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How viable is the ROMANTIC/CLASSICAL distinction today?

47 posts in this topic

Re romantic vs. classical. The source of the confusion is the use of the words in multiple senses. The original distinction, historically, was in French literature of the 18th and 19th centuries. Classical was Racine on the stage or the Gardels in dance. Anacreontic ballets like Pshyce or Telemaque. In the 1830s Century, revolting from these, come Hugo on the stage and ballets like Robert Le Diable, La Sylphide and Giselle.

But people most often today employ "classical" in their daily speech to mean something adhering to an accepted cultural canon of any kind. They use the words more loosely. As in, for example, "Classical Music." If we mix up the two senses of the word to demonstrate: "Classical" music today includes "Romantic" composers like Tchaikovsky. "Classical" ballet includes "Romantic" ballets like "La Sylphide." Lots of confusion here.

Thanks for posting, Michael. My understanding is that classical period in dance is the late eighteenth century/ early nineteenth century (the Gardels, and Noverre before them), the era of the ballet d'action. And then in music you have the classical era of Mozart, ending with Beethoven, who is a transitional figure between the Classical and Romantic eras.

The terms have different historical and popular meanings, as you and others note. (I'm not sure how much genuine confusion this causes; most people who are reasonably knowledgeable about the canon of Western composers understand that Tchaikovsky isn't a classical composer in the historical sense.)

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Oh I think that you'd have a hard time convincing your average subscriber to the NY Philharmonic that Tchaikovsky isn't a classical composer. I think the vernacular meaning of "classical" music probably trumps all else today and that the more specialized, nuanced, historically informed one is rarer.

But I don't mean to take this off topic. The applied idea is that the Classical - Romantic nomenclature is probably not that useful today in Ballet except for a more specialized discussion like this one, or if there's a reason to use it - for instance, a ballet master or mistress trying to make a stylistic point in directing a performance.

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You could well be right, on all points.....

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I will never forget one of my first History of Music lessons back in the conservatory as a teen, where my late great professor Miss Alfonso, in her very first class, told us that with her we were only to use the "Musica Culta" or "Musica Docta" terms, as opposed to "Musica Clasica", which we were supposed to use only to denote the 1750-1820 period between the Baroque and Romantic ones.

I googled a proper English translation to the Musica Culta term, but it always directs me to Classical Music...

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Oh I think that you'd have a hard time convincing your average subscriber to the NY Philharmonic that Tchaikovsky isn't a classical composer. I think the vernacular meaning of "classical" music probably trumps all else today and that the more specialized, nuanced, historically informed one is rarer.

I disagree, Michael. If you were talking about the average person who doesn't listen to classical music or know that much about it, that would most likely be true. But I have to believe that most people who care enough about classical music to subscribe to a series of concerts would have knowledge of the development of 'classical' music and would know that Tchaikovsky is a romantic composer and an example of the 'high romantic', for lack of a better description. On the ballet side of this discussion, what may be less clear to casual ballet-goers is the difference between romantic ballet and classical ballet, which doesn't correspond to the development of what is termed 'classical music'. I agree with your earlier post, and Dirac's, that the terms are confusing.

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You'd be very surprised, AlbanyGirl. I've sat next to the same couple of women for years at the ballet, and I've always been surprised at the questions one of them asks the other. It's something she has done for years, and she enjoys it for the most part, but as far as getting deeper in or being interested in the details and distinctions, no: she seems to only want to know if she's going to like it or not.

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I disagree, Michael. If you were talking about the average person who doesn't listen to classical music or know that much about it, that would most likely be true. But I have to believe that most people who care enough about classical music to subscribe to a series of concerts would have knowledge of the development of 'classical' music and would know that Tchaikovsky is a romantic composer and an example of the 'high romantic', for lack of a better description. On the ballet side of this discussion, what may be less clear to casual ballet-goers is the difference between romantic ballet and classical ballet, which doesn't correspond to the development of what is termed 'classical music'. I agree with your earlier post, and Dirac's, that the terms are confusing.

My 100th post! I thought I would write a more substantial post for my 100th, perhaps about NYCB's Sleeping Beauty last Saturday at Lincoln Center, but since I have to sign off, this will have to do. (I'll post about SB this weekend). Just to clarify my statement about 'high romantic', high as in late romantic. Didn't we say something about confusing terms?! smilie_mondieu.gif

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Oh I think that you'd have a hard time convincing your average subscriber to the NY Philharmonic that Tchaikovsky isn't a classical composer. I think the vernacular meaning of "classical" music probably trumps all else today and that the more specialized, nuanced, historically informed one is rarer.

