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Music in Balanchine's 'La Valse'


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Hi Helene--I just joined, so I hope I am not posting this query inappropriately.

I am a New York pianist and saw Farrell do 'La Valse' in 1986 just after the Joseph Duell tragedy. Recently, I remembered that her performance in this had moved me more than any of the others I'd ever seen--'Mozartiana,' 'Slaughter on 10th Avenue' (just 2 weeks before 'La Valse' and I believeDuell did the Hoofer, I haven't been able to make sure by googling), 'Nijinsky, Clown de Dieu' at Palais des Sports in late 1971 or early 1972. Since I don't have the technical knowledge, I would just say that in the climax I remember all these overrefined movements that seemed to be perfectly suited for what this ballet was about, but which are associated more with the younger Farrell, from what I've read in Croce and others.

Anyway, I am for the first time learning a piano piece--both 'La Valse' and 'Valses Nobles'--with the dance in mind at all times. As far as I know, there is no easily available video of DVD to see the Balanchine 'La Valse', so I have been working with the Ashton version, which I have fallen in love with, even though I never thought I'd say that, since the project was inspired by that particular Farrell performance. After about 20 times, I could watch the Ashton and know exactly where the music was, but I was able to see how most of my pleasure in ballet was unconscious, since till now I didn't want to see anything but live performance. So that some of the dance sensation can be brought into the musical performance just as the music has always informed the dancers. This process is a little related to Deleuze's 'becomings-animal', becoming-woman, etc., and I find it very exciting. I plan to do the same thing with 'Marguerite and Armand,' which I've only seen once. But I know the Liszt Sonata better, so it may be even more enjoyable a process. I used to imagine McBride dancing to this long before I even knew about 'Marguerite and Armand.'

So I am in this case asking if it was all of 'Valses Nobles' and then all of 'La Valse,' or if there was some deletion of some of the former, or any other changes. I didn't know the pieces well enough in 1986.

Thank you.

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I can't answer the music question, but in her autobiography, "Holding on to the Air," Suzanne mentions dancing with Joe Duell in "Slaughter" three weeks before his death. "Joe had become one of the company's much-needed moral forces since Balanchine's death, and his own death, at the age of twenty-nine was a devastating shock to the company -- only three weeks earlier I had danced with him in a very successful revival of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue....One week later, for the final night of the season in a performance for the Dancers' Emergency Fund, I danced, against all physical probability, Mozartiana, for Joe. I felt none of my own pain, and the performance somehow reached far beyond my capabilities. it was not only my last public prayer for Joe. It was also the last time I would dance Mozartiana.

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I can't speak on behalf of the company, papeetepatrick, but it might be worth your while to go to NYCBallet.com and use their "contact us" link to ask. Clearly, you are making a serious inquiry.

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Carbro and Farrell Fan--many thanks.

I will then contact them as you suggested, carbro. I wasn't able to go to many performances until 2004 again, and have not seen 'La Valse' on the schedule in these 3 years. I'm not sure when they last did it. I had a friend, Diane Chilgren, who did 'Liebeslieder Walzer' with Boelzener in the early 70's, but I've lost contact with her since 1983, when she was working with a Swiss company.

Farrell Fan--thank you, I do need to reread the book, it's been about 15 years now. But that all comes back much more vividly now. I didn't see that 'Mozartiana', but had seen one in 1982 with Ib Andersen. I got the impression she looked taller in that than in anything else, but that's no expert opinion. I had definitely been sure that that powerful performance of 'La Valse' had been while the shock was still very fresh, though, and had to have coloured the even greater abandon, if possible, than usual. There seemed to be a great deal of anguish expressed toward the end.

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Thank you, Dale. Once again, apologies for reposting carbro's post! I have now read Helene's 'how the site works'. I think I read that one of the current NYCB ballerinas, Bouder I believe, often falls in debuts; I like to make a point of missing a few notes when I play too. May have read in Peter Martins's mid-80's book about how Farrell had no fear of going off pointe, or however you describe it properly. I think about this every single time I play, and think it's the secret of being able to play the piano without pedantry just as much as it must be to dance without it.

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I am a New York pianist and saw Farrell do 'La Valse' in 1986 just after the Joseph Duell tragedy. Recently, I remembered that her performance in this had moved me more than any of the others I'd ever seen--'Mozartiana,' 'Slaughter on 10th Avenue' (just 2 weeks before 'La Valse' and I believeDuell did the Hoofer, I haven't been able to make sure by googling), 'Nijinsky, Clown de Dieu' at Palais des Sports in late 1971 or early 1972.

