When he was 80 years old, Alexandre Benois (1870-1960, designer for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes) wrote an ecstatic recollection of his youthful impressions upon seeing the Petipa/Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty ballet four times in seven days, starting with its second performance in 1890 in St. Petersburg. As soon as they could, he and his friends bought published piano arrangements to play at home. He was completely captivated:
It turned out that Tchaikovsky’s music was not only excellent and charming, but that this was the very thing that I had somehow always been waiting for. Already at the second performance I attended, it was not the spectacle or the dances or the performance or the artists which captivated me, but the music which won me over, something infinitely close, inborn, something I would call my music. In a word, I fell in love with Tchaikovsky’s music, and Pyotr Ilyich himself…became someone very close to me, though I never had occasion to meet him personally.
Benois was particularly struck with the masterful way in which the composer had evoked a former era with his music:
Pyotr Ilyich was unquestionably one of those people for whom the past had not completely and forever disappeared, but continued somehow to live, intertwined with current reality. This trait is a most treasured gift, something in the nature of grace; it broadens the perspective of life….
And Tchaikovsky could summon forth the very atmosphere of the past with the enchantment of music. His success in re-creating the atmosphere of France in the days of the young Sun-King in The Sleeping Beauty was something to which only a person absolutely deaf to the sounds of the past could remain indifferent.
Most people know the story of Sleeping Beauty from their childhood. What the choreographer Petipa and the composer Tchaikovsky brought to life for their onstage ballet would highlight certain characters and actions in the well-known plot:
Good fairies who are also exquisite dancers bring lifetime gifts to the baby Princess Aurora at her christening. Each fairy has a distinctive musical accompaniment which provides unique character to her solo dance.
A bad fairy who wasn’t invited shows up anyway in her ratmobile and promises that when the princess reaches her 16th birthday she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. She has a threatening theme which actually is the first sound heard in the overture.
The beneficent Lilac Fairy, whose lovely theme is heard throughout the ballet, first when she is able to bestow the substitute gift of a 100-year nap instead of death; then when she takes the prince on a boat ride through the mists and thorns so he can bestow the required kiss that will awaken the princess and everybody else; and in the last act when all ends well.
Princess Aurora first seen in a cradle, then at age 16 amazing everyone with her “Rose Adagio” sequence in which she is en pointe in attitude holding on to the hand of a prince—then drops his hand to momentarily be free-standing until the next prince offers his hand—and then with the next…and the next. “Will you accept this rose?” they all pantomime—and of course she receives them all with smiles. Aurora also, in addition to the pas de deux adagios with the ultimately lucky prince, has some challenging solo variations.
The new century’s prince, who has a couple of brilliant solos and also gets to partner the beautiful princess in two adagios—first when she is only a vision, secondly at their wedding celebration.
Once everybody has gotten through the blessings and curses all the way to the happy ending when Princess Aurora is awakened at the age of 116 (and is still beautiful), there comes the celebration with a number of familiar story-book characters. This is a wonderful ballet for families, and even very young children will recognize and enjoy Puss ’n Boots and the White Cat and Little Red Riding Hood. A bluebird partners Princess Florine—and his variation is considered one of the most difficult in the classical repertoire. Other characters may just enter in a processional and later take their final encore to a mazurka—including Cinderella, Tom Thumb, Donkey-skin, Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, and a couple of ogres. Finally, ceremonial brass sounds proclaim the wedding and the end of the ballet. The original libretto called for the god Apollo to appear in a tableau vivant scene in costume of Louis XIV. But nowadays we are more apt to see the Lilac Fairy centerstage, blessing the newlywed couple, with the parental King and Queen behind them.
The idea for doing the ballet in the first place came from Ivan Vsevolojsky, who was the most-welcomed director of the Imperial theaters in Russia 1881-1909. Regarded as a refreshing and kind overseer, he injected new energy and new vision into the ballets, and it was he who drew inspiration from the French fairy-tale by Perrault and worked up the original libretto to Sleeping Beauty, with plot input also from the choreographer Marius Petipa. Vsevolojsky also was unusual in his activities by engaging in the design of the costumes. Most importantly, however, were the changes he instigated in regard to music. He ended the tradition of using only in-house composers for scores, and sought to expand the styles to which dancers performed. Especially eager to engage leading Russian-born artists, Vsevolojsky arranged for Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky to compose the complete music for the Sleeping Beauty.
