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Musical taste shaped by dance?

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La Grande Procrastination: making lists when I should be doing other things.

The other day, I though about how my relationship to dance has shaped my musical tastes—nurtured and damaged them! Below is a list of 4 categories I came up with to sort this out. They’re incomplete (missing here, for instance, is a too-long list of music that I love *because* I connect it with a ballet; or the too-embarrassing list of music to which I imagine big ballets with casts of thousands), and meant to inspire others to make their own lists.

1. Scared stiff: music that, because it signaled a particularly difficult dance for me (in my days as a lowly corps dog), still gets me shakin’ in my boots:

Tchai piano concerto #3 (B’s Allegro Brillante)

The River

The Schubert pieces used in Paul Taylor’s Mercuric Tidings

Arabian from Nutcracker

The four-mens’ variation from Pas de Dix (Raymonda)

Martinu symphony no. 1

2. Repeated Exposure: Music I can’t stand anymore because of bad ballets (or bad versions of ballets) connected to it in my performing or viewing experience:

Gershwin Cuban Overture

Most Mendelssohn


Don Quixote

Western Symphony

Stars & Stripes pas de deux


Tchai’s Romeo & Juliet

Most Rossini non-opera music

Most Tango music


Carmina Burana

3. Wounds healed: Music I like again because I no longer have to dance to it:




Die Fledermaus

Cinderella (Prokofiev)

Les Nuits d’ete (Berlioz)

Eternal Luv: Music I never stopped liking despite repeated exposure via dance:

Swan Lake

Sleeping Beauty



Rite of Spring

Mendelssohn string symphony used in act 2 of B’s Midsummer Night’s Dream


4. Just a Phase: Music I liked as a kid/young adult that I just can’t listen to anymore

La Boheme

Most of Carmen

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Pachelbel’s canon

Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor

Dvorak’s New World Symphony

The Pines of Rome

Most of Pictures at an Exhibition

Billy the Kid

Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue

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Music that is the perfect length for brown-frying onions when making curries -

Agon. (really)

Music I have asked to have turned off when dining in a restaurant -

Miniature overture, The Nutcracker.

Music I dislike because of its associations with my dance career


Composers I've heard way too much

Astor Piazzolla

Arvo Part.

Favorite music from ballets:

The dance of the Wilis - Giselle

Coda - Ballo della Regina (does anyone else get a sh*t-eating grin when they listen to this?)

The Four Temperaments (all of it)

Monumentum Pro Gesualdo

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Coda - Ballo della Regina (does anyone else get a sh*t-eating grin when they listen to this?)

I do, except I had the misfortune of seeing the performance in which Ricky Weiss blew out his achilles doing brises volees--so when that music comes up in the coda, I still wince!

Here's some other lists I didn't make (not as clever as Leigh's, alas); all completely subjective:

Music I like because it's loud and brassy (much of Wagner goes in here).

Bad Trasncriptions of Music (i.e., a 2-guitar transcription of Pictures at an Exhibition)

Transcriptions that Work (i.e., an accordian transcription of Mozart Organ music)

Unlikely but Compelling Juxtapositions: Wagner Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre and the Panorama from Sleeping Beauty (OK, maybe not so unlikely--both involve a sleeping heroine!)

Petrouchka and Scheherezade also belong in an unwieldly titled category for me: Music I loved as a kid but imagined as very different ballets than what I eventually saw on stage.

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The top item on my "dislike due to repeated exposure" list is Waltz of the Flowers! Not only is it performed every Christmas and at every imaginable gala performance and school production, but nearly every visiting company (including the Boshoi) seems to think we're dying to see it!

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Interesting thread, Ray -- thanks for kicking it off! From a member of the audience: I learned to listen to Anton Webern in State Theater. I was in my very early 20s when I first started attending NYCB performances regularly, and although I loved and listened to classical music and was an amateur musician myself, I really knew next to nothing about 20th century music. I knew and liked some touchstone works, of course – by Debussy, Stravinsky, some Strauss, some Bartok – but can honestly say I had never even heard of Anton Webern. (Nor Paul Hindemith, for that matter, but his music isn’t really so formidable. An underappreciated composer, I think ...) As luck would have it, I think I saw Episodes three or four times my first couple of seasons, and loved it, and loved the music too. (I loved all the leotard ballets instantly. It took me a decade or so to wrap my head around tutus.) I don’t think I would have loved it had I just heard it – having a map laid out in front of me made all the difference. "Seeing" it made me want to hear and learn more, and I did. I learned to love Tchaikovsky too, by the way – right around the time I learned to love tutus – it just took longer.