I saw a performance of La Valse with Farrell and Adam Lüders on 21 February 1986, just five days after Duell's suicide. There may have been other performances that week. I think the Company was in a heightened state of dancing during the last two weeks of the Winter 1986 season. The night Duell died, he was to have danced in Goldberg Variations, but the program was changed to A Midsummer Night's Dream. But not every program in which he had been cast recently or was expected to be cast was changed, and other dancers had to step into those roles or assume all performances of them, which much have been wrenching.

I also saw two performances of Slaughter with Farrell and Duell in the two-three weeks before Duell died, on 28 January and the 2 February 1986. I can still hear him scream out "One more time!"

I had a friend, Diane Chilgren, who did 'Liebeslieder Walzer' with Boelzener in the early 70's, but I've lost contact with her since 1983, when she was working with a Swiss company.

Diane Chilgren is a Company Pianist at Pacific Northwest Ballet. We are privileged to hear her play often. Here is a link to the Music Staff page on their website:

http://www.pnb.org/company/musstaff.html

As far as I know, there is no easily available video of DVD to see the Balanchine 'La Valse', so I have been working with the Ashton version, which I have fallen in love with, even though I never thought I'd say that, since the project was inspired by that particular Farrell performance...

So I am in this case asking if it was all of 'Valses Nobles' and then all of 'La Valse,' or if there was some deletion of some of the former, or any other changes. I didn't know the pieces well enough in 1986.

There was a pirated film of La Valse with LeClerq and no soundtrack. In one of several programs called "Balanchine on Film" in celebration of the Balanchine Centennial, Diane Chilgren spoke about how she created a score to the film, which was then shown. I wrote up a summary of the program at the following link, which may interest you.

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.p...ndpost&p=135506

Francia Russell staged La Valse for PNB using the version with which she was familiar during her tenure with NYCB. Were there musical changes, Ms. Chilgren would likely have experience both with this version and at least some subsequent versions at NYCB.

Farrell Fan--thank you, I do need to reread the book, it's been about 15 years now. But that all comes back much more vividly now. I didn't see that 'Mozartiana', but had seen one in 1982 with Ib Andersen.
I must have an anomaly in my performance diary, though, because I not only show Farrell's performance of Mozartiana in the Dancer's Emergency Benefit on 23 February 1986, but three performances in the Spring Season of 1986, on the 3rd, 8th, and 18th of June. I must have logged the year incorrectly.
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Helene--that's all extraordinary and illuminating. Incredible to stumble upon what Diane has been doing all these years and that she worked to score 'La Valse' as if a silent film, but intricate and exact, of course. It sounds like it would have been a thrilling job, even if maddeningly difficult. I have then been doing precisely that but in a less advanced way, since the Ashton video does have the music (even if only of 'La Valse,' of course), and it becomes a matter of learning how the dance works as you put the puzzle together. So that I do the opposite, in that I turn the volume off to try to memorize what the metres of the dance are and how they oppose or harmonize with the music. I've played dance classes, but never extensively and over many years like Diane has, who has made a great career of it. We once played solo pieces in a concert of music by our friend Joseph Fennimore at Carnegie Recital Hall, and also worked on some of his 4-hand pieces together a few years later.

You probably know that David Daniel was also a fine pianist. I knew him when he was at University of Alabama and I was in high school working with the same teacher privately. When I came to Juilliard, he was also living in New York by then, and had by 1969 started going to NYCB every night and studying ballet notation. That first year in New York I played my first dance classes, for Romana Kryzanowska, who taught some classes at the YWCA, and a few times Paul Mejia (her son, of course) taught the class. I saw David occasionally in passing, and have read him, but never knew if he continued to play as well. Musicians always love Balanchine first, it seems, but with this project I have begun to appreciate some of the more theatrical ballet a bit more, because in separating off the dance's own music from the literal music, I've been able to finally see a little more into what the dancer is most concerned with in terms of meter and pulse. Never thought I'd be able to appreciate 'Le Corsaire' too much, but somehow I've been able to see what that's about too.

Thanks so much. The summary of Chilgren/Verdy was superb and very useful for my work, quite in addition to the small-world things.

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On the New York City Ballet website, in the "Repertory" section, the Repertory Notes that the volunteers have created (and I believe the staff edits) often has a complete list of the order of pieces in the music. You might try that as well.

Let us know!

