A Night at the Ballet
"See the music, hear the dance." In just six words, the great choreographer George Balanchine summed up how dance and music are inextricably intertwined, how dance expresses music visually. Join us as we take a grand jeté through four hours of the best ballet scores.Read more…
Ballet music was often relegated as of secondary importance to choreography, but all that changed when Tchaikovsky turned to the genre. As preparation, he listened to the music of Ludwig Minkus, a composer who could churn out reams of music to fit a choreographer's demands. At his worst, Minkus could sound routine, but then he could create music of great poise for one of the great "white scenes" in 19th-century ballet: The Kingdom of the Shades in 'La Bayadère'.
Tchaikovsky was very much taken with the music of Adolphe Adam and Léo Delibes. Adam wrote what is arguably the first great romantic ballet score – 'Giselle' – while of Delibes's 'Sylvia', Tchaikovsky later wrote: "what charm, what elegance, what wealth of melody, rhythm, and harmony. I was ashamed, for if I had known of this music then, I would not have written 'Swan Lake'."
While 'Swan Lake' wasn't fully appreciated until after his death, 'The Sleeping Beauty', with its rich, symphonic score, and 'The Nutcracker', with its sweet-toothed divertissement, were hits, paving the way for other Russian composers such as Glazunov.
The Ballets Russes turned away from the "imperial" school style, reinvigorating the art form with new, bolder choreography and through-composed scores. The impresario Sergei Diaghilev commissioned ballets from Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel whose scores have also become staples of the concert hall. Stravinsky later collaborated with Balanchine, who wrote that when he first heard the score to 'Apollo', all he could see "was pristine white".
The best known of Prokofiev's ballets is 'Romeo and Juliet', both for the thrusting power of the Capulets' Dance of the Knights and the melting ardour of the Balcony Scene. Behind the Iron Curtain, Shostakovich and Glière composed ballets that fitted the mould of socialist realism, but their scores could be dynamic, powerful and witty. In the West, composers like Leonard Bernstein wanted to break the shackles between "high" and "low" art. 'Fancy Free', choreographed by Jerome Robbins, has touches of sheer Broadway.
Fewer ballet scores are composed today, with many choreographers choosing to use existing scores. But composer–choreographer relationships still exist, such as Max Richter and Wayne McGregor, whose 2015 'Woolf Works' didn't have to wait long to be recorded.
[Due to geo-blocking restrictions, some tracks might be unavailable in certain territories.]