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Irregular time signatures in ballet

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Listening carefully to the "Golden Idol" variation music-("Marche persane" or Persian March, originally composed by Ludwig Minkus for Petipa's 1874 revival of the Taglioni/Offenbach ballet "Le Papillon")-I suddenly realized that it is written in the irregular time signature of 5/4. So I have a couple of questions.

Would it be difficult to keep the counts for a dancer who can't follow this irregular time...?

Are there other examples of the surviving XIX Century ballet repertoire with some type of irregular time...?

Thanks in advance! :wink:

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The infrequently used Sapphire variation from Sleeping Beauty is written in 5/4 time.

Nureyev changed the gemstone to gold and turned it into a male role, but he used the music.

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I think the dancer's difficulty would depend on the way the steps are set to the music. I've seen ballets choreographed to a regular and conventional rhythms where I find myself wondering, "How on earth do they remember it?" :wink: as the steps don't seem to relate to the music or each other.

The greater challenge, likely, is to the choreographer.

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The nineteenth-century dancer was rather more familiar with 5/4 time than we are; all we've got, practically, is Dave Brubeck's "Take Five", but they had a lot of 5/4 "waltzes", which genre had been popular since about 1848, "the year of revolutions", when it was developed as a sort of dance of nonconformity. Another Tchaikovsky work featuring the time signature is the "waltz" movement of his Symphony #6.

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That is a very interesting bit of info, Mr. Johnson. :wink:

When I was a dancer, I always loved the chance to dance to things which were not so "common"; and I try to incorporate irregular time signatures in my classes when I can.

'Probably just takes hearing again and again to get used to it.

Good point about the choreography, carbro. ;)

If I am not mistaken, in other cultures what we call "irregular" times are much more common.

-d-

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One of the fairy variations in Sleeping Beauty is in 5/4 -- anyone recall whose?

EDITED TO ADD: So sorry, didn't see the post above that already discussed this!

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Sapphire in Act III. It's made even more complicated by the figures in the melody line being written mostly in triplets, against a syncopated ground.

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The nineteenth-century dancer was rather more familiar with 5/4 time than we are; all we've got, practically, is Dave Brubeck's "Take Five",

If you mean dancers and dance music, maybe, but 5/4 and 5/8 is pretty frequent throughout the 20th century, even if it's not the most usual even so. All of the cutting-edge composers from the 20s and 30s on used a lot of 5/4 and 7/8, etc,. before they even dispensed with meter completely when the needed to serialize rhythm as well as dynamics and pitch.. Responding here mainly to your citing of 'Take Five', which I didn't know had been made into a dance, although it would seem logical for it to have been used a lot. Everybody from Elliott Carter back to Virgil Thomson and Copland and Stravinsky, and Hall Overton and Vivian Fine and Jacob Druckman and David Diamond, and there's lots of those time signatures in Leonard Bernstein. These irregular meters are different from 'no meter' for dancers than 'no meter at all', which is itself an interesting further matter along the same lines. I'm sure Balanchine's 'Pythoprakta' to the Xennakis piece must be danced without much attention to 'keeping with the meter', and there are dozens of dances like that, where the dance rhythm and meter has to be independent, even in Steve Reich; this would be different from irregular, but definite, meters, esp. if they are sustained for long passages, which the dancers could not 'dance against and with', but would be in some kind of synchorinization with the music. I thought there might even be some irregular-meter passages in 'Fancy Free', but don't know the score that well. And surely there must be in lots of Robbins and Graham--whether the never-seen 'Age of Anxiety' or in Wm. Schuman's 'Night Journey.' Also probably in DelloJoio, although I don't know about 'Diversion of Angels', I think it's pretty regular throughout, but not sure.

Interesting about 5/4 'waltzes' though. Never heard of that.

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Interesting about 5/4 'waltzes' though. Never heard of that.

I think people just say that as a way to try to categorize it, Tchai. 6 being exemplary in this regard--the movement where it's used appears in the symphony where a waltz movement might appear, and it has a kind of lilt to it, like a waltz. And if you were to do a step to it on every beat, as one does in a waltz, it would alternate feet/sides. But one need look no further than Sapphire in Beauty to hear a 5/4 that doesn't evoke a waltz at all.

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Oh, certainly, 5/4 is no stranger to concert music, and even the very traditionalist Holst used it in his "Planets" suite, but very little has reached "coin of the realm" familiarity with the mass audience as has "Take Five". I believe I saw/heard Twyla Tharp use it in her "street dance" period on or near Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. On the other hand, it could simply have been ambient sound present at the site that day. A lot of Twyla's work depends not on a "beat" but rather to a "pulse" sometimes generated by the music, and sometime generated within the dance itself.

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Big chunks of folk/ethnic dance, especially from Eastern Europe, comes in 5s, 7s, 9s or 13s. One of the reasons that Mark Morris' choreography is often tied fluently to the rhythmic structure of the score is his apprenticeship with Koleda, a Balkan dance group in the Seattle area when he was young.

