Ballet (music)

Ballet (music)

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Ballet as a music form progressed from simply a complement to dance, to a concrete compositional form that often had as much value as the dance that went along with it. The dance form, originating in France during the 17th century, began as a theatrical dance. It was not until the 19th century that ballet gained status as a “classical” form. In ballet, the terms ‘classical’ and ‘romantic’ are chronologically reversed from musical usage. Thus, the 19th century classical period in ballet coincided with the 19th century Romantic era in Music. Ballet music composers from the 17th-19th centuries, including the likes of Jean-Baptiste Lully and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, were predominantly in France and Russia. Yet with the increased international notoriety seen in Tchaikovsky’s lifetime, ballet music composition and ballet in general spread across the western world.

History


Until about the second half of the 19th century the role of music in ballet was secondary , with the main emphasis on dance, while music was simply a compilation of danceable tunes. Writing "ballet music" used to be a job for musical craftsmen, rather than for masters. For example, critics of the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

 mentioned his writing of ballet music as something demeaning.

From the earliest ballets up to the time of Jean-Baptiste Lully
Jean-Baptiste Lully
Jean-Baptiste de Lully was an Italian-born French composer who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France. He is considered the chief master of the French Baroque style. Lully disavowed any Italian influence in French music of the period. He became a French subject in...

 (1632–1687), the music of ballet was indistinguishable from ballroom dance music. Lully created a style that was separate, wherein the music told a story. The first "Ballet d'action" was staged in 1717. This was a story told without any words. The pioneer was John Weaver
John Weaver
John Weaver was an English dancer and choreographer, and is often regarded as the father of English pantomime....

 (1673–1760). Both Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau
Jean-Philippe Rameau
Jean-Philippe Rameau was one of the most important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era. He replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the dominant composer of French opera and is also considered the leading French composer for the harpsichord of his time, alongside François...

 wrote "opera-ballets", where the story was partly danced and partly sung, but ballet music became gradually less important.

The next big step occurred in the early years of the nineteenth century, when principal dancers changed from using hard shoes to ballet pumps. This enabled a more free-flowing style of music to be used. In 1832 Marie Taglioni
Marie Taglioni
Marie Taglioni was a famous Italian/Swedish ballerina of the Romantic ballet era, a central figure in the history of European dance.-Biography:...

 (1804–1884) is credited with being the first famous dancer to dance "en pointe". This was in La Sylphide
La Sylphide
La Sylphide is one of the world's oldest surviving romantic ballets. There were two versions of the ballet; the version choreographed by the Danish balletmaster August Bournonville is the only version known to have survived....

. It was now possible to have music that was more expressive. Gradually, dancing became more daring, with men lifting the ballerinas into the air.

Until the time of Tchaikovsky, the composer of ballets was considered to be separate from the composer of symphonies. Ballet music was an accompaniment for the solo and ensemble dances. [2] Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake
Swan Lake
Swan Lake ballet, op. 20, by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, composed 1875–1876. The scenario, initially in four acts, was fashioned from Russian folk tales and tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer's curse. The choreographer of the original production was Julius Reisinger...

was the first musical ballet piece to be created by a symphonic composer. Following the initiative of Tchaikovsky, ballet composers were no longer writing simple, easily danceable pieces. The focus of a ballet was no longer solely the dance; the compositions behind the dances began to take an equal prevalence. In the late 19th century, Marius Petipa
Marius Petipa
Victor Marius Alphonse Petipa was a French ballet dancer, teacher and choreographer. Petipa is considered to be the most influential ballet master and choreographer of ballet that has ever lived....

, Russian ballet choreographer and dance, worked with composers such as Cesare Pugni
Cesare Pugni
Cesare Pugni was an Italian composer of ballet music, a pianist and a violinist. In his early career he composed operas, symphonies, and various other forms of orchestral music. Pugni is most noted for the ballets he composed while serving as Composer of the Ballet Music to Her Majesty's Theatre...

 to create ballet masterpieces that boasted both complex dance and complex music. Petipa worked with Tchaikovsky as well, whether through collaboration with Tchaikovsky on his work The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker is a two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The libretto is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King". It was given its première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St...

, or indirectly through revision of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake after the composer’s death.

In many cases ballets were still short scenes within operas, to enable scenery or costume changes. Perhaps the best-known example of ballet music that is part of an opera is "Dance of the Hours
Dance of the Hours
Dance of the Hours is a short ballet from Act 3, Scene 2 of the opera La Gioconda composed by Amilcare Ponchielli. It depicts the hours of the day through solo and ensemble dances. The opera was first performed in 1876 and was revised in 1880...

