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Musical Scores for Midsummer Night's Dreams

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Off the top of my head, I believe the Mendlssohn score for "The Dream" is incidental music originally written for the play. (Shakespeare's plays had both music and dancing in them in olden times.)

The Ashton "Dream" is one act and uses only the Midsummer music. Balanchine tacks on a symphony to make it two acts (loved Clive Barnes comment in today's review on Links). The Ashton was originally done for a Royal Ballet program celebrating Shakespeare's 400th birthday. It was a surprise hit. According to David Vaughan, all the attention had been given to a new Kenneth MacMillan ballet, "Images of Love." (Helpmann's "Hamlet" completed the bill."

Nancy Reynolds noted in "Repertory in Review" that Balanchine had appeared in a Russian production of "Midsummer" (the play) as -- if I'm not misremembering -- a bug and had not only a long acquaintance with, but affection for, it.

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Actually, Balanchine tacks several Mendelsohn pieces -- including the march from "The New Melusine" (concert overture in F major) and parts of "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage" (concert overture in D major)and other stuff that I can't identify (what's the divertissement, by the way?) -- not only on to the end of the incidental music Mendelsohn wrote for the Shakespeare play, but into the middle of it.

The score for the Balanchine starts and ends and with and generally follows Mendelsohn's music to the Shakespeare, but the other compositions are pieced into it. I wonder about the origin of this -- whether he originated it (either working himself or with his conductors/music directors) or just remembered it from his Maryinski days or something.

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this is from the city ballet's website:



Music by Felix Mendelssohn

Overture and Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream Op. 21 and 61; Overture to Athalie, Op. 74; Overture to Die Schone Mellusine, Op. 32; Die erste Walpurgisnacht, Op. 60; Symphony No. 9 for Strings (first three movements); Overture to Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde, Op. 89 Opp. 21 and 61

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Michael - this information is from "Repertory in Review" - Balanchine looked over a period of two decades for suitable music to join with the overture and incidental music, so it was his own conception. The divertissement is the Mendelssohn string symphony (no. 9), written when Mendelssohn was fourteen.

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Balanchine even made some of the rehearsal piano reductions from the orchestral scores himself, including the Act II divert pas. They are written in his own hand (at least the ones used at PNB). Making piano scores from orchestra scores is not easy, believe me! He made all the musical choices for Midsummer. As we know, one aspect contributing to his genius was his incredible musicality coupled with training as a professional musician - so rare! He could also play ballet scores on the piano for rehearsal.

When ddianne first started at City Ballet, she had to play 18 ballets the first week (!). She was doing an onstage SERENADE rehearsal -- her first time doing SERENADE ever -- and Balanchine said "We'll begin at such-and-such," naming certain dance steps. ddianne had to say she didn't know where that was in the music, so he came over to the piano, pointed to the correct place in the score and said, "Right here, dear."

[ 06-28-2001: Message edited by: doug ]

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"The divertissement is the Mendelssohn string symphony (no. 9), written when Mendelssohn was fourteen." --Leigh

I was going to ask how is it that he wrote his ninth symphony at the age of 14, but a quick check of Grove confirms this is correct. Apparently he wrote a dozen or so string sinfonia at an early age. The Scottish Symphony (no. 3), in contrast, was written near the end of his life.

[ 06-28-2001: Message edited by: Stan ]

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Coming back to Michael1's original question, I remember reading or hearing that Robert Irving, a fine conductor and for many years NYCB's Music Director, suggested some of the music to Balanchine, the "String" Symphony No. 9, maybe, but I've been unable to find documentation for this idea. Meanwhile, the broadcast of the PNB video on Bravo over the weekend reveals this early Symphony to have been orchestrated (that's why I use quotation marks) for a larger orchestra than just strings, and maybe - this is speculation on my part now - Irving had something to do with that. Not to take away from Balanchine's considerable abilities, but it seems to have been his practice to rely heavily on those around him.

[ 07-04-2001: Message edited by: Jack Reed ]

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Jack, I could be wrong about this, but I think the String Symphony No. 9 is played at NYCB on just strings - it's just that a larger amount of them are used then would be be used in a chamber ensemble. I don't think that takes a reorchestration. . .is ddiane anywhere about? She might be able to comment on the orchestration of this.

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I called up ddianne. The Wedding March segues into the divert, which is the string symphony, unadulterated, although not played complete (Symphony No. 9 in C, first movement and the first and last sections of the second movement - third movement was deleted almost immediately after the premiere). When the court couples come back on, the music segues into the Son and Stranger overture, which is for larger orchestra.

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Since the topic of this thread is '...Scores for Midsummer Night's Dreams,' and not necessarily just the Balanchine & Ashton versions...here's a bit about a more recent version.

I was pleasantly surprised with the recently-broadcasted (A&E TV in the USA) version by choreographer Heinz Spoerli for one of the German troupes (Dusseldorf, I think). The score is a blend of Mendelsohn's famous incidental music to 'Midsummer Night's Dream' with Philip Glass' intoxicating violin concerto. Very effective.

And what about the just-performed Neumeier version at POB? It is a full-evening-length ballet, so I am assuming that the score is much more than the Mendelsohn incidental music to 'Dream.' Can our POB regulars shed light on the kusic of the Neumeier version?

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Mussell, the BBC Orchestra recorded the music for the PNB film but it's a little too long to fit onto one CD, so I it hasn't been released at this point. I'm not aware of any other recording of the music as used in the Balanchine ballet.

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I have been in NYC and SF, so missed a lot of postings. Doug called me about Midsummer music and orchestrations. The full orchestra is used to play the entire ballet, of course, but Sinfonia IX in C Major is the "Divertissement" coming just after the Wedding March. There is an 8 bar segue (composed by R. Irving, I believe) into the Sinfonia Nol. 9. The second movement is used, but only the first and last sections. It was choreographed at first, but Balanchine took it out. Too long, he said. The 3rd movt., is not used anymore. After the Sinfonia, which just ends, the "Son and Stranger" opus begins, the first part of which has the Divert couples exiting, and the Wedding March couples entering, with the soloists (lovers, etc.) At the conclusion of this, the incidental music (overture) returns, with Oberon and Titania, scene changes to forest, and ends with Puck sweeping the stage. I do think the ballet is masterfully conceived, and I never tire of watching (or playing it). Mr. B. did make the piano arrangement from the score for Sinfonia No. 9, (He also made the piano reduction of Mozart's Divertimento No. 15).

Have also seen Ashton's 'Dream' which is most beautiful (if shorter). Thanks, Doug for telling me about this post, and telephoning for information.

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Thank you ddianne!

Jeannie - I haven't seen the Neumeier version, but recall reading in Going to the Dance that the Mendelssohn is mixed with music by Gyorgy Ligeti. (His music was used by Stanley Kubrick at the the end of 2001 and in Eyes Wide Shut and the music from the latter film was used by Christopher Wheeldon in Polyphonia)

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Leigh, you're right: Neumeier uses some music from Mendelssohn and also some from Ligeti (and also some music played by an orgue de Barbarie- sorry, I don't know the English word for such an instrument). I don't remember which works are used exactly (and don't have the program notes at hand).

Actually, I found the parts of the ballet on Ligeti's music extremely boring (musically and choreographically).

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