I disagree, Michael. If you were talking about the average person who doesn't listen to classical music or know that much about it, that would most likely be true. But I have to believe that most people who care enough about classical music to subscribe to a series of concerts would have knowledge of the development of 'classical' music and would know that Tchaikovsky is a romantic composer and an example of the 'high romantic', for lack of a better description. On the ballet side of this discussion, what may be less clear to casual ballet-goers is the difference between romantic ballet and classical ballet, which doesn't correspond to the development of what is termed 'classical music'. I agree with your earlier post, and Dirac's, that the terms are confusing.

There should be an easy way to explain that not all classics are classical.

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Congratulations on your 100th post, AlbanyGirl, and thanks for your contribution to this thead especially.

Quiggin, I'm grateful for your point about Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3. Nancy Reynolds quotes a critic who thought that this work had a "split personality." Llike most people, I usually see Theme and Variations as a stand-alone work, without the sections Balanchine added to it. On the few occasions on which I've seen the multi-section piece, I tended to think that it was a bit disjointed in terms of style. It never occurred to me that this might have been a comment by Balanchine on the romanticism/classicism dichotomy, with romanticism actually leading to (or culminating in) the triumph of classiscism.

Cristian, thanks for those links. Dupont is a gorgeous Sylphide, though not the most ethereal. She is more glamourous than "fairylike" in its original sense, but lovelyi to watch nonetheless. Fracci's Giselle with Vasiliev is a marvel, especially considering her age at the time. I prefer it to the much earlier ABT Fracci-Bruhn film, with its over-active camera work.

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You'd be very surprised, AlbanyGirl. I've sat next to the same couple of women for years at the ballet, and I've always been surprised at the questions one of them asks the other. It's something she has done for years, and she enjoys it for the most part, but as far as getting deeper in or being interested in the details and distinctions, no: she seems to only want to know if she's going to like it or not.

I'm not surprised at all, Helene. People have different levels of interest when experiencing a performance.

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Balanchine got there in reverse: he started with "Theme and Variations" and then went to looseness of the first movement, with the woman in ballet slippers.

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Oh I think that you'd have a hard time convincing your average subscriber to the NY Philharmonic that Tchaikovsky isn't a classical composer. I think the vernacular meaning of "classical" music probably trumps all else today and that the more specialized, nuanced, historically informed one is rarer.

I disagree, Michael. If you were talking about the average person who doesn't listen to classical music or know that much about it, that would most likely be true. But I have to believe that most people who care enough about classical music to subscribe to a series of concerts would have knowledge of the development of 'classical' music and would know that Tchaikovsky is a romantic composer and an example of the 'high romantic', for lack of a better description. On the ballet side of this discussion, what may be less clear to casual ballet-goers is the difference between romantic ballet and classical ballet, which doesn't correspond to the development of what is termed 'classical music'. I agree with your earlier post, and Dirac's, that the terms are confusing.

One of the problems I have writing on this, my only forum, is that I post thinking my draft is final! Then, after posting, I realize I could have written more clearly or concisely, etc. (I'm an English major, so this is not new to me! The problem isn't the writing, but the leisure to write.) That said, I'll revise this to say:

But I have to believe that most people who care enough about classical music to subscribe to a series of concerts would have some knowledge, more or less, of the development of 'classical' music and would know that Tchaikovsky is a romantic composer.

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Congratulations on your 100th post, AlbanyGirl, and thanks for your contribution to this thead especially.

Thank you, Bart.

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This has been such an interesting discussion. Thank you for posting the little videos - the last Les Sylphides extract was a gem with the beautiful Beriosova and Markova. It led me to clicking on to Nerina and Blair in Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee and had me wallowing in youthful memories of visits to the "Garden" in the 1960's. Just as Les Sylphides is Fokine's nod to the early Romantic era, so I always feel that Fille is Ashton's nod to the later Romantic era as it has a touch of Coppelia in it style wise.

I think that what we forget is that if and when we do see the old Romantic ballets with their out of this world aura nowadays, we are watching them being danced by modern dancers with their extraordinary technique and pointe shoes that are nothing like the shoes that the original Pas de Quatre ballerinas would have used. Taglioni's shoes used to be on display in the now defunct Theatre Museum in London. They were tiny satin shoes with lots of stitching on the toes and some slight padding - it must have been like dancing on pointe in soft shoes stuffed with a bit of cottonwool! There are drawings of those early ballerinas standing en pointe on prop flowers, which were obviously built for that purpose to make the dancer look weightless and ethereal. I think perhaps all this explains why we no longer see a great deal of difference (apart from the afore mentioned length of tutu)in style between for example Giselle and Swan Lake. Also don't forget that we're not actually seeing the original Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot choreography, but Petipa's version for the Imperial ballet, which makes it even more similar to his classical ballets to Tchaikovsky scores.

