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new scores?

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#1 kfw


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Posted 06 December 2001 - 09:10 PM

I heard part of a radio conversation on film scores last night, and the guest said that he didn't think a film could be great without a great score. When I heard that I immediately thought of the ballet world and then of Giselle --a great ballet, obviously, but without a beloved score, if I'm not mistaken.

So I'm wondering ... has anyone ever set old choreography to a new or at least different score? An old warhorse like that has has had umpteen choreographical revisions anyhow, hasn't it? Isn't every version a little different, so that a new composer would have some leeway with counts here and there. So is this an awful idea? Has it ever been done? I suppose one problem with composing new music for 19th century ballets is that people don't write in 19th century styles anymore.

And one other unrelated Anything Goes-appropriate item ... I've been waiting for Alexandra to say "hasn't anyone been going to NYCB's Nutcracker? Please post!" So I'll say it myself --"hasn't anyone been going to NYCB's Nutcracker? Please post!" I'm going Sunday night and Wednesday and maybe Tuesday if think I have enough time to scoot across the plaza to the Met before their curtain, and I've been hoping to at least hear how the corps is doing. Thank you.

#2 Alexandra


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Posted 06 December 2001 - 09:39 PM

Thanks, Ken, for being such a good drillmaster. POST THOSE NYCB NUTCRACKER REVIEWS, PEOPLE!!!!!

I'd argue that "Giselle" is not a negligible score, but to the larger point, Ashton made lots of ballets to less than first rate music -- good balles.

As to composing a new score for an old ballet, the Danes tried it with disastrous results in 2000 for "Kermesse en Bruges" -- a very ooom-pah-pah score, although Hans Brenaa could coax, or beat, the orchestra into playing it so that it sounded like music. (Danish stagers had many responsibilities.) The new score had hidden counts, was rather a fantasia on the old one, that might have worked as concert music, but not as stage music (it didn't help that the dancers, musicians AND audience first heard the new score at the premiere).

I'd say leave them alone. I hate how everyone cuts up anything done in the 19th century -- choreography, mime, now music? I think, in all cases, the better way to revive old work is not to throw out anything that at first seems outdated, but to look at the work itself, analyze it, understand it, and then play/dance/stage it with new eyes and ears. (Did you read the article I posted on Aesthetic Issues yesterday, about how a modernist pianist plays "old" music? It's the same approach.)

I would hate someone to come up with a New! Better Apollo -- but they may, 100 years from now. Luckily, I'll be dead smile.gif

Ken's question is a very good one, I think. Other opinions, please.

[ December 06, 2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#3 Andrei


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Posted 07 December 2001 - 11:04 AM

I hate it, but sometimes it works. Petipa's Aurora's adagio with four cavaliers was part of his previous ballet "Cinderella", I believe. He gave exact description to Tchaikovsky and voila!
As I understood from documentary about Forsythe, he changed the music one week before the premiere, without changing the choreography. Didn't see, no comments.

#4 Alexandra


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Posted 07 December 2001 - 12:07 PM

Good point about Petipa -- I think this was done quite often in the 19th century (it's one of the things Noverre and Fokine railed about, the whole idea of taking sets from here, music from there, and steps from around the corner).

Roland Petit did a similar music switch for "Le Jeune Homme et la Morte", but that was deliberate, one reads, to shake up the dancers (from jazz to Bach -- or was it the other way around?). So avant-garde of him smile.gif

[ December 07, 2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#5 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 08 December 2001 - 02:32 AM

Several interesting points were raised here.

I'm also one of those people who thinks Giselle is actually a rather fine score. it's hard to judge many 19th century ballet scores, because they've been altered during performance over the years. The original score of Giselle had a fugue in the wilis section, and I don't think I've heard the score for Swan Lake that Tchaikovsky conceived.

Steps and music? Many steps fit lots of music, and music will allow for many steps. I know I've cannibalized an idea or two from a piece I knew I wouldn't revive and stuck it in a newer work. It's actually my tendency rather than to save the steps and can the music, to do entirely the opposite, use the same music and make a better ballet than the last one I made. It becomes a different issue when the choreographer isn't the one doing it.

It's very common for contemporary choreographers to work to a different piece of music than the final product. It's a useful tool. Balanchine raised the bar on abstract music visualization high enough that just being able to make steps for notes is not nearly enough; he's filled the repertory with too many excellent examples to merit another merely serviceable one. Choreographers are forced to develop some sort of less obvious musicality, and they can either go either refined or anarchic. Cunningham let go of the connection entirely. When used by a really fine practitioner, the release from music means that s/he is open to possibilities that might not have been the obvious ones just from hearing the music.

I've tried choreographing in isolation from the music, and I'm not comfortable with it, nor do I get my best work from it. In the mid-90's, Septime Webre did a work called "And so it goes" to Handel, but it was choreographed to pop. It was an interesting and kinetic work, but the musicality bothered me, because even though I didn't know he'd not choreographed it to the Handel, I couldn't tell why the ballet was to Handel. The music felt like wallpaper, and didn't respect the score as I would have felt incumbent if I chose Handel. There was a real divide in philosophy between us on this point. For me, an integral part of choreography is the response, not just to the music's rhythm and beat, but to its architecture and its intent. I can't choreograph without getting under the skin of the score I'm using, and for me to switch scores or not work with the music in mind robs me of what I do best.

#6 Manhattnik


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Posted 08 December 2001 - 03:15 PM

I don't know if this counts, but the Lowenskjold (forgive me if I've mangled his name) score for La Sylphide is much, much better than the "original" score (I'm not even going to try to spell the composer's name off the top of my head) as heard in Pierre Lacotte's reconstruction for the POB. That score is, in my opinion, a real yawner. (So's Lacotte's choreography, but that's another story.)

#7 Alexandra


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Posted 08 December 2001 - 03:29 PM

I like the Lowensjkold better too (I'm not sure if I'm spelling it right either, Manhattnik!) I think he was only 21 when he wrote it, and I don't think he wrote another. (That's written without checking!)

But he wasn't composing a new score to old steps -- the choreography for Bournonville's version was completely different. (I think the reason a new score had to be composed was for copyright reasons.)

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