Because of both Tchaikovsky’s score and the choreography handed down for generations from Petipa’s original version, Sleeping Beauty is considered the epitome of classical ballet. The exactness of the dancers in their execution of difficult movements and poses becomes all the more amazing and beautiful to audiences when their timing corresponds closely to important moments in the music, and when the dance phrases seem complementary to the musical ones.
Or perhaps one should put it the other way round. In many dance history books, Petipa’s plan has been translated and reprinted allegedly as proof of how detailed the directions were that the choreographer gave to the composer. However, evidence turned up by researcher/author Roland John Wiley indicates that the detailed plan was made by Petipa six weeks after much of the musical composition was done. Instead, it seems that the choreographer may have given Tchaikovsky more general outlines—but not always with specific bar lengths, and not always with meters or approximate tempos. Wiley reports that Tchaikovsky not infrequently wrote more music than the initial directives might have called for. In any case, he certainly responded with extraordinary imagination to whatever directions were provided.
There are in Wiley’s descriptions some examples of the composer’s responses to the choreographer’s general directions, such as of the “Breadcrumb Fairy” (which was a reference to the Russian custom of breaking a loaf of bread over a baby’s cradle). Wiley commented:
In Variation III, the so-called Breadcrumb Fairy Variation, Tchaikovsky responded to Petipa’s phrase (“Crumbs—which are falling”) with pizzicato strings: the scattering of the crumbs through the air in the violins, and their landing on the ground in the double basses….And then, in the reprise…Tchaikovsky introduces a trill, as if to suggest that the birds had consumed the first of the fallen breadcrumbs.
In the dancer’s hand and wrist motions, we can see all that come to life most delightfully. Then there is the famous duo of Puss ’n Boots and the White Cat:
Petipa was nowhere more graphic in his requirements than here—“Mutual caresses, miaowing and scratching their claws. At the end the cry of a scratched cat…” and Tchaikovsky followed suit.
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By this time in his composing career, Tchaikovsky had developed such an understanding sense of what was needed, that he could work on the ballet score even while he was traveling at some distance to fulfill various obligations such as conducting. He would send each act to St. Petersburg as he finished composing the score, so that other musicians could prepare condensed rehearsal scores. Orchestral parts would likely not have been copied until final corrections were completely finished and revisions made by the conductor Ricardo Drigo (who conducted not only the premiere, but subsequently 190 performances of Sleeping Beauty). Changes might include cuts in interior repeats, the order of various dance variations, and other revisions—not unlike what happens to Broadway shows nowadays in “out of town try-outs.”
At certain points according to Petipa’s daughter, the composer did sit down at a piano and play for the choreographer sections of what he had written, so there were opportunities to confer in person about details, and to make changes in the music to suit the choreographer’s vision. Vera Petipa recalled:
In the beginning father worked out the subject and created as a whole the composition of the dances, after which he entered into discussions with the composer. Peter Ilyich arrived at our house customarily in the evenings and played through his work in parts, and father listened and planned his dance fantasies in harmony with the music. Tchaikovsky’s arrivals always brought us much joy, especially when the inspired sounds of his music were heard in our home.
At the end of his manuscript score, Tchaikovsky itemized the days he had worked on this composition: a total of only 40. Really? In any case, what wonderful music resulted! Just one beautiful melody after another in seamless progression: memorable waltzes; adagios with oboe and cello and clarinet melodies; suggestive musical links to accompany pantomime; broad pieces in duple meter to support the men’s leaps and beating of feet; a processional polonaise; the recessional mazurka; staccato wind and string figurations to encourage the fairies en pointe; flute flourishes to help the bluebird fly; harp flourishes to introduce lovely scenes; grating oboe and bassoon sounds to imitate cats’ meows; cross-rhythms between accompaniment and the melody to make the boat travel go smoothly; a Russian folklike tune. Then there are several lyrical violin solos to accompany Aurora’s solo variations, with moments of silence followed by glissandos up to loud chords highlighting the princess assuming a pose in attitude; orchestral horns playing hunting-horn calls in Act II; and the striking of a gong to accompany that all-important kiss.
Why a fairy tale?
Going back to Tchaikovsky’s own time, one of his friends, Herman Laroche, wrote his reaction to Sleeping Beauty and dealt with the questions of what in it was “French” and what “Russian,” and why a fairy tale could be appropriate for a formal ballet. Here is an excerpt of what he had to say:
Sleeping Beauty was sharply criticized in the newspapers. Besides the music, with which our reviewers were not always contented, they bemoaned the absence of drama in the ballet, the fairy-tale children’s subject, and finally that the story was taken from a French redaction by Perrault….