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Romanticism in literature, the visual arts, and music is a very different thing than Romanticism in ballet. Many of the central figures in English and German Romanticism (Beethoven, Holderlin, Hegel, and Worthsworth all born 1770) came of age during the Revolution, and had republican sympathies, Romantic ballet is a much later thing (1830s and 40s), less radical and less republican. It borrows lots of visual and thematic elements from the earlier literary movements (medieval and nocturnal settings, an interest in morbid psychological states, etc), but in the end Giselle instructs Albrect to return to Bathilde.

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I was looking at the excellent Cambridge Companion to the Ballet and the entries on Romantic ballet seem to trace the beginning of the ballet blanc to the nuns' white undergarments in Robert le Diable. White was a "radically new symbolic value" "associated with no social class, guild or profession."

The life span of Romantic ballet, 1831 to 1847, pretty much ran in parallel with that of the July Monarchy. It had some questions to ask of "new roles for women" as "murderous slyphs, rebellious slaves and amazons fighting a patriarchal society." Robert le Diable brought up questions "of society's indecision about the Church within post-revolutionary France." (Marion Kant / Sarah Davies Cordoba).

Also Romantic ballet began with the era of publicity and large scale journalism – stardom for dancers and ballet performances as something to be read about in newspapers the next day. The libretti were now written by poets and journalists and based on fairy tales and literary best sellers – rather than by ballet masters. It combined formal danse d'ecole, society dancing, pantomime, and folk dancing.

TJ Clark gives the plot of a pantomime that may relate (just barely) in his book on Courbet and the events of 1848:

In the 1840’s everyone wrote or painted pantomimes: Nerval and Gautier had pieces performed at the Funambules, the salons had a half-dozen Pierrots every year. Champfluery followed fashion, but the fashion suited him precisely ...

In Les Trois Filles a Cassandre pantomime bourgeois Pierrot gets married, and on his wedding night panics at the pinkness of his wife’s skin. He waits until she falls asleep, then carefully paints her white from head to foot.

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I was looking at the excellent Cambridge Companion to the Ballet and the entries on Romantic ballet seem to trace the beginning of the ballet blanc to the nuns' white undergarments in Robert le Diable which the nuns strip to and dance in. White was a "radically new symbolic value" "associated with no social class, guild or profession."

The life span of Romantic ballet, 1831 to 1847, pretty much ran in parallel with that of the July Monarchy. It had some questions to ask of "new roles for women" as "murderous slyphs, rebellious slaves and amazons fighting a patriarchal society." Robert le Diable brought up questions "of society's indecision about the Church within post-revolutionary France." (Marion Kant / Sarah Davies Cordoba).

Also Romantic ballet began with the era of publicity and large scale journalism – stardom for dancers and ballet performances as something to be read about in newspapers the next day. The libretti were now written by poets and journalists and based on fairy tales and literary best sellers – rather than by ballet masters. It combined formal danse d'ecole, society dancing, pantomime, and folk dancing.

Thank you, Quiggin, I have and love that book and will check out the essay you mention. I'm also thinking of Deidre Kelly's book, Ballerina, which is an insightful and often wrenching history of the ballerina and describes the professional ballerina's rise to fame amidst a new social, bourgeois order. In the second chapter, she describes the rise of the Romantic ballet; the notion that dancers represent the 'ideal woman', with Robert le Diable (1831) being the work that led "ballet's 'new wave', where 'female dancers became spectral images of themselves: vapors more than real women'".

OT, my post earlier where I lament my troubles getting used to writing in this format, I think my post misleads that I am currently an English major. Not so, having graduated many years ago. Just want the record straight and happily, I've found the option to open the writing box here, which makes it much easier to compose my thoughts!

This is such a fun thread and so many interesting comments.

~ Karen

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This has been such an interesting discussion. Thank you for posting the little videos - the last Les Sylphides extract was a gem with the beautiful Beriosova and Markova. It led me to clicking on to Nerina and Blair in Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee and had me wallowing in youthful memories of visits to the "Garden" in the 1960's. Just as Les Sylphides is Fokine's nod to the early Romantic era, so I always feel that Fille is Ashton's nod to the later Romantic era as it has a touch of Coppelia in it style wise.

I think that what we forget is that if and when we do see the old Romantic ballets with their out of this world aura nowadays, we are watching them being danced by modern dancers with their extraordinary technique and pointe shoes that are nothing like the shoes that the original Pas de Quatre ballerinas would have used. Taglioni's shoes used to be on display in the now defunct Theatre Museum in London. They were tiny satin shoes with lots of stitching on the toes and some slight padding - it must have been like dancing on pointe in soft shoes stuffed with a bit of cottonwool! There are drawings of those early ballerinas standing en pointe on prop flowers, which were obviously built for that purpose to make the dancer look weightless and ethereal. I think perhaps all this explains why we no longer see a great deal of difference (apart from the afore mentioned length of tutu)in style between for example Giselle and Swan Lake. Also don't forget that we're not actually seeing the original Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot choreography, but Petipa's version for the Imperial ballet, which makes it even more similar to his classical ballets to Tchaikovsky scores.

