Yet when it comes to ballet music, all three superlatives tend to coalesce around one work above all others — Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. It seems futile to offer a definitive abstract of Swan Lakeas most stage presentations reflect sweeping departures from the original conception. Indeed the synopsis published with the full score differs, often fundamentally, from those provided with many recordings. Moreover, as a general matter, the intrinsic nature of the art of dance unavoidably eludes precise narrative in favor of abstract pantomime, regardless of the librettists' intentions.
Thus ballet faces an immediate hurdle when compared to the narrative devices used in other primarily visual performing arts, as it is unable to specify meaning by relying upon and benefiting from the specificity of lyrics operadialog movies, plays, operetta, shows or titles and inserts silent film. Let's place the story in context. John Martin observes that the accepted practice of the time was to use the plot of a ballet as a mere thread upon which to hang a succession of divertissements regardless of their appropriateness to the theme.
Swan Lake was no exception — each act but the last includes extensive danced entertainment that has little to do with the plot and often interrupts it.
In a sense, though, the bare stories of ballets hardly matter — as James Lyons notes, they tend to be embarrassingly trite when reduced to cold type.
Rather, "in the theatre they are told on quite another level of discourse. With that in mind, here is an abbreviated amalgam to relate the 29 numbers in the original score to the basic stage action. Please click here for a more detailed structural outline that may be more helpful in following the references to the numbers and for several, their subparts that are used throughout this article. Before the curtain rises an introduction sets a mood of anticipation and foreboding and which we'll refer to as 0.
Siegfried's disapproving mother enters and commands that he is to select a bride at a ball the following evening 3: Scene. After she departs, the peasants try to cheer him up 4: Pas de trois ; 5: Pas de deux. Now inebriated, Wolfgang dances awkwardly and collapses 6: Pas d'action. Further dancing 7: Subject; 8: Dance with Goblets fails to dispel Siegfried's gloom. As the others depart, his friend Benno urges him to come on a swan hunt 9: Finale.
As the hunters approach, a beautiful girl appears, dressed in white and wearing a crown. She explains that she is the Princess Odette, under a spell cast by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart that binds her and her companions to be swans by day and humans at night and that can only be broken by a vow of eternal love.
In the guise of an owl, Rothbart threatens Siegfried. Enamored of Odette, Siegfried tosses aside his weapon, confesses his love and invites Odette to the ball 11 and Scenes. Transformed into maidens, the swans return and a variety of dazzling dances ensue for the entire ensemble, smaller groups, Siegfried and Odette as solos and then together Dances of the Swans. Odette promises to attend the ball, Album), but as dawn nears she tears herself away to join the other maidens who reappear on the lake as swans Scene.
Foreign guests pay their respects Dance of the Corps de Ballet and Dwarfs. Six eligible princesses are announced and each dances for, and briefly with, Siegfried, who cannot choose among them Fanfares and Waltz.
Rothbart enters with his daughter Odile, who is dressed as a black swan and is disguised as Odette. Odile seduces Siegfried who swears eternal fidelity and, to his mother's delight, announces he will marry Odile, as Odette looks on helplessly through a window. As thunder crashes, Rothbart and Odile reveal their treachery to the horror-stricken court and gloat as Siegfried rushes out Scene.
She tells them of her betrayal Scene. A happy ending at the Bolshoi At this point, the treatments differ radically Final Scene. In the original libretto Siegfried begs Odette's forgiveness, which she is powerless to grant, he exclaims that they must remain together forever, she dies in his arms, he drowns himself in the lake, and the other swans glide by once more.
In most other, more sanguine, versions once the lovers kill themselves Rothbart's evil power is nullified, the other swans are released from his spell and the spirits of Odette and Siegfried ascend to eternal heavenly happiness although, as George Balanchine points out, the tragic tone of the concluding music abrades a happy apotheosis.
There are many variants: Siegfried kills Rothbart, breaking his spell, Odette becomes human and the lovers survive united; Odette remains a swan as Siegfried grieves alone; Rothbart kills Siegfried, leaving Odette alone; Siegfried throws Rothbart over a cliff, breaking his spell; the swans kill Rothbart, enabling the lovers to live on as mortals; or Siegfried's mere willingness to die for Odette is sufficient to break the spell and they live happily ever after.