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violin concerto--I was just following your excellent advice and about to email someone in 'reference' at NYCB when the most wonderful reply to my e-letter to Moira MacDonald arrived. I had written her just before I found Ballet Talk yesterday, because of PNB's March 12 performance of 'La Valse' that she reviewed in the Seattle Times. I had liked her writing a great deal, but went ahead and put the question here, because I wasn't sure when she'd have time to respond. She said that indeed it is the 8 waltzes of 'Valses Nobles' followed by 'La Valse.' I was fairly sure it was pretty straightforward, not easily imaginable that Balanchine would have cut pieces out of either of these, but definitely not 'La Valse' itself. And there could have been no question that 'La Valse' would have had to conclude it, because that is where Farrell's fantastically wild gestures produced such a sensation of tragedy.

She also directed me to PNB's website, and so I will now write Ms. Chilgren a real card, which I ought to do after all these years. She was always a lovely lady and plays beautifully. But I'm glad I went on and came here too, though, because the learning potential is enormous. If there have ever been any slight changes to 'Valses Nobles,' Diane will know what they were, and I am now not in any kind of rush, as this gives me plenty to go on. I'm very grateful, because I feel very enriched already from all the responses here and from Ms. Macdonald.

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I was fairly sure it was pretty straightforward, not easily imaginable that Balanchine would have cut pieces out of either of these, but definitely not 'La Valse' itself.

I am very glad you got connected to your answers and an old friend!

Well, Mr. B. - much as he held music in great reverence - has done some editing in his career. He switched movements around (SERENADE), deleted movements (CONCERTO BAROCCO), stitched several pieces by one composer together (A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHTS DREAM), and made a collage of different composers (SQUARE DANCE). He served Terpsichore above all other muses.

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In Serenade, Balanchine first deleted a movement, the last ("Scherzo a la Russe.") He then added it in as the third movement of the ballet. In Scotch Symphony, he deleted the first movement. He moved around the movements in Mozartiana; the score is "Gigue," "Menuet," "Pregheria" and "Theme and Variations," while the ballet puts the "Pregheria" first, at least in the 1980 version. Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3 has five movements, and I'm fairly certain the first movement was cut for Diamonds. Square Dance uses the first movement only from Vivaldi's Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op. 3 no. 10, the complete Vivaldi Concerto Grosso in E major, Op. 3, no. 12, and the complete "Suite for Strings," after the Sarabanda was added back in when Balanchine created a solo to the movement for Bart Cook.

Concerto Barocco uses all three movements of Bach's "Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, B.W.V. 1043." Paul Taylor cut the first movement for Esplanade, which opens with the complete Violin Concerto in E Major BWV 1042.

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Thanks Helene. Since I was pretty sure that there was some Correlli in Square Dance, I checked the Repertory Notes for Square Dance:

Music: Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op. 3 no. 10; Concerto Grosso in E major, Op. 3, no. 12 (first movement) by Antonio Vivaldi and Sarabanda, Badinerie e Giga (second and third movements) (Sarabanda added in 1976) by Arcangelo Corelli

Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust

Premiere: November 21, 1957, New York City Ballet, City Center of Music and Drama

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And if I'm not mistaken, there's an interpolation into the third act of his Coppelia for a principal variation, although maybe this ballet can be thought of as belonging to a genre where some carpentering or tailoring of the score for performance was as much the rule as the exception. Regarding symphony first movements, I remember reading Balanchine's complaint that the trouble with them was that they were too repetitious, probably referring to the exposition-development-recapitulation form they usually took.

I've been thinking that ViolinConcerto might possibly have had in mind Mozart's music for Divertimento No. 15, of which Balanchine used five of the original seven movements.

But I strongly agree with ViolinConcerto's remark about serving Terpsichore. I think this is important because some of Balanchine's detractors have tried to snipe at him by pointing out his supposed misuse of music, citing examples like the ones we've mentioned, as though a ballet were a concert or a recital with dancing alongside, when really IMO Balanchine's works incorporated music as an integral component more organically, rather than just a mood- and time-establishing element, than we usually see, so that each new, greater whole is what must be appreciated and judged.

Yeah, papeetepatrick, performance is never the same twice, sometimes involving a little risk-taking. A little like life itself?

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Jack--I never have found any conflict with anything Balanchine ever did with scores. I think changing them for the ballet is perfectly normal. There would be some cases where it would probably make little since, as with 'Robert Schumann's Davidsbundlertanze.' In that case, if he had changed the score, he would have probably not given it that title, which makes it as much Schumann's as Balanchine's, perhaps.

Any complaint I might have had at NYCB with the music has been if the orchestra sounded bored (this I have definitely heard more than once, inluding once this winter). However, along taste lines, I can understand those old remarks of Balanchine I read in the NYTimes sometime in the 70's about Beethoven being less interesting and more boring than Lehar, while not in any way sharing them. Some musicians might think they could cross this Rubicon, but I think rather few. This would be one place where usually only a dancer would be able to actually feel this as something truly believed.

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