Ballet music I listen too (a lot) just for it’s own sake, but that I might not have even paid much attention to if I hadn’t “seen” it first in State Theater:

Adams: Fearful Symmetries

Bizet: Symphony in C

Cage: Sonatas and Interludes

Hindemith: Four Temperaments

Ives: Central Park in the Dark and The Unanswered Question

Mendelssohn: Symphony for Strings No 9

Pärt: Tabula Rasa

Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin

Stravinsky: Agon and Apollo

Tchaikovsky : Serenade for Strings

And of course, Anton Webern!

If my husband and I have a song, by the way, I think it's Apollo Musagete -- am I a lucky girl, or what! :jawdrop: They never play it in restaurants, though ...

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Ravel's 'La Valse' as it's been used by Balanchine and Ashton--including both 'La Valse' and 'Valse Nobles..' is one case where the dance came forth and first to shape my taste for a piece of music. Prokofiev's 'Romeo and Juliet' I did somehow get to know from seeing it danced a good number of times before just hearing it played, and it's one of the few I still would listen to outside the performance. I find the 'Cinderella' music uninteresting precisely because it reminds me of the R & J, but never comes up to that level. I never cared much for the Tchaikovsky 'Romeo and Juliet' till I saw Suzanne Farrell in it either, and also started listening to it after that single performance.

Other than that, none of my musical taste has been shaped by any dance, period, although I started liking a lot of dance music as a result of seeing it danced. All the basic Tchaikovsky--Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker (if ever played well)--and even like 'Coppellia' for froufrou and don't even mind Schnietzhoffer for 'La Sylphide' that much. 'Raymonda' too much of the same thing over and over. Love all the Chopin in 'Les Sylphides'. But I wouldn't listen to any of these except the Chopin outside their ballets (maybe a little of 'Swan Lake' cygnets or something, not too seriously though. I take that back: I love the Bluebirds music in SB).

Would have been able to go through life fine without ever hearing any Minkus or Adam. Cannot stand anything in 'Giselle' or 'Don Quixote', so never go to these ballets, no matter what stars. Love 'Appalachian Spring' with enormous passion (it's even better when danced, but deinitely stands by itself--in fact all Copland used for dance is beautiful), and some of the DelloJoio, William Schuman and others that Martha Graham used. All the music in 'Jewels' of all 3 composers, but for the music itself, especially the Faure. 'Afternoon of a Faun', of course, and anything by Debussy even if the ballet is bad. 'Le Sacre du Printemps' is fabulous, but I never have seen it (I wonder if anybody can really do it now), 'Petrouchka' is great, etc., along with other Stravinsky. Someone mentioned Ravel's 'Le Tombeau'. I'd love to see it, but it's perfect in itself and doesn't really need anything. I'm afraid that might be 'lily-gilding', but since it's Balanchine I'd still like to see it even so.

Won't listen to Philip Glass in any form, have disliked all dance I've seen to it and all recordings I've been bombarded by.

The Liszt Sonata is wonderful and is enhanced by Nureyev and Fonteyn in 'M & A', but it's just as good without the dance. Fragments of the Liszt 'Mephisto Waltz' in the MacMillan ballet about the Habsburg rascal sounds dreadful the way it's sped up--enough to make you hate the piece if that's the only place you heard it (even more if you had). 'Davidsbundlertanze' is magnificent if performed well without the Balachine, but I have to say I prefer to see it danced than just heard after getting familiar with the ballet.

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Clever idea for a topic, Ray. Thanks.

Music I first heard and learned to love through ballet: Tchaikovsky’s Serenade, the Faure music from “Jewels,” Stravinsky’s knottier stuff, Symphony in C. There was a time when I sought out anything used by Balanchine, whether or not I had seen it danced, on the theory that if he used the music it would at least be interesting. I don’t really like the Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet but I’m glad I hunted it down – harder work in the days before the Web.

papeetepatrick writes:

'Davidsbundlertanze' is magnificent if performed well without the Balachine, but I have to say I prefer to see it danced than just heard after getting familiar with the ballet.

