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

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) 

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)

Though a native Spanish speaker, Jorge Bolet used an English pronunciation of his name: George Bo-LET (with stress falling on the final syllable & the T pronounced).

An ambassador from the age of nocturnes and nightingales.
(Burt A. Folkart, Los Angeles Times, October 1990)

Jorge may not have been the greatest pianist, but he was always my favourite pianist. 
(William Livingstone, critic)

Apart from your today unrivalled virtuosity, there is the rarest of poetic elegance in the true Romantic style... It lives again in your unique combination of demonic daring, elfin delicacy and soaring lyricism. 
(Abram Chasins, 5 February 1971) 

"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.”

Tom Deacon


JB in St. John's Smith Square, London 1987 in Kreisler/Rachmaninov.  He is on superb form, clearly energised by the audience.  


Jorge Bolet on Desert Island Discs, 2 March 1985 

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 BenkoMichael Glover,   Hemeroteca Digital Brasileira.

The 100th anniversary of Bolet's birth was marked in December 2014 by the issue of 6 CDs by Marston Records (Pennsylvania). The recordings consist of much rare material, including material not in Bolet's discography. More information on MARSTON.

Gramophone July 2015 describes the set thus: 'Bolet emerges in performances which are like the blaze of Valhalla'. Jed Distler says on his website that we have here 'the pianist at his unfettered peak...[mesmerising] 'audiences with his poetic, imaginative and vividly communicative virtuosity'.


Audite's survey of Bolet's Berlin recordings
, 1961-1974, reaches its conclusion in January 2019 with volume 3 (Sender Freies Rundfunk) which includes on its three discs mostly material which has never been released before.  A significant addition to Bolet's legacy. 

Compiled by Farhan Malik and Michael Glover, this can be found by clicking on this link.

Big in Japan.   A selection of just Liszt CDs on my visit to the staggeringly huge Shibuya branch of Tower Records, Tokyo, April 2013.
My favourite photograph: the LP is from 1978 and was his first for DECCA/London on their L'oiseau-lyre label.

8 special recordings

Here is a list of some of my favourite performances.  This can be used as an introduction to JB's playing if you want to know where to start.   They are in no special order.    

A Spotify playlist can be found here (or search Spotify for "Jorge Bolet")


DECCA/ London 417 651-2. [Recorded in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, 9/1986.
A gondola ride on a sumptuous swell of sound, a performance full of subtleties.
From the delicious ripples of the opening page...
[both from Piano Works Vol. 6, Decca 410 803-2 CD: recorded in Kingsway Hall, London, 10/1983].   Very moving. 
[Live in Carnegie Hall (25 February 1974)]

Kreisler/Rachmaninov, Liebesleid & Liebesfreud  


Chopin/Godowsky, Etude Op.25/1 in A flat major, 3rd version

In his preface to this study the composer (modestly?) writes, "A most sensitive and sympathetic touch, extreme delicacy and refinement, independent and even fingers, a perfect legato, a poetic soul—all these requisites are indispensable to a proper rendering of this study."
Extra recordings: his party-piece, Godowsky's waltzes on themes from Die Fledermaus, live, 1973.   
An absolutely stunning, no-holds-barred performance of a Godowsky etude live in 1979.   

I cannot resist the Rachmaninov/Paganini variations from 1978.  One can only hope the master tape will be put on a CD.  The 18th variation.   The A minor Paganini theme is literally played "upside down" in D major, with a few other changes. Rachmaninov himself recognised the appeal of this variation, saying "This one is for my agent.".

And the unusually exotic  Chopin E flat waltz in Godowsky's arrangement (dedicated to Otto Pfefferkorn!) can be heard with the score to admire, too.   It is described as going 'perversely Spanish' at some points!

'In person Jorge Bolet was an imposing presence. He once was described by Clavier magazine as "having swallowed deeply the spirit of Franz Liszt (and) rejoined mortals as an ambassador from the age of nocturnes and nightingales."  Burt A. Folkart, Los Angeles Times, October 1990.

2 September, 2020, United Kingdom. 

These pages have been redeveloped and considerably extended from those of the original 2009 site, and a revised site begun Halloween, 31 October 2012.