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The Goldberg Variations

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#1 glebb


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Posted 02 April 2002 - 06:16 AM

Though I've not seen it in a long time, I was thinking about The Goldberg Variations, recently.

If I'm correct, this ballet is longer than Dances at a Gathering, which I also adore.

The question for all of you is: The Goldberg Variations, too long or too short?

#2 Alexandra


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Posted 02 April 2002 - 06:23 AM

A very biased answer -- TOO LONG! I haven't seen this ballet in years, and my memories are from my standing room days. When City Ballet used to come here 15, 20 years ago, they came iin February and it was always unseasonably warm for those two weeks. My memories of Goldberg are inextricably linked with standing for 90 minutes, with all the latecomers crowding behind us, the line eventually oozing down the side of the house. At least three people fainted every year.

Nothing to do with the choreographic worth of the ballet :)

#3 Manhattnik


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Posted 02 April 2002 - 06:57 AM

Ah, when they do Goldberg and Dances on the same program, I know to pack a lunch. And breakfast. I would say Goldberg is too long, except by the time it's over I've already forgotten the beginning, middle and a lot of the ending.

#4 cargill


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Posted 02 April 2002 - 07:44 AM

I feel about Goldberg the way the (possibly apocrophal) person did about a Covent Garden Tristan und Isolde, who left in the middle of the last act saying "Excuse me, I have chaps coming for breakfast."

#5 Nanatchka


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Posted 02 April 2002 - 09:13 AM

I happen to adore the Goldbergs, I listen to them very very often (Glenn Gould, early and late, and a fabulous Wanda Landowska harpsichord version, my current passion).I cannot understand how the ballet manages to make them seem so tedious. Next time you go, close your eyes and listen to the music. The whole experience improves.

#6 Manhattnik


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Posted 02 April 2002 - 10:14 AM

Well, Nanatchka, I think you've hit on a very important, neglected category of ballet: those that are best experienced with one's eyes closed.

I'm sure we all have our favorites. In addition to Goldberg, I'd add the perennial leader in this category, Stabat Mater.

Any others?

#7 Ari


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Posted 02 April 2002 - 10:18 AM

I could think of a lot of candidates, Manhattnik, except for the fact that most ballet orchestras range from bad to horrid. Which brings up another category: those best experienced with earplugs.

#8 Manhattnik


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Posted 02 April 2002 - 10:57 AM

Well, this actually brings me to some more favorite categories:

Ballets best experienced from the Starbuck's on Columbus Avenue (or, if it's July, while having a drink at the Adelphi), and...

Ballets best experienced while walking home from Lincoln Center.

Stabat Mater and Oraganon figure prominently in each category, actually.

#9 Calliope


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Posted 02 April 2002 - 11:45 AM

Ives, Songs. I close my eyes, but when I open them, it's still going on.

I'll add to the Goldberg being too long.

#10 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 02 April 2002 - 01:18 PM

Personally, I wouldn't want Goldberg cut because I think the music itself is an integral whole and shouldn't be fragmented. I'll cheerfully sit through a few tedious bits of ballet to get Bach's work whole. Admittedly, Bach wrote the Goldberg variations for the private consumption of his patron, and not to be heard in a concert setting. Nonetheless, I think it has an overall structural integrity that I for one would be loathe to undermine -- e.g., the methodical placement and construction of the canons. I'd put it on the "all or nothing" category -- either you're willing to do the whole thing or you pick different music. It's not as if there's a shortage of good, danceable music out there. One of the (many) things I dislike about Robbins' Brandenberg is the way the various Brandenberg Concertos got broken up and re-assembled. Baroque concertos do have a clearly defined structure, even though we might be immune to the charms of that structure today.

Obviously, one shouldn't take an all or nothing approach and assume that ALL music is inviolable and can't be tinkered with for the purposes of creating an effective ballet. Some works suffer less (or not at all or are even improved) when re-assembled. (Ahem, but not Serenade, IMO.) But there are some that can't be tinkered with, and I'd put Goldberg in that category.

As to Dances at a Gathering: I always like Arlene Croce's assessment, which was that she'd like to see it cut by 15 minutes but not the same 15 minutes every time.

#11 Farrell Fan

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Posted 02 April 2002 - 01:21 PM

At an NYCB seminar one year, Gordon Boelzner, the original pianist, told of hearing a remark from the audience loud and clear one night toward the end of the performance: "Oh no Murray, he's going to play another one!"

I can't imagine anyone thinking Goldberg is too short. But I think it's a better ballet than is indicated here. I find it a very satisfying experience. For the first few seasons, an annoucement used to be made requesting the audience to refrain from applauding until the final curtain. Sometimes applause would break out in the second section no matter. Nowadays applause is heard throughout the piece, growing steadily more tepid, even though the dancing grows steadily more interesting. So I guess Robbins' original instinct to hold the applause was wise.

#12 glebb


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Posted 02 April 2002 - 03:35 PM

I can certainly understand how hard it would be to watch from the standing room point of view, but I didn't expect so many people to think Goldberg is too long.

In the late 70s and 80s, it was the kind of ballet that I lost track of time while watching. The same thing would happen when I watched Gelsey perform Giselle.

Maybe that's a new thread. Ballets that make you forget time and place.

#13 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 02 April 2002 - 04:25 PM

For me, that's not Goldberg (I like the work but yep, I'm another one who starts fidgeting around variation 23-4 when they start the series of pas de deux) but another work that Kirkland's associated with - Tudor's The Leaves are Fading.

#14 dancermom2



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Posted 02 April 2002 - 05:30 PM

The Goldberg Variations is the one time when I was in the audience at NYCB where I seriously considered bolting early. Way too long!!!! It went on and on and on and on and on....I applauded at the end just because I was so relieved it was finally over.

#15 Morris Neighbor

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Posted 05 April 2002 - 01:30 AM

Robbins' "Goldberg," is almost 20 minutes longer than Glenn Gould's recorded version, which omits most repeats. Which raises the question of "artistic integrity." Myself, I like both Gould and Robbins, each of whom has a different goal.

Choreographically, I admire Robbins' ability to introduce constant novelty to music created within narrow confines of style. I always feel a sense of melancholy when I hear the final Chaconne -- as I do at the last waltz of "Liebeslieder Walzer," another major audience commitment.

I will concede, however, that people who need a martini every twenty minutes should avoid longer works by Robbins, Balanchine, Bournonville, Petipas, and others.

In short, I don't think it's too long. I think it's precisely long enough to serve the composer's vision, which has always been the rule at City Ballet.

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