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Miho Kakinuma

"Classical" and "academic"

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I have read the discussion about "classical/

classicism" somewhere in this board.

It was quite interesting for me.

I have also used the word "classical/classicism" for a long time without any doubt. However I can't define the word,

when I ask the question of myself.

There is another quite ambiguous word "academic/academism", which might have a slight difference.

I should be very happy if anybody who has got

his/her own opinion about the "classical/

classicism" and "academic/adacemism' will say something about it.

I am especially interested when and who

used the words "classical ballet" in the

ballet history.

With many thanks

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Great set of thought provoking questions.

In the United States (at least the cultrually middle brow part that I have always inhabited) “classical music” is applied to serious as opposed to popular music—-music in which form, structure and content require some concentration and attention span in the listener to really appreciate. By this very broad but still useful definition, just about all ballet and opera as well as orchestral music are classical.

A more specific definition involves the tension between classical and romantic. To oversimplify to the point of incoherence, classical can be seen as music which accepts basic conventions of form and structure and uses them as a basic framework to express ideas. Romantic music is more concerned with the expression of individual emotions than achieving formal unity.

Rossini is a great example of classical music. His operas and their components have a formal architecture that is apparent to the listener and involves short melodic fragments, repetitions, lively rhythms and simple harmony. The same Rossini aria can express either a profound emotion or the lack of that emotion, depending on the interpretation. The music itself does not carry the message, which is much more hidden than in works such as “Madame Butterfly” or “La Traviata”. The libretto, the words, were more important than the music—-some texts being set hundreds of times.

The change to romantic music is part of the general change in the arts during the early part of the nineteenth century. The difference between Haydn symphony and one by Schubert is mirrored in the difference between the poetry of Dryden and that of Byron.

In romantic music rubato was emphasized over repetition allowing ambiguity to be introduced to particular phrases, use of chromatic harmony was widespread which was useful because of its sense of tension to the diatonic, melody became more lyrical. Content was specific—-in opera the music carried more of the content than did the words. Librettos were ordered and written to the specifications of composers.

Some of this was due to technological innovations—valves on horns, for example, were introduced in 1813, making the development of chromatic harmony much easier. The piano-forte became the grand piano with greatly extended power and range. Orchestra were large, allowing a much more varied palette of tone color.

All of which is correct, but none of which is really true. While the conventions that Verdi followed were less restrictive than those from decades earlier, they were still conventions. Beethoven may be the best example of the minefield that one enters when categorizing composers. He is both classical and romantic—-and the fact that he is such a genius shows that it is the music and not the category that is important.

The terminology for ballet can add to the difficulty. The great nineteenth century works are “classic” or “classical”. When I first began attending the ballet some friends thought the terminology was odd or just wrong—-how could “Swan Lake” a work scored by the hyper-romantic Tchaikovsky with a libretto full of the redeeming powers of love, triumphing even in the face of death, be considered even remotely classical. It is the same a bit farther along—-Stravinsky could never be considered classical-—occasionally self-consciously neoclassical but that is all-—so the ballets that he scored could not be classical.

Having happily stumbled into this briar patch, I will leave the resolution to those on this board who are real experts in this matter.

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My impression has been that "academic" has a quite negative connotation, as in "his choreography is too academic" ie not cutting edge enough, or unoriginal and undistinguished.

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Thank you so much for the inspiring messages ! But I am afraid that my question might be a bit too abstract.

Probably quite a few of ballet-goers, including me, regards some ballets, like "Sleeping Beauty", "Swan Lake", or "Nutcracker", as "classical" beyond


But for instance, we may tend to call "Giselle" a romantic ballet rather than "classical". How about "Coppelia", "Don Quixote", "La Bayadere" or "Raymonda", etc. ?

Of course, we may have to take the productions into account. There are some very "modern" versions of "Swan Lake" or "Giselle" now.

Some ballets choreographed by Balachine called "neo-classical". So I think we should have recognized something like elements or essence of "classical ballet" there.

On one hand I like to go to see the modern or contemporary dancing a lot, however on the other hand, I always adore so called "classical ballets". I do want to know by what kind of elements or essence of "classical ballet" I am attracted.

I should be really grateful if you give me your own opinion more.

With many thanks

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Angleterre, as far as I know, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Don Q, La Bayadere, and Raymonda were all choreographed in ballet's classical period, which rather confusingly coincides with music's romantic period. Another strange thing about ballet and classicism is that ballet's classical period occurred after its romantic period, which is why Giselle, Coppelia, and La Sylphide are romantic ballets. I realize that this is not the clearest or most specific information, but it is just a very general answer to your question regarding classical/romantic ballets.

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