" from Amilcare Ponchielli
Amilcare Ponchielli
Amilcare Ponchielli was an Italian composer, largely of operas.-Biography:Born in Paderno Fasolaro, now Paderno Ponchielli, near Cremona, Ponchielli won a scholarship at the age of nine to study music at the Milan Conservatory, writing his first symphony by the time he was ten years old.Two years...

's opera La Gioconda
La Gioconda (opera)
La Gioconda is an opera in four acts by Amilcare Ponchielli set to an Italian libretto by Arrigo Boito, based on Angelo, tyran de Padoue, a play in prose by Victor Hugo, dating from 1835...

(1876). There was a violent change in mood when Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

's ballet The Rite of Spring
The Rite of Spring
The Rite of Spring, original French title Le sacre du printemps , is a ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky; choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky; and concept, set design and costumes by Nicholas Roerich...

(1913) was performed. The music was expressionistic and discordant, and the movements were highly stylized. In 1924 George Antheil
George Antheil
George Antheil was an American avant-garde composer, pianist, author and inventor. A self-described "Bad Boy of Music", his modernist compositions amazed and appalled listeners in Europe and the US during the 1920s with their cacophonous celebration of mechanical devices.Returning permanently to...

 wrote "Ballet Mécanique
Ballet mécanique
Ballet Mécanique was a project by the American composer George Antheil and the filmmaker/artists Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy. Although the film was intended to use Antheil's score as a soundtrack, the two parts were not brought together until the 1990s. As a composition, Ballet Mécanique is...

". This was actually for a film of moving objects, not for dancers, but it was pioneering in the use of jazz music. From this point ballet music split into two directions—modernism and jazz-dance. George Gershwin
George Gershwin
George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist. Gershwin's compositions spanned both popular and classical genres, and his most popular melodies are widely known...

 attempted to bridge this gap with his ambitious score to the film Shall We Dance (1937), composing over one hour of music that spanned from the cerebral and technical to foot-stomping jazz and rumba. One scene was composed specifically for the ballerina Harriet Hoctor
Harriet Hoctor
Harriet Hoctor was a ballerina, dancer, actress and instructor from Hoosick Falls, New York. Composer George Gershwin composed a symphonic orchestral piece specifically for Hoctor in the film Shall We Dance .-Family:Born to Timothy Hoctor and Elizabeth Kearny, Harriet Hoctor was one of four...

.

Many say jazz-dance is best represented by the choreographer Jerome Robbins
Jerome Robbins
Jerome Robbins was an American theater producer, director, and choreographer known primarily for Broadway Theater and Ballet/Dance, but who also occasionally directed films and directed/produced for television. His work has included everything from classical ballet to contemporary musical theater...

 who worked with Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim...

 on West Side Story
West Side Story
West Side Story is an American musical with a script by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreographed by Jerome Robbins...

(1957). In some respects this is a return to "opera-ballet", since the story is mostly told in words. Modernism is best represented by Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor who mastered numerous musical genres and is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century...

's Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet (Prokofiev)
Romeo and Juliet is a ballet by Sergei Prokofiev based on William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. It is one of the most enduringly popular ballets...

. Here the story is pure ballet, and there is no influence from jazz, or any kind of popular music. Another strand in the history of ballet music, is the trend towards creative adaptations of old music. Ottorino Respighi
Ottorino Respighi
Ottorino Respighi was an Italian composer, musicologist and conductor. He is best known for his orchestral "Roman trilogy": Fountains of Rome ; Pines of Rome ; and Roman Festivals...

 took works by Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868) and strung them together into a ballet called La Boutique fantasque
La Boutique fantasque
La Boutique fantasque or The Magic Toy Shop was a ballet conceived by Léonide Massine who wrote the choreography and the libretto. Ottorino Respighi wrote the music based on piano pieces by Gioachino Rossini. Its world premiere was at the Alhambra Theatre in London on 5 June 1919 and was performed...

, premiered in 1919. The audience for ballet generally prefers romantic music, so new ballets are confected by a marriage of old works with new choreography. A famous example is "The Dream"—music by Felix Mendelssohn
Felix Mendelssohn
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Barthóldy , use the form 'Mendelssohn' and not 'Mendelssohn Bartholdy'. The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians gives ' Felix Mendelssohn' as the entry, with 'Mendelssohn' used in the body text...

, adapted by John Lanchbery
John Lanchbery
John Arthur Lanchbery OBE was an English, later Australian, composer and conductor, famous for his ballet arrangements.-Life:...