While it's tempting to sneer at the revised endings, let's recognize that the original conception of Swan Lake fundamentally is a fairy tale with all the traditional elements save one. It's full of magical transformations, lurking evil, gallant protagonists, exotic diversions, forces of nature and a mythical setting. All it lacks is the requisite happy ending of just rewards in which evil is thwarted, the social order is restored and the lovers live happily ever after. Rather, at least as originally conceived, Rothbart triumphs, the lovers are dead and the enslaved swan maidens return to their dismal future of endless misery.
So who's to blame all the subsequent producers for delivering a more gratifying outcome? The urge to bodily expression is prehistoric, may predate language and is assumed to have played a major role in ancient religious ritual.
The depth and pervasiveness of its cultural roots is evident from the frequent references to dance in the Bible and its frequent depiction in images ranging from the Parthenon friezes to the Hindu god Shiva balanced on one leg. King Louis XIV in full ballet regalia Formalized ballet as we know it can be traced to the sumptuous royal entertainment of Elizabethan masques and Louis XIV, an ardent and accomplished enthusiast, in whose court the nobility performed strict dance routines to exhibit the grace and dignity of their high culture and, undoubtedly, to distinguish themselves from the raucous, lusty dancing of the peasantry.
By the baroque era, the dances themselves assumed an integral part of serious abstract music as in the Bach Suites and played a major role in symphonies both classical as minuets and romantic scherzos. Moving to the stage and performed by professional artists, by the mids ballet had become such an integral facet of Parisian culture that it was an obligatory part of operas presented there, whether logically integrated into the plot as the Ballibili Verdi was compelled to insert into the third act of his Otello to precede the grand entrance of Venetian ambassadors or not the lovely but incongruous "Dance of the Hours" in the midst of the Inquisition in Ponchielli's La Gioconda.
Indeed, the ballet sections of many 19th century operas achieved fame independent of their source Rossini's William Tell ; Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld ; Massenet's Le Cid. As a measure of the popularity but lesser status of 19th century ballets, they often were performed as part of a lengthy program following a complete opera.
The earliest full ballet remaining in the repertory is the hour-long La Sylphide which, in a harbinger of the plot of Swan Lakefinds a Scotsman fatally lured through witchcraft from his bride-to-be by an enchanting woodland nymph. But don't rush out to buy a CD of the music by Jean-Madeleine Schneitzhoeffer — it appears to have never been recorded other than as the soundtrack to videos of performances and with good reason — while functional and rather effective in context to support the narrative, it's utterly forgettable.
Perhaps the ultimate test of a ballet score or a film soundtrack, for that matter as pure music is whether it can sustain interest in a concert hall or as an audio-only recording; until Tchaikovsky, none could. Compare Tchaikovsky — the same catalog lists 16 records of his complete Nutcracker plus another 37 of the Nutcracker Suite6 of Sleeping Beauty plus Album) of its suite and 6 of Swan Lake plus 34 of selections. To be fair, James Lyons asserts that great ballet music does not have to be great music, as dance is the most ephemeral of the arts, a thing of the moment and memory.
Album), as Lincoln Kirsten observes, ballet music has intrinsic limitations — while it serves as the root rhythmic base that impels movement while ordering and emphasizing the activity on stage, it should not compete with the action, much less dominate it.
The beloved score of the Les Sylphides — not to be confused with the Schneitzhoeffer La Sylphide — can't count as an original composition, as it comprises orchestrations of gorgeous Chopin piano pieces.
In the midth century an influx of imported talent had shifted the focus of ballet to the wealth of czarist Russia, but in the view of several scholars the artistic level soon sank. As Peggy Cochrane put it: "Costumes and settings were tasteless and lacking in distinction, music was insipid and flavorless, and dancers indulged in vulgar displays of meaningless technical virtuosity. While on vacation in Tchaikovsky had created for his sister's children a family entertainment involving swans on a lake.
InVladimir Begichev, a friend with whom Tchaikovsky had travelled throughout Europe, and who had become the director of the Russian Imperial Theater in Moscow of which the Bolshoi was the crown jewelcommissioned a score for a libretto he had fashioned, possibly in collaboration with Vasily Geltser, the ballet-master of the Bolshoi and Julius Reisinger, its resident choreographer.
