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"Glass Pieces" & "Symphony in Three Movements"Has anyone commented on how much they are alike?


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#1 Paul Parish

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 09:32 AM

Watching SFB dance Symphony in 3 Movements yesterday -- it was thrilling-- I was forcibly reminded of Glass Pieces: the way the principals jump into the midst of an ongoing "chaos' -- seems like it's a LOT like the way their counterparts do into the 'urban pedestrians' of Glass Pieces. Has anybody else noticed this? Is it written about?

#2 California

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 10:27 AM

Very astute observation! These happen to be two of my very favorite ballets (and I continue to be dismayed that a complete recorded performance remains unavailable anywhere - I would happily purchase both). It's interesting that they were created about a decade apart and deal with very different situations: Symphony is bringing order out of the chaos of WWII and Pieces is bringing order out of the chaos of NYC in the early 80s after a decade of decline.

Another detail in Pieces that intrigues me: in the last movement, there is a section for the ensemble of male soloists that reminds me of the West Side Story dance "Stay Cool" -- a photo of which is on the NYCB site right now - the crouching move forward, the snapping fingers. And that's consistent with your observation of bringing order out of chaos.

#3 dirac

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 11:01 AM

Funny - "Glass Pieces" passed through my mind as I was watching (I was also there yesterday and "Symphony" was thrilling) and then passed right out again, so thank you for posting your thoughts. To my knowledge, no, the parallel has not been written about, but you're definitely on to something. I can't say that I get any special "war" vibe from "Symphony in Three Movements," however....

#4 California

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 11:39 AM

I can't say that I get any special "war" vibe from "Symphony in Three Movements," however....

The war imagery in the movement derives from Stravinsky's comments about the war's influence on the music. Here's a good essay from the LA Philharmonic with several of these comments:
http://www.laphil.co...igor-stravinsky

For example:

A seven-measure interlude leads to the finale, which the composer described as having been written in "reaction to the newsreels and documentaries I had seen of goose-stepping soldiers. The square march beat, the brass-band instrumentation, the grotesque crescendo in the tuba, these are all related to those abhorrent pictures... The exposition of the fugue and the end of the Symphony are associated in my plot with the rise of the Allies, and the final, rather too commercial D-flat sixth-chord; instead of the expected C; in some way tokens my exuberance in the Allied triumph..."


Much has been written about the movement, of course. Many see the front lines of battle in the long diagonal line of corps in white leotards. You can see fixed-wing aircraft in the arms in some sections and the crashing of bombs with emphatic two-footed jumps in others. One can see the choreography as pure abstraction but it's hard to un-ring the bell once you know Stravinsky's inspiration, which would surely have been known to Balanchine.

#5 Quiggin

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 11:48 AM

It's an interesting and fruitful comparison, though I think of Symphony in Three Movements as a structure, or a series of structures, and Glass Pieces as a texture.

Symphony in Three seemed to me to begin where The Four Temperaments ended, with the first pink dancer shuttled overhead through the Four Temperaments-like crowd. Arms in Symphony are likewise held in serifed "[font=georgia,serif]T[/font]"s but also in "[font=georgia,serif]W[/font]"s, which is the figure the push-up men on the floor end with. (Then there are the witty"X" cossings of arms in the pas.)

I agree about the war vibe – it makes the ballet too programmatic to think of it in those terms, like the titles Beethoven's publishers sometimes gave his work.

#6 California

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 12:03 PM

I agree about the war vibe – it makes the ballet too programmatic to think of it in those terms, like the titles Beethoven's publishers sometimes gave his work.


Although the War imagery did not come from Stravinsky's publishers - it came from Stravinsky, in many, lengthy quotes. It's interesting that Balanchine did not choreograph this until 1972, after Stravinsky's death, for the Stravinsky festival, 28 years after the music was composed. But it's reasonable to think Balanchine understood and shared Stravinsky's intense feelings while seeing the devastation of WWII on their first home, Russia, and their adopted home, western Europe, as they watched from the safety of the U.S. If his late friend could capture this in his music, could Balanchine express those feelings in movement? It's certainly possible and appropriate to look at the movement in purely dance terms, but the war imagery gives us a different set of insights into both of them.

#7 Quiggin

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 01:09 PM

Although the War imagery did not come from Stravinsky's publishers - it came from Stravinsky, in many, lengthy quotes... But it's reasonable to think Balanchine understood and shared Stravinsky's intense feelings while seeing the devastation of WWII on their first home, Russia, and their adopted home, western Europe, as they watched from the safety of the U.S...


Yes, Symphony in Three Movements was definitely more programmatic than any other of Stravinsky's scores. According to Charles M. Joseph in Stravinsky and Balanchine, it did however begin life as film music for the "Apparition of the Virgin" scene in The Song of Bernandette. Balanchine, visiting Hollywood as it was being written, was "impressed by the jazzy score".

But on the other hand, Balanchine, at least in his modernist works, tended to strip away all local references and for the dance just to be visual music. He may have thought of Symphony in the terms that Joseph outlines:

The composition is a hybrid, both concerto and symphony... It deliberately scumbles the lines of identifiable musical “forms,” disputing the customary treatment of instruments in a way similar to that in which Balanchine often calls into question his own management of soloists and the corps.


I also remember one of the Joseph's ideas being that after Stravinsky's death, Balanchine felt he had a freer hand in setting choreography to Stravinsky's music. And that as of Agon, Balanchine was no longer was the junior member of the partnership.