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You know, looking back at the title and original post of this thread, I think we need to clarify what "irregular" means. There's nothing irregular, for instance, about the uses of 5/4 we've been discussing--the time signature is adhered to w/out exception (i.e., regularly) in both the Tchaikovsky pieces, for instance. 5/4 in these pieces (and perpahs in some of the Folk music Sandik refers to) is irregular only in contrast to the prevailing preponderance of Western rhythms based on double and triple meters.

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You know, looking back at the title and original post of this thread, I think we need to clarify what "irregular" means.

By irregular I usually think of signatures that do not fit into the usual duple or triple categories. I've also seen them being referred as complex or asymmetric.

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Ray's point should be well taken by all; there's nothing "irregular" about the Tchaikovsky pieces cited above, and the general audience would have dealt with it rather even-handedly. Even Stephen Foster, in one of his "Social Orchestra" editions subsequent to the original collection of 1854 included a 5/4 waltz. Petipa, in his choreographic script for Sleeping Beauty seems to ask for a 5/4 variation in the "Jewels and Precious Metals" pas de quatre. The dancers seem to have been severely challenged by it.

Think back to the original run of Bernstein's Candide: Audiences felt uncomfortable with the composer's unusual (for then) shifting-meter melodies - "Oh Happy Pair" is two bars of 2/4, followed by one in 3/4 before breaking into a coda of all 3/4. Today at Pops concerts it's a frequent practice for the conductor to come on, give the downbeat, walk away from the podium, and just let the orchestra play the overture as a kind of big parlor trick.

A thought about "Le Papillon" - Offenbach's music, in its time, was considered rather eccentric. Interpolating a 5/4 march might not have seemed like such a shock to audiences faced with Offenbach's already "crazy" score.

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There's an exciting and almost violent Finale in 5/4 time in Florentt Schmitt's ballet "The Tragedie of Salome," which featured Loie Fuller. Stravinsky was fascinated by this work, which is said to have influenced The Rite of Spring.

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"Irregular metre" is just a traditional Western classical music theory term, maybe obsolete now, for metres that aren't duple or triple. "Mixed metres" is sometimes used when the metre changes frequently. I think the Slavic and Hungarian composers of the early- and mid-20th centuries, influenced by folk music, were the greatest metric innovators of their time in ballet music and indeed in classical music.

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Stravinsky used unusual time signatures all through his early career. Think about the chorale at the end of "The Firebird", which is in 7/4.

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Right...about Stravinsky I knew. I was looking more into the "musique dansante" period...as in the Offenbach /Taglioni's "Papillon"-(Golden Idol of Bayadere nowadays)- or the Sapphire variation of Beauty. Are there more examples of this around that period...?

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Not sure if this will yield any 5/4 waltzes, but there are plenty more examples of 5/4 metre in 19th-century classical music here. The search terms "quintuple metre" and "septuple metre" are useful. (By the way, what would 11/4 be called?!)

To clarify my previous post, "irregular metre" means a metre whose subgrouping is not exclusively into 2's or into 3's, but rather is into different groups. Common examples are 5/4 (subgroups of 2+3 or 3+2) and 7/4 (subgroups 2+2+3 or 2+3+2 or 3+2+2). Subgroups may be of numbers other than 2 or 3 also. Like you, for these metres I prefer the terms "complex metre" or "asymmetric metre" to the older "irregular metre."

Whew!

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Stravinsky used unusual time signatures all through his early career. Think about the chorale at the end of "The Firebird", which is in 7/4.

Thanks for that, Mel. This music is so familiar that I was finally able to imagine in audio terms what one of these meters sounds like.

Is there a way we can post audio links to illustrate our threads about music, just as we do with photos and videos on other threads?

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Stravinsky used unusual time signatures all through his early career. Think about the chorale at the end of "The Firebird", which is in 7/4.

Thanks for that, Mel. This music is so familiar that I was finally able to imagine in audio terms what one of these meters sounds like.

Is there a way we can post audio links to illustrate our threads about music, just as we do with photos and videos on other threads?

There's a good example of 5/4 time here. The Danse Générale from Ravel's Daphnis and Chloë. It's clear for counting off in 5 when the clarinet comes in at 0:56.

Incidentally, the Philadelphia Orchestra is conducted at a reasonable tempo by the old-school master Wolfgang Sawallisch. Most conductors take this incomparable finale too fast.

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(By the way, what would 11/4 be called?!)

Undecametric.

The Latin scholar here here hypothesizes "undecuple." :wink:

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There's a good example of 5/4 time here. The Danse Générale from Ravel's Daphnis and Chloë. It's clear for counting off in 5 when the clarinet comes in at 0:56.

This is great. Now I know exactly what you are talking about. I understand that this meter can be disorienting, but actually it's quite easy if you focus on the "five" while you count. Starting at the point of the clarinet solo did indeed make counting easier when I rewound and started again. Thank you, GNicholls.

Incidentally, the Philadelphia Orchestra is conducted at a reasonable tempo by the old-school master Wolfgang Sawallisch. Most conductors take this incomparable finale too fast.
Agree on this. It allows you to to experience the detailing without any loss of power.

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And in Irish dance, we have the light and lovely slip jig, danced by women to 9/8 time.

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