.

Ballet composers


The following are some of the major ballet composers:
  • Cesare Pugni
    Cesare Pugni
    Cesare Pugni was an Italian composer of ballet music, a pianist and a violinist. In his early career he composed operas, symphonies, and various other forms of orchestral music. Pugni is most noted for the ballets he composed while serving as Composer of the Ballet Music to Her Majesty's Theatre...

  • Adolphe Adam
    Adolphe Adam
    Adolphe Charles Adam was a French composer and music critic. A prolific composer of operas and ballets, he is best known today for his ballets Giselle and Le corsaire , his operas Le postillon de Lonjumeau , Le toréador and Si j'étais roi , and his Christmas...

  • Ludwig Minkus
    Ludwig Minkus
    Ludwig Minkus a.k.a. Léon Fyodorovich Minkus was an Austrian composer of ballet music, a violin virtuoso and teacher.Minkus is most noted for the music he composed while serving as Ballet Composer of the St...

  • Léo Delibes
    Léo Delibes
    Clément Philibert Léo Delibes was a French composer of ballets, operas, and other works for the stage...

  • Riccardo Drigo
    Riccardo Drigo
    Riccardo Eugenio Drigo , a.k.a. Richard Drigo was an Italian composer of ballet music and Italian Opera, a theatrical conductor, and a pianist....

  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

  • Alexander Glazunov
    Alexander Glazunov
    Alexander Konstantinovich Glazunov was a Russian composer of the late Russian Romantic period, music teacher and conductor...

  • Nikolai Tcherepnin
    Nikolai Tcherepnin
    Nikolai Nikolayevich Tcherepnin was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. He was born in Saint Petersburg and studied under Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory...

  • Igor Stravinsky
    Igor Stravinsky
    Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

  • Sergei Prokofiev
    Sergei Prokofiev
    Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor who mastered numerous musical genres and is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century...

  • Dmitri Shostakovich
    Dmitri Shostakovich
    Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was a Soviet Russian composer and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century....

  • Reinhold Glière
    Reinhold Glière
    Reinhold Moritzevich Glière was a Russian and Soviet composer of German–Polish descent.- Biography :Glière was born in Kiev, Ukraine...

  • Boris Asafyev
  • Aram Khachaturian
    Aram Khachaturian
    Aram Ilyich Khachaturian was a prominent Soviet composer. Khachaturian's works were often influenced by classical Russian music and Armenian folk music...

  • Maurice Ravel
    Maurice Ravel
    Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects...

  • Aaron Copland
    Aaron Copland
    Aaron Copland was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later in his career a conductor of his own and other American music. He was instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, and is often referred to as "the Dean of American Composers"...

  • Lorenzo Ferrero
    Lorenzo Ferrero
    Lorenzo Ferrero is a contemporary Italian composer with a predilection for opera, a librettist, author, and book editor. He started composing at an early age and wrote over a hundred compositions thus far, including twelve operas, three ballets, and numerous orchestral, chamber music, solo...

  • Leonard Bernstein
    Leonard Bernstein
    Leonard Bernstein August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim...

  • Darius Milhaud
    Darius Milhaud
    Darius Milhaud was a French composer and teacher. He was a member of Les Six—also known as The Group of Six—and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His compositions are influenced by jazz and make use of polytonality...

  • George Gershwin
    George Gershwin
    George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist. Gershwin's compositions spanned both popular and classical genres, and his most popular melodies are widely known...

  • Carlos Surinach
    Carlos Surinach
    Carlos Surinach was a Catalan Spanish-born composer and conductor.He was born in Barcelona, where he held conducting posts at the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona and the Gran Teatre del Liceu...

  • Bruno Moretti
    Bruno Moretti
    M. Bruno Moretti is an Italian composer of ballet music working in collaboration with the choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti. He is also a singer and accompanist, having graduated from Rome's Accademia di Santa Cecilia. He studied with Nino Rota and became his assistant, later studying conducting at...

  • Ferde Grofé
    Ferde Grofé
    Ferde Grofé was a prominent American composer, arranger and pianist. During the 1920s and 1930s, he went by the name Ferdie Grofé.-Early life:...

  • Violeta Dinescu
    Violeta Dinescu
    Violeta Dinescu is a Romanian composer, pianist and professor, living in Germany since 1982.-Romania:Violeta Dinescu began her studies of music in 1972 at the conservatory Ciprian Porumbescu in Bucharest, composition with Myriam Marbe. In 1978 she received her master's degree, with distinction...



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