But Sleeping Beauty does not belong to history; it has no locale; it is a myth, belonging to the traditions of many people….To force oneself, out of false patriotism, to represent only the mores and history of the fatherland means to deny one’s fantasy the pleasure of a journey….
The fairy-tale, despite its prosaic form, often contains within itself the most ancient, most original myths….Say what you wish against fairy-tales. You will do away neither with the fact that they have succeeded in taking root in our fantasy in the continuity of generations, nor with the fact that from childhood we become closely linked with them and love them, nor with the fact that we find in them some of the most profound ideas to stir humankind….
[It pleases me to see] that such a powerful talent as Tchaikovsky, following the general current of his time, turned to ballet and thus promotes the ennobling of musical taste in this sphere also….The Russian way in music, besides being strong in Tchaikovsky in recent years, is the issue at hand. The music completely suits the costume, the characters; in it there is a French nuance, but at the same time it savours of Russia.
In addition to the 190 performances conducted in Russia by Riccardo Drigo, there was a staging at La Scala in Italy in 1896, starring Carlotta Brianza (who was the original Aurora). Petipa was infuriated that in 1899 without his prior knowledge, Alexander Gorsky mounted his version with the Bolshoi in 1899. There were subsequent revivals based on the version staged by Konstantin Sergeyev (which was itself based on Petipa), and this is still a reference for contemporary stagings.
Revivals were made easier by the fact that beginning in 1891 some of Petipa’s ballets were notated with a method developed by Vladimir Stepanov. The project was subsequently taken up by Nicholas Sergeyev, régisseur of the Imperial Ballet. He left Russia at the time of the 1917 revolution, taking his notations with him and using them as the basis for stagings in the West, including for the first London performances.
In 1916 Anna Pavlova had presented a short version in the United States choreographed by Ivan Clustine with scenery and costumes by Léon Bakst. The first full production in the U.S. was given in Philadelphia in 1937 by Catherine Littlefield’s dancers. And in 1939, Nicholas Sergeyev’s production made history with the portrayals by Margot Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann with Vic-Wells. The company then called the Royal Ballet produced the first of their grand versions in 1946 at Covent Garden.
Sleeping Beauty has been performed probably more times than anybody can count. Though there have been various productions on stages and even on ice, yet the choreography created by Petipa is still the basis for most of them.
Although of course live performances are most exciting, for home viewers there are a number of DVDs available. (See notes.) Among those recommended is the performance filmed with the Royal Ballet in 2006 to celebrate the 70thanniversary of the version that was mounted on the company in 1946—just after World War II. As an indication of how things were back then, citizens who loved ballet contributed their clothing coupons so that the company could buy fabric to make costumes.
The 2006 staging, in contrast, has lavish backdrops and exquisite costumes. The choreography too had been updated from the version inherited from Petipa, with additions by Sir Frederick Ashton, Anthony Dowell, and Christopher Wheeldon. There are all kinds of details to notice and enjoy.
In addition to the Royal Ballet DVD, of their performance, also recommended is their online program about the preparations that were made, with a scholar’s presentation about the literary, psychological, and historical aspects of the story based on the fairy story by the French author Charles Perrault.
notes and explorations:
The suggested DVD is on the Opus Arte label, filmed in 2006 but issued in 2008: The Sleeping Beauty, The Royal Ballet (with BBC). Choreography: Marius Petipa, with additions by Frederick Ashton, Anthony Dowell, and Christopher Wheeldon. Production: Monica Mason and Christopher Newton after Ninette de Valois and Nicholas Sergeyev. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Valeriy Ovsyanikov. Leading cast: Alina Cojocaru as Princess Aurora; Marianela Nunez as the Lilac Fairy; Federico Bonelli as the prince; and Genesia Rosato as the bad fairy Carabosse.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kl-zGm4UWEs Fascinating introduction: The Royal Ballet comments by director Kevin O’Hare. Hour and a quarter program as preview to their live production. Monica Mason (formerly dancer, then director and producer) directs a rehearsal and explains pantomime of bad fairy; Jenny Bavidge provides a history of the ballet’s story and background of versions from folklore and literature; O’Hare and Christopher Newton speak of the productions by Royal Ballet starting after World War II; discussion of costume designs with actual costumes from previous productions; comments about the music. Several dancers highlight physical demands of fairy roles.
In 2018 the Royal Ballet issued another DVD of Sleeping Beauty, this time casting Marianela Nunez (who had portrayed the Lilac Fairy in the 2006 film) as Aurora, with Vadim Muntagirov as the prince, and Alina Cojocaru as the new Lilac Fairy. This Opus Arte release is also on