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Music and balletUnderstanding ballet as a musician


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#1 GNicholls

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 01:51 PM

Are there sources anyone can recommend on "ballet for musicians." I'm a classically-trained and experienced composer (PhD. Eastman School of Music) who would like to learn more about ballet. I know the music of Romeo and Juliet, The Rite of Spring, and other ballets very well as music,and now would like to know them as dance. I remember when I was quite young having the opportunity to discuss Romeo and Juliet with the British dance historian Peter Brinson at Banff School of Fine Arts, and from then on have realized how rich this tradition is.

#2 Hans

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 05:15 PM

Welcome to Ballet Talk, GNicholls! It is always wonderful to hear from someone wanting to learn more about ballet. If you are in a city that is home to a major ballet company, the best thing you can do is attend some performances. Youtube also has plenty of ballet, and DVD's of complete ballets are readily available. Our forum includes a section called Ballets in Detail, which you might find interesting. Please feel free to write about the performances you see and ask any questions you have.

#3 bart

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Posted 07 July 2010 - 06:36 PM

Hans is right. The best way to learn about ballet is to watch it. George Balanchine's "See the music; hear the dance" expresses it well.

I've also found that some books -- biographies, etc. -- are very informative about the process by which music is composed or revised for dance. You may already be familiar with Roland John Wiley's Tchaikovsky's Ballets, Charles Joseph's Stravinsky and Balanchine, Stephen Walsh's 2 volumes on Stravinsky, and Simon Morrison's work on the ballet music of Prokofiev. Morrison, a musicologist, has worked on versions of Pas d'Acier and Romeo and Juliet, the latter for Mark Morris's dance company, as well as writing about the ballet music of Ravel, Shostakovich and others.

Good luck on your journey. I hope you'll keep us informed as you move along.

#4 GNicholls

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Posted 08 July 2010 - 09:31 AM

Thank you Hans and Bart for your encouragement and suggestions! I live in Toronto
so the National Ballet is near at hand.

#5 Cygnet

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 09:26 AM

Welcome to Ballet Talk GNicholls! Enjoy!

#6 GNicholls

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Posted 09 July 2010 - 02:02 PM

Welcome to Ballet Talk GNicholls! Enjoy!

Thank you Cygne! I'm using this reply to jump in with some general comments.

(1) On the "Discovering the Art" forum I have found Alexandra's introductory posts very clear and useful. She says,"Russian Imperial Ballet and the age of spectacle -- does NOT match what was going on in other arts, namely Realism." Concerning opera this is partly true, when you think of Italy and the verismo operas of Mascagni, (Cavalleria Rusticana), Leoncavallo (I Pagliacci) and Puccini (La Boheme, etc.). But I think that the stage always tends towards spectacle, and the late 19th century (La belle epoque) was prosperous enough to support it. The mythological subject matter of operas such as Wagner's Twilight of the Gods and Parsifal, or Debussy's symbolist Pelleas and Melissande, led to magnificent spectacles too.

(2) I was taught by the Wagner musicologist Robert Bailey to understand the history of music composition in 25-year periods, based on the dates of birth of major composers. This lets us understand Wagner (1813) and Liszt (1811) as CONTEMPORARIES of Mendelssohn (1809), Chopin (1809), and Schumann (1810), while people who think of Wagner and Brahms (1833) as contemporaries are quite mistaken. I've found it is incredibly useful to me to think that way at least for 19th and 20th century composers -- whether it applies to choreographers I don't know.

(3) Apropos of your name, Cygnet, there are beautiful swans in the lagoons of Toronto Island and I'm heading over there this weekend to escape the city!


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