Throughout much of the 19th century, the music written for ballet was mostly trash. Churned out by composers such as Leon Minkus, Adolphe Adam and Leo Delibes, most ballet scores were aural wallpaper.
Minkus and Co. seem to take their revenge: Ruin bad music and who notices? But ruin Stravinsky or Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev and you've done some serious artistic mischief.
I really don't care much for this guy's writing, now that there's been a bit more discussion. While I'm no big fan of Minkus and Adam, it is absurd to say 'ruin bad music and who notices?' What a toffee-nosed thing to say, show off all that high-toned taste. Of course, even mediocre music can sound light years better with a good orchestra than without one, and this is obviously not confined to ballet. Opera is full of trash, and it can be enjoyable if well-performed. Drigo's 'Corsaire' things are hokey and they sound wonderful if well-played even though they might be used at the circus quite effectively (the choreography is pretty corny too, but so what if it's not 'Agon'? I think with Minkus and Adam, those are really the kinds of scores to speed up, if one makes certain to not start racing the dancers again. And it's all a matter of opinion anyway: I love Tchaikovsky, but Pierre Boulez says 'I hate Tchaikovsky and so other people can conduct him'. I assume this would mean he wouldn't worry that 'artistic mischief' had been done, if it's a composer he literally claims to 'hate.' I also don't think the NYCB orchestra is nearly always 'beyond embarassing', although I have decided that people will write anything
. The levels of journalism I'm seeing at many big-name journals are beginning to floor me with their twitty pretentiousness and downright stupidity. And Delibes's score for 'Copellia' is not trash, by any means.
And there's even the 'trash' of the concert hall. The piano concertos of Saint-Saens are all considered 'trash' by many highbrow types--not one of whom can toss them off with such aplomb as Aldo Ciccolini so that such idle talk would never even come to mind. It's also, for example, much more common to hear talk about Liszt's various works of 'trash' by critics than it is from professionals. They're involved with doing a good job of making it work.
Bart--I don't think most players in a ballet orchestra consider it at all a demeaning job, but it is obviously not going to be the thing to aspire to any more than a young ballet dancer aspires to spend her entire career in the corps if she could be a soloist. That's just reality. The problem I think comes more from the heads, the ballet masters themselves, and then the conductors, not demanding or not having the time to demand and give priority to the music. In that case, they need to ask for expert advice, and all the big companies could definitely have first-rate orchestras if they gave it a high enough priority. There's also exhaustion, lack of rehearsal, just as there is for the dancers. But the Heads of the Ballet Companies would have it in their power to do some improvement, if they themselves can hear the need and have the taste to give it proper attention. It's simply not realistic to expect a ballet orchestra to ever be able to maintain the level of a symphony orchestra, because the music is never featured in the same pure way; it is secondary to dance.