Jorge Bolet

Jorge Bolet

Jorge Bolet (November 15, 1914October 16, 1990) was a Cuban pianist, conductor and teacher.


Bolet was born in Havana, Cuba and studied at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he himself taught from 1939 to 1942. His teachers included Leopold Godowsky, Josef Hofmann, David Saperton, Moriz Rosenthal and Fritz Reiner.

In 1942 Bolet joined the US Army and was sent to Japan. While there, he conducted the Japanese premiere of The Mikado. He made his first recordings for Remington. He provided the piano soundtrack for the 1960 film about Liszt, "Song without End". His playing, though, was condemned by American critics for decades as too focused on virtuosity, so he only made a few recordings for smaller labels in the 1960s.

He came to prominence in 1974 with a stupendous recital at Carnegie Hall, which set a seal on his reputation. Bolet, "stung by years of neglect" (as one critic put it), showed exactly what he could do and his phenomenal playing can be heard on CDs issued most recently by Philips in their Great Pianists Series. He later became Head of Piano at the Curtis Institute, succeeding Rudolf Serkin, but retired from this to concentrate once again on his career. A measure of Bolet's stature can be given by the fact that the dean of American music critics, Harold Schonberg, considered him "a kind of latter-day Josef Lhévinne".

In 1984, the A&E Network broadcast a series of three programs entitled Bolet Meets Rachmaninoff, in which the pianist was shown giving masterclasses on Piano Concerto No. 3 (Rachmaninoff), or, as it is popularly known, "The Rach 3". This is followed on the series by a complete performance of Bolet playing the concerto.

The Decca/London recording company contracted him in 1978, so that Bolet got his first major record contract at the age of 63. They made recordings of key sections of his repertoire from 1978 up to his death, but there are also tapes of many live concerts which can be found in archives, principally the International Piano Archive at Maryland. These include a speciality of his, which he studied with the composer himself: the J. Strauss/L.Godowsky Fledermaus paraphrase.

Bolet's health began to decline in 1988, and in 1989 he underwent a brain operation from which he never fully recovered. He died from heart failure in October 1990, at his home in Mountain View, California.


Bolet is particularly well remembered for his performances and recordings of large-scale Romantic music, particularly works by Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin. He also specialised in piano transcriptions and unusual repertoire, including the fiendishly difficult works of Godowsky, many of which Bolet had studied with the composer himself. In an interview given to Elyse Mach ("Great Contemporary Pianists Speak for Themselves"; Dover Books on Music), Jorge Bolet extensively mentioned the "Romantic Piano Concerto" by Joseph Marx which was, according to Bolet's own words, his favorite among the great virtuoso concertos because of the enormous show of strength required from the soloist. Bolet recorded for the RCA, Everest, and Decca labels.


Throughout his career, Bolet bucked the system endorsing and performing on Baldwin and C. Bechstein pianos worldwide. When others aligned with the Steinway piano, he chose to show a different approach and a unique broadly varied tone through the non-standard instruments. It is common knowledge that Bolet's best Decca/London recordings were on the Baldwin SD-10 concert grand. Some of the most celebrated, near the end of his career, were made with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Orchestre symphonique de Montréal). Most pianophiles agree that the most perfect piano sound and tone (through masterful piano technical preparation) was the last Decca/London solo piano recording of Debussy.


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