#8 Paul Parish

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 05:41 PM

I DO feel a lot of conflict in the action -- esp in the first movement -- though it's not literally war-like

For me the most frightening moment is when the ballerina in palest pink [sunday, Vanessa Zahorian, but I first felt it when Lucia Lacarra did it 10 years ago here; both danced it excellently] makes a perfect circle of the stage doing perfect pique turns while the corps girls rush around her chaotically -- I thought she was giongto collide with somebody, like a planet passing through a chaos of asteroids -- or like a soldier moving through a hail of bullets. [i was sitting in the orchestra, seen horizontally, the screen of corps dancers really looks like ONE of them is gong to hit her, you don't know which; I'm told that from upstairs, it's exciting but does not look dangerous because you can see the trajectories do not intersect.

#9 Paul Parish

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 09:25 AM



"field of shrapnel" starts 0:55

#10 dirac

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 11:02 AM

From Quiggin's post in the SF Ballet forum:

Symphony in Three Movements, set to Stravinsky's score, seems to begin where Four Temperaments leaves off, but much more cooly and a little unattractively, with hard movements and diagonals which then break up into subsidiary groups and ideas, accented and softened with brilliant cabrioles. At the end of the movement the diagonal reassembles and a shiver goes through it, like the movement of a caterpillar traveling along a twig.


Nicely put. The "Egyptian" hands are another connection to The Four Temperaments. Symphony belongs to the corps in a way that Four Ts doesn't, but there does seem to be a link between the pulsating finale of the older ballet and the propulsive mass movements of Symphony. But the feeling for me is less Army than NASA, as if watching beings who are not quite human - except for those bouncy ponytails.

#11 Quiggin

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 11:03 AM

"field of shrapnel" starts 0:55


Paul, those parts do become muddled – as if Balanchine loaded up his brush with too much paint, and was attempting too much. After I saw another performance I thought that he might be folding different planes of action and having them move thorough each other. And in a pre-perpormance talk, Katita Waldo and Charlene Cohen, who had also danced the ballet with Miami and Villella, commented on the counts and how at one point there are 5 girls and 5 boys doing different set of counts at the same time, so if they're off slightly that might cause some more muddle.

From what I remember of Glass Pieces, the movements and tempos seem crisper and more uniform, as does the music which is something of an extended arpeggio or monad – compared to Stravinsky's piece which divides against itself and in which the harp and piano are sometimes "duking it out" (to borrow a fight metaphor).

#12 California

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 11:13 AM

those parts do become muddled – as if Balanchine loaded up his brush with too much paint, and was attempting too much. After I saw another performance I thought that he might be folding different planes of action and having them move thorough each other.


I once looked at archival tapes of early performances of Symphony at the NYPL Dance Collection. Initially, there were no pink leotards. Everybody was in black and white. (I don't recall if the opening corps was in all-white or black and white.) But apparently -- as others have suggested -- the complexity of different layers of movement was so dense that the differential of colored leotards was needed.

#13 rg

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 11:39 AM

to the best of my recall the opening ensemble was always in white.
but yes black-and-white was the initial scheme.
for at least one performance, when McBride danced the second movement(?) of SYMPHONY IN 3 MOVEMENTS, for a run in Wolf Trap Farm VA, she wore a white leotard, where previously a black leotard was worn.
[this post has been edited to remove an earlier comment about trying out the skirts from CLARINADE as costuming for one of Balanchine's Stravinsky Festival ballets, which when it first came to me here I associate with SYM IN 3 MOV, but which i now think i was confused about and that the proposed and then abandoned CLARINADE skirts were for the dress reh. of VIOLIN CONCERTO, not SYM IN 3 MOV.]

#14 carbro

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 04:47 PM

For me the most frightening moment is when the ballerina in palest pink [sunday, Vanessa Zahorian, but I first felt it when Lucia Lacarra did it 10 years ago here; both danced it excellently] makes a perfect circle of the stage doing perfect pique turns while the corps girls rush around her chaotically -- I thought she was giongto collide with somebody, like a planet passing through a chaos of asteroids -- or like a soldier moving through a hail of bullets. [i was sitting in the orchestra, seen horizontally, the screen of corps dancers really looks like ONE of them is gong to hit her, you don't know which; I'm told that from upstairs, it's exciting but does not look dangerous because you can see the trajectories do not intersect.

One critic (sorry, don't remember who, but maybe Croce?) described that passage as resembling the signal on a radar screen, with the white radius moving counter-clockwise and the red dot clockwise. I love that image.

For me, it's easy to take in the war/military references without necessarily making 3 Movements into a programmatic ballet. The sense of danger (ha-ha -- I typed that as "dancer") is pervasive, even in the "cheerful" sections of the outer movements. And the second movement? I'm not sure it alludes to war in any way, but I love that pas.

#15 Quiggin

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 09:02 PM

And the second movement? I'm not sure it alludes to war in any way, but I love that pas.


That's the movement that was originally written forset the "The Apparition of the Virgin" scene in the 1943 film Song of Bernadette, then recycled, according to Charles M. Joseph. Charlene Cohen said that Edward Villella referred to it as "the sanctuary," I guess in relation to the raucous outer movements. Yes, very beautiful despite being done in a sort of Morse or C++ computer code.

It's amazing that Symphony in Three Movements and Violin Concerto premiered the same night at the Stravinsky Festival, June 18, 1970 [1972] – and Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fee a few days later. rg, anyone else remember the overall effect at the time?

[oops wrong year]


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