under Wolfgang Sawallisch, and Bolet performed Beethoven’s FANTASIA IN C MAJOR FOR PIANO, CHORUS AND ORCHESTRA, OP. 80.    The chorus was the Rutgers University Choir.   In a statement the UN said that  ‘Mr Bolet has taken his phenomenal skill to nearly every one of our member countries; it is both appropriate and delightful to have him with us.’

The is in the Bolet archive in Maryland a letter from the UN, 27 July 1967 regarding the invitation from U Thant.

Dear Miss Walter (Vice President of CAM),

We understand that Mr Bolet will travel from Midland, Texas on 21 October to NYC and will wish after the concert to fly to Edmonton, Alberta.   We shall take responsibility for these travel costs and also for Mr Bolet's living expenses during his two days or so in NYC.  

George Moushon.

The University of Bloomington, Indiana

During the years 1968 – 1977, beginning in September,  Bolet was on the staff of the University of Indiana, Bloomington.   This afforded him the security of a fixed income and in his diaries for this period, he meticulously marks ‘pay day’.   The minutes of the Board of Trustees of Indiana University, 20 September 1968, state the appointment of ‘Jorge Bolet as Professor of Music in the School of Music for the period of three academic years beginning in September, 1968, at an initial salary rate of $17,000.00 payable on a ten months' basis.’

 

Pianist Francisco Renno, a student of Bolet at Bloomington, Indiana, writes: ‘I first met Jorge Bolet in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1974 at the Teresa Carreño International Piano Competition, where I was one of the competitors and he served as chairman of the jury. Bolet was one of two people who made it possible for me to leave behind the impoverished conditions of my native Brazil, come to the US to acquire a proper musical education and eventually become a citizen and settle here as a professional musician.  As you can imagine, my gratitude and admiration for the man go beyond words. During the two years that I was in his class in Bloomington I had the privilege of having many hours of one-on-one conversations with him, not only in the studio but also in several dinner parties at his place and mine. He and his manager Tex were delightful hosts (and guests), liked to eat well and they both loved my wife's cooking. After a few glasses of wine and some paella the stories and jokes would start to flow, he would relax and come out of his usually very stern public persona, and we would go late into the night laughing, listening to music, and having the best of times. Hard to believe that was almost forty years ago...

 

‘My years in Bloomington were the best years of my life and Jorge Bolet played a big part in it.’

Guy Brackett, who attended Indiana University music school from 1974 - 1977, writes: ‘I did not study with Mr Bolet and only had brief encounters with him. I remember him as an exceedingly kind and modest man.  Very quiet.  No trace of an ego.  I even wondered if he might be shy.   In spite of his fame (the Carnegie Hall concert was in early 1974), he wasn't as in-demand as other teachers on the faculty.   Among the piano faculty were Abbey Simon, Menahem Pressler (still on the faculty [as of December 2012]!), Sidney Foster, and Gyorgy Sebok.   All of these teachers were more sought after.   Mr Bolet was not a “mainstream” pianist and that may have led some students to look elsewhere.  He gave a recital during my time at IU, largely playing the same program as the Carnegie Hall recital.

Mozart and Weber

From these years, Bolet can be heard in Mozart's Piano Concerto K450 (No. 15 in B flat), recorded with the Bavarian Radio SO under Jan Koetsier, 4 April 1968.   It is a wonderfully muscular performance.   I had never really wanted to hear him in Mozart but I was most pleasantly surprised.

Carl Maria von Weber’s Konzertstück in F minor, Opus 79, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf was recorded live in the Koussevitzky Music Shed, July 26, 1968 during the summer festival of that year.   Jorge and Weber go back a long way together: as the 12 year old boy he played this piece at a benefit concert in September 1927 in Havana to fund his audition trip to Curtis.  Much has changed.   ‘[Bolet] is a bulking man, seemingly too big for the keyboard, but his fingers are nimble enough for the ornate lightning of Liszt [and Weber]. He has the good judgment, also, to play this theatrical music fairly straight, let it display its own elements of sentiment, melodrama and fire without adding gilt to its gold.’   R.C. Hammerich, Springfield Union

‘Next was Weber's Konzertstück, with Jorge Bolet as soloist. This delightful piece is not performed often these days, perhaps because of the frankly tear-jerking, heart-on-sleeve story that goes along with it. The pianist must be an incurable romantic to play it: in fact he sounded like one as the performance unfolded. Barring several wrong notes here and there, Bolet's playing was really nice. It's good to hear someone play smoothly these days. There was intelligent use of the pedal and a 'rounded' sound that were just what this little piece requires.’    Milton Zapoliski, Schenectady Gazette.

On practising 

I have never, never, and I use the word advisedly, solved either a major mechanical problem or a musical problem at the keyboard.   I practise so much at the keyboard and then have had enough, really like a ruminant.   A cow eats so much and then she can go and lie down and chew the cud for hours on end.   Well, I'm the same way.  Whatever I do at the keyboard gives me enough practice material so that I can practise mentally, for twelve, fifteen maybe twenty hours, whenever I'm awake.   I always have something running through my mind.


JB speaking  in 1986/7 to Linda J. Noyles in the lobby of the Blackstone Hotel, Chicago.   Built by the Drake brothers in 1909 and designed by architects Marshall & Fox, the hotel opened in 1910 as the tallest building in Chicago at the time. Noteworthy guests have included 12 consecutive presidents from Taft to Carter, Al Capone, and others.

 

Dirk Bogarde

 

Dirk Bogarde as Sidney Carton in A tale of two cities.

 

Fuenterrabia (Hondarribia) on the north coast of Spain where Bolet had a home in the 1960s.

 

Chopin, Etudes

There exists a 1967 broadcast recording Jorge made in  Frankfurt of a selection of the Op. 25 set of Chopin's Etudes.   It can be heard above link


(There is also an audience tape of complete Op 25 from a 1974 all-Chopin recital in Milan.)    


It is doubtful whether the Op. 10 set on this link is also performed by Bolet; it's a bit of a mystery.  [Francis Crociata]


I have read somewhere that Jorge's long, thin fingers were not well adapted to the intricacies of some of the Op. 10 set and the only etude he seems to have performed regularly is the beguiling, so-called Black Keys Study, Op. 10 no. 5 in G flat major.