True. It raises the question: do we/can we ever really see a truly authentic rendering of a romantic ballet, because later technical developments, as you point out, Hamorah, supersede and replace the older aesthetic.

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This has been such an interesting discussion. Thank you for posting the little videos - the last Les Sylphides extract was a gem with the beautiful Beriosova and Markova. It led me to clicking on to Nerina and Blair in Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee and had me wallowing in youthful memories of visits to the "Garden" in the 1960's. Just as Les Sylphides is Fokine's nod to the early Romantic era, so I always feel that Fille is Ashton's nod to the later Romantic era as it has a touch of Coppelia in it style wise.

Hello, Hamorah,

Not sure if you know that that clip you mention is available on DVD. Please see Cristian's post on Karsavina Chopiniana in the forum's section Everything Else Ballet - I've listed the DVD by name, label and label number. Such a beautiful performance. ~Karen

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What the Fille with Nerina and Blair is on DVD? Is it really, Albany Girl? How lovely! What I am finding rather satisfying, as they release all these archive films, is the fact that my heroes of yesteryear were actually as good as I remember them to be! I have a film of Giselle with Ulanova, whom I saw for the first time when the Bolshoi came to London in 1956, and her technique was amazing and her acting was unbelievable - She seemed to live the part. And the divine Beriosova in the Les Sylphides extract posted above was indeed divine! And now Nerina - such ballon, such technique and such quality. With all their legs round their ears and multiple pirouettes, I find that many of the incredibly athletic dancers of today lack the quality of the dancers from my youth. But that's another whole thread, which I believe has already been done!

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What the Fille with Nerina and Blair is on DVD? Is it really, Albany Girl? How lovely! What I am finding rather satisfying, as they release all these archive films, is the fact that my heroes of yesteryear were actually as good as I remember them to be! I have a film of Giselle with Ulanova, whom I saw for the first time when the Bolshoi came to London in 1956, and her technique was amazing and her acting was unbelievable - She seemed to live the part. And the divine Beriosova in the Les Sylphides extract posted above was indeed divine! And now Nerina - such ballon, such technique and such quality. With all their legs round their ears and multiple pirouettes, I find that many of the incredibly athletic dancers of today lack the quality of the dancers from my youth. But that's another whole thread, which I believe has already been done!

Hi Hamorah,

Regarding your statement above in blue, I apologize for any confusion. The DVD to which I refer is an ICA Classics DVD of BBC performances of Les Sylphides and Giselle. If you look at my post to Cristian that I mention in the earlier post today, it has the DVD catalog number. This is a wonderful DVD, in my opinion. I agree with your view about Markova and Beriosova. And I absolutely love Galina Ulanova. My understanding from some readings (where I cannot remember), is that Miss Galina would wear soft slippers en pointe when dancing Giselle so that not a peep was heard from her shoes. She is divine. Older dancers did have a particular quality of refinement, didn't they? Not to discount the current crop of many fine, young dancers of today.

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Congratulations on your 100th post, AlbanyGirl, and thanks for your contribution to this thead especially.

Quiggin, I'm grateful for your point about Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3. Nancy Reynolds quotes a critic who thought that this work had a "split personality." Llike most people, I usually see Theme and Variations as a stand-alone work, without the sections Balanchine added to it. On the few occasions on which I've seen the multi-section piece, I tended to think that it was a bit disjointed in terms of style. It never occurred to me that this might have been a comment by Balanchine on the romanticism/classicism dichotomy, with romanticism actually leading to (or culminating in) the triumph of classiscism.

Cristian, thanks for those links. Dupont is a gorgeous Sylphide, though not the most ethereal. She is more glamourous than "fairylike" in its original sense, but lovelyi to watch nonetheless. Fracci's Giselle with Vasiliev is a marvel, especially considering her age at the time. I prefer it to the much earlier ABT Fracci-Bruhn film, with its over-active camera work.

Bart, I noticed that 'split-personality' aspect this season. I mentioned it in the forum Winter Season earlier, but it's worth responding to your post here. I found it exceptionally odd, honestly, although I enjoyed it. It was like movements 1-3 were one ballet and movement 4 a separate, entirely different ballet!huh.png IMO, if this was indeed a comment by Balanchine on romanticsm/classicism, I don't think it succeeds. This summer T&V will be performed at Saratoga and I'll see it then, in its original incarnation as T&V.

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