Born in Havana in 1914, Jorge Bolet studied at the Curtis Institute, Philadelphia from the age of 12, then had a long career that only really brought him wide and lasting international fame from the early 1970s. He specialised in the great Romantic composers, above all Liszt, but he also adored the rare and hidden gems of the repertoire - and the more outrageous the technical demands, so much the better. Yet he was never one to show off merely for its own sake; he was, above all, a great musician. (Douglas Cairns)
"His Rudolph Valentino physique heralded an intensely seductive relationship with the world, with a touch of chic like the fruit atop the frosty triangles of glasses holding exotic cocktails: blue lagoons and green ti' punches... I wanted to come face to face with a master: I recognised him as such."
(Hélène Grimaud, pianist)
“An enigma shrouded in a mystery and wrapped in velvet is Jorge Bolet.”
JB in St. John's Smith Square, London 1987 in Kreisler/Rachmaninov. He is on superb form, clearly energised by the audience.
Originally devised and presented by Roy Plomley, each week a guest ("castaway") is asked to choose eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury item for their imaginary stay on the island, while discussing their lives and the reasons for their choices.
Near the top of any ‘favourites’ list must come the Schumann-Liszt transcription of the song Widmung. The performance reflects to perfection JB's soulful, songful genius.
Verdi's Rigoletto in Liszt's great paraphrase, recorded in 1974. A stunning performance of the same from December 1970. "His tremendous bravura and massive sonority are wonderfully complemented by his delicate tonal shadings and refined nuances - proof positive that virtuoso works are not antithetical to musical, attentive interpretation." [The Piano Files]
I am very grateful to the following people for help:
Christopher Daly, Villanova University, PA, for lively discussions about pianists in general over many years. Francis Crociata has been a marvellous source both of information and of rare recordings. Alex Newton & James Hunter for helping me set up a website. Lesbia Orta Varona, Cuban Heritage Collection, Coral Gables, Florida. Frank Bell (Atlanta, Georgia). Monica Pasquale, great-niece of JB, David & Jorge Sierra-Bolet, Samuel Bolet, his nephews. Houston A. ['Tex'] Cummings, Donald Manildi, (International Piano Archive, Univ of Maryland, College Park), The British Library, The Free Library of Philadelphia. Susannah Thurlow, (Archivist, Curtis Institute, Philadelphia). Larry Yungk, Francisco Renno, Gregor Benko, Michael Glover, Hemeroteca Digital Brasileira.