After I saw the video I couldn’t hear the music any other way. I still love Alfred Cortot’s version, though, although I’m not sure you could use it for dancing.

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papeetepatrick's comment about Macmillan's Mayerling is interesting. If you don't know, it is a complete mish mash of Liszt works for piano, orchestrated by John Lanchbery. I saw the ballet before I discovered Liszt properly, and now I find that whenever I come across one of the original piano pieces, I appreciate them even more precisely because they are so much better than the orchestrated, cut-up versions.

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What a fun thread!

In no particular order, and certainly not comprehensive.

Music that makes me gag from over-exposure - Pachelbel’s canon

Music that never fails to make me cry - Dello Joio scores for There is a Time and Diversion of Angels

Music I adore - Hindemith's Four Temperaments and Fritz Cohen's The Green Table, Balanchine's compilation of Faure for Emeralds. Stravinsky's Sacre (heard the 4-hand piano arrangement again last week and loved it too)

And music I washed the dishes to last night - Till You Come Back to Me, sung by Aretha Franklin (with me as a backup)

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Some new list heads:

Most audacious re-use of music already choreographed to (i.e., Paul Taylor's use of Concerto Barocco Bach in Esplanade)

Music used in a film and a dance and did the choreographer know it? (a movement of the Schumann piano quartet in Mark Morris's V was also used in Bergman's Fanny and Alexander)

Music you wish had other choreography (a long list, I fear).

_________ wrote 600 pieces and they keep choreographing to _________.

Music surprisingly neglected by dance makers.

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Brief digression off the subject of music but on the subject of list-making

Has anyone read Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book? Written around the turn of the last millennium in Japan, she is the anti-Murasaki Shikubu (a noblewoman writer of the beautiful but maudlin Tale of Genji) who is acerbic, witty and sophisticated:

From one of her lists - http://home.infionline.net/~ddisse/shonago...ml#anchor520714

Words That Look Commonplace but That Become Impressive When Written in Chinese Characters:


A dew-plant

A prickly water-lily

A walnut

A Doctor of Literature

A Provisional Senior Steward in the Office of the Emperor's Household

Red myrtle

Knotweed is a particularly striking example, since it is written with the characters for "tiger's stick." From the look on a tiger's face one would imagine that he could do without a stick. [p.159]

I think she's the godmother of list making.

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NYCB was actually my introduction, as a kid, to a vast amount of music I still love. Under Balanchine it was actually a kind of school of the higher arts.

So: Music that I First Heard -- and Fell in Love With -- at the New York City Ballet. Includes:

Stravinsky: Firebird, Apollo, Orpheus, The Cage, Agon, Rubies, Violin Concerto, Symphony in C

Weill: Seven Deadly Sins

Ives: Ivesiana

And Composers I Loved as a Little Kid, Became Snobbish About Later On, and Learned to Love Once More at the New York City Ballet Includes

Tchaikovsky: Seranade for Strings, Allegro Brillante, Swan Lake Act II,

Delibes, Coppelia

Mendelssohn, Midsummer Night's Dream

Debussy: Faun, Still Point

Brahams: Liebesliederwalzer

Chopin: The Concert

On the other hand, there's a lot of Music I Never Warmed Up To at the New York City Ballet and Which I Tend to Pretend Isn't There when I'm at a Performance

Prokofiev: Prodigal Son

Hindemith: Four Temperaments

Western Symphony

Square Dance (especially with its original cringe-making squaredance caller)

Stars and Stripes

And: The Single Worst Score I Ever Heard at the New York City Ballet -- or on Any Stage, for that matter

Nabokov: Don Quijote

I notice that there's a lot of Stravinsky on this list. Apropos, I've just read an article by Ismene Brown, "IgorFest," in the latest issue of Dance Now (Winter 2006-07). In it, Brown writes:

We do not find Stravinsky in concert halls much -- he is not up thre with his countrymen Shostakovich and Prokofiev. He is not, indeed, very popular. So it is rather astonishing to discover through an invaluable new Roehampton University web page that more than 1,300 ballets have been made to Stravinsky scores since his genius burst upon the stage in 1910 ... Steadily, between 15 and 30 Stravinsky dances are added every year to this incredible pile.
Brown goes a bit into the whys of this -- but my own fondness is probably best explained by the following statement from Stravinsky himself. He writes of his
profound admiration for classical ballet, which in its very essence, by the beauty of its ordonnance and the aristocratic austerity of its forms, so closely corresponds with my conception of art. For here, in classical dancing, I see the triumph of studied conception over vagueness, of the rule over the arbitray, of order over the haphazard ... If I appreciate so highly the value of classical ballet, it is not simply a matter of taste on my part, but because I see exactly in it the perfect expression of the Apollonian principle.
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On the other hand, there's a lot of Music I Never Warmed Up To at the New York City Ballet and Which I Tend to Pretend Isn't There when I'm at a Performance

Prokofiev: Prodigal Son

Hindemith: Four Temperaments

Western Symphony

Square Dance (especially with its original cringe-making squaredance caller)

Stars and Stripes

Bart, I'm with you on Western Symphony! It has always just rubbed me the wrong way and I can't say why.

Re lists -- there is also Borges' infamous reference to "a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge" in the "remote pages" of which "it is written that the animals are divided into

a. belonging to the Emperor

b. embalmed

c. trained

d. pigs

e. sirens

f. fabulous

g. stray dogs

h. included in this classification

i. trembling like crazy

j. innumerable

k. drawn with a very fine camelhair brush

l. et cetera

m. just broke the vase

n. from a distance look like flies"

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Ah Kathleen, that list!

"Drawn with a fine camelhair brush" is my own personal shorthand for the entire phenomenon....

Which brings me to the list I'd have made when I first saw hte topic, music nobody else seems to have considered:

"Tutti Frutti" -- I'm not at all sure I'd have liked this song so much if I hadn't learned to do the bop to it -- in fact, it made me learn to do the bop, I was so crazy about hte song, and it so powerfully begged to be danced to.

"Show me what you working with" which did the same thing to me re hip-hop.

"Splanky" -- absolutely the best song for Lindy hop -- in several versions by Count Basie, slow and fast. (I likes it slow.)

"Symphony in C" -- it's NOT a great symphony, I discovered listening to it on hte radio. It needs the ballet to make it great.

More later.....

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I'm not a music person, primarily listening to music in my car. I like Rock. Talking Heads, The Clash, early U2 and REM. By the mid-nineties new Rock had vanished and I began listening to the classical music stations. This led to the Classic Arts Showcase cable program. After various ballet clips I decided to see a live performance and became hooked. I like Vivaldi and Stravinski.

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Two major influences

a) Before "The Mozart Effect" was discovered, my mother tried her own version when I was growing up in Japan (so no tv/radio) just hundreds of 4hr reel-to-reel recordings of all the classical composers compiled and played at home, and trips to concerts, ballets (as well as my own dance career). I didn't know "Pop/Rock" music existed till we returned to the States--to this day, I'll recognize a song but have no idea which group performs it.

b) Most other musical references had to do with what was played in class--ie. this for plie's, that for tendus, that for pique turns etc.etc.etc.. (In the beginning, we didn't have rehearsal pianists so much of it was fully orchestrated recorded versions played back with 'pitch differentials'.)

MUSIC I LIVE WITH in my head ALL the time...(Or why I don't have an iPod yet)

SWAN LAKE. First heard at age 2, then on Fonteyn-Nureyev soundtrack (didn't realize till I saw SL live--age4, there was different music for the Black Swan pdd). Whenever I am upset, consciously or not, I end up humming the Princess' waltz from Act3. To this day I can hum the entire score in order, at correct tempo, and dance to most of it. (I try not to when attending live performances.)

All other Tchaikovsky...I love him, I can recognize him in 3 notes, but only in small doses please.

2) PROKOFIEV: ROMEO & JULIET--ALL of it, like SL above, I live with it; but Bedroom scene & the very last note resonate most musically.

"Cinderella": The ballroom pas de deux. The rest, like Kudelka said, is the waltzes only; but I do like the cacophony at midnight. (Also like Lt. Kije (sp?)

3) RESPIGHI: ANCIENT AIRES & DANCES (Suite 2 especially). I adored dancing to it, and choreographing it.

4) J.S. BACH: Anything, anywhere, any time. Definately a candidate for that..."___wrote 600 works and they only choreograph to____." Why is that? MOZART--but not always to dance to. (I had forgotten how powerful Stierl's "Lachrymosa" was--but the music had a lot to do with that.) Poor overused Pachelbel--the first recording (Paillard) still best for me, with Fasche trumpet concerto on that album more a favorite.

5) MAHLER's 5th Symphony ADAGIETTO--"Round of Angels" is probably still the most beautiful, serenely detached, work I've ever seen.

6) ADAM: GISELLE - Mostly just Act2--esp. the two pdd's, and the last part as she returns to grave.

7) CHOPIN: Les Sylphides. (Bb?) Etude choreographed by Ashton at end of "Turning Pointe", and "Piananissima?" used by Ashton in "A Month in the Country". 2nd Piano Concerto adagio/andante.

8) Modern and/or Minimalist composers:

STRAVINSKY: Apollo, Firebird, Petrouchka (sorry, I prefer harmony to dissonance)

IVES Unanswered Question, PART (I still love all variations of Fratres--why do people have to ruin it by overuse!?), GORETSKI's 3rd Symphony (First movement). I also really liked the score to "In the middle...". Can't wait to finally see Wheeldon's use of Ligeti this March at BB.

9) RAYMONDA, MANON (Lanchberry's re-working for Macmillan), SYLVIA, Les Patineurs in winter only.

10) CORSAIR's PAS de DEUX/TROIS--is this available on CD or not?

Mostly, I hear a piece of music somewhere and immediately am choreographing it in my head--like Mr.B I "see" the music (as dance). And like many, there is a continuous internal musical accompaniment.

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Mostly, I hear a piece of music somewhere and immediately am choreographing it in my head--like Mr.B I "see" the music (as dance). And like many, there is a continuous internal musical accompaniment.
Me too, 4mrdncr. I have attended concerts regularly since I was a teenager, but always provided my own visuals. Often it's choreography with dancers, but it can just as soon be mental images of birds flying, water moving, clouds forming and reforming, cars racing, armies on the march, etc. I also tend to prefer looking at the orchestra, group, or soloist playing -- or even following a score -- to just listening on a disc (especially if I have to sit still). I wonder just how common this is. :wink:

I also have a real problem when dance is choregraphed to song -- or at least when the words are in English. For example, Twyla Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs, or the shorter Sinatra Suite strikes me as turning it into a kind of kinetic illustration of the words. This is compounded by the fact that Sinatra, with his own miracles of long line and of phrasing, is (I should think) very hard to dance. Something always seems not to fit. I love the ballroom and acrobatic nature of the piece, but I'd prefer it to be performed to the music only.

Anyone else with quirks along this line?

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Emphatically yes. If I must watch ballet to sung music, I much prefer not to be able to easily understand the lyrics. And if the singer is at all influenced by jazz, the tendency to phrase out of sync with the instruments (Sinatra) complicates the dancers' work.

What I love about Who Cares? is Balanchine's ability to evoke the meaning of the lyrics without illustrating them literally. I know the words to those songs, and watching the ballet my awareness of them is almost subliminal. Not quite hearing them does not interfere with my enjoyment of the dancing.

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I wouldn't usually be interested in seeing sung things except for 'Liebeslieder', etc., but once in 1971 saw Robert Streicher do a solo piece in some smallish dark Village space to a Steve Reich piece. That stuff was pretty novel then, so the first few times it grabbed me a bit. This piece was the words 'She was a visitor' over and over, and it was very exciting. Well, it wasn't exactly sung in the usual sense, but the words were done so that they became part or even most of the music. He was a true Downtown artist in the best sense and was at ease with it (not always trying to network 'up'), and I saw him again in the mid 80's. He was still doing small spaces, and he also has done painting shows in Chelsea galleries. I wonder what he's up to by now. He was quite wonderful.

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Because I will take an ounce of free time and fill it with a gallon of trivial pursuits, I want to revive part of this thread, notably by trying to elicit responses to this heading:

Music surprisingly neglected by choreographers (or, "_________ wrote more than 600 pieces and they keep choreographing to _________").

Thought of this while listening to Beethoven's under-appreciated

, which I've always found quite dancey.

Edited to add: Well, of course we've done this dance before in a "music you'd like to see choreographed" thread. My bad.

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