Tchaikovsky wrote that he accepted the commission for Swan Lake "partly because I needed the money and partly because I have long cherished a desire to try my hand at this type of music.
The story of Swan Lake was intriguing, as it was rooted in ancient myths of swans as a symbol of womanhood and legends of women transformed into birds. The first Odettes: Sobechshanskaya and Karparova But Tchaikovsky also might have been enticed by Maurice Abravanel* - Swan Lake (Vinyl derivation from operas in which men fell in love with enchanted women, a situation eerily resonant with his own bizarre personal history, in which he foreswore marital life for a chaste but deeply passionate relationship, conducted entirely through correspondence, with a wealthy widow.
He sketched the entire score that summer and, amid other work, completed the orchestration by April The original score is no longer extant, and scholars largely have been unable to recreate the premiere performance, forcing reliance upon inferences from surviving artifacts. Yet it seems clear that the debut was a severe disappointment due to a confluence of problems. The conductor was an amateur, ill-equipped to handle the challenges of the score. Anatole Chujoy considers the choreographer Reisinger "a hack with no talent or taste for the task" and the prima ballerinaPauline Karpakova, a "run-of-the-mill dancer past her prime.
Critics were brutal, focusing on monotonous and unimaginative choreography. One cited the "incoherent waving of arms and legs [that] continued for the course of four hours" as torture. Yet those same critics approved the music, even though they might not have realized that substantial portions were thought undanceable and had been cut in favor of Karpakova's substitutions — plus, as James Lyons notes, in light of the depressing action on stage, the audience might have been too upset by what it saw to be much aware of what it heard.
A later Odette — Pavlova and friend While the practice of the time was for a composer to closely tailor a ballet score to a detailed scenario as Tchaikovsky would do for his Sleeping Beauty and Nutcrackerin this instance he had little direct guidance from the authors and was left largely to his imagination.
As a result, the music was structured in broad gestures and treated rather abstractly. Ann Nugent feels that the company couldn't relate to music that went beyond mere accompaniment and support but rather asserted itself with melodic and psychological development.
Even so, Tchaikovsky blamed himself for the failure. Charles Reid characterized him as "an introspective young genius with a LP for psychological self-torture.
Indeed Tchaikovsky had so little self-confidence that he consented to write another ballet, Sleeping Beautyonly if he was promised exhaustive guidance in the form of minute details of the required numbers.
As for Swan LakeTchaikovsky intended to rewrite the score but never did. As Charles Reid asserts: "Happily for posterity he never found the time to do this. One cannot imagine the music bettered. While the Swan Lake premiere engagement is often cited as a failure, several historians note that it remained in the Bolshoi repertoire for six years, longer than a typical run of the time.
When he died in it was assumed that the dim flame of Swan Lake had flickered briefly and would remain forever extinguished. That soon would drastically change. Act II was included in a February memorial program, freshly LP by Lev Ivanov and brilliantly danced by the acclaimed Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani. It attracted great interest — one critic raved: "What continuity, what plasticity, what velvety-soft movements, what tenderness and execution!
Petersburg, arguably the foremost ballet venue in the world at the time, undertook a revival of the full work. Unfortunately, the product that emerged, while reviving Swan Lake's fortunes, was far removed from Tchaikovsky's original, as his brother Modeste revised the scenario and the conductor Riccardo Drigo substantially reorchestrated it, rearranged the order of the pieces to a sequence that is still commonly used and inserted orchestrations of three solo piano pieces from Tchaikovsky's 18 MorceauxOp.
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Abduraimov, Behzod piano Arranged by Earl Wild. Eguchi, Akira piano Arranged by Earl Wild. Goldstone, Anthony piano Arranged by Anthony Goldstone.
Recorded in Alkborough LincolnshireSt. John the Baptist Church. Goldstone, Anthony piano Arranged by Nikolay Kashkin.
Hough, Stephen piano Arranged by Earl Wild. George's Brandon Hill. Jones, Martin piano Arranged by Earl Wild. Noack, Florian piano Arranger unknown. Shimizu, Kazune piano Arranged by Earl Wild. Wang, Yuja piano Arranged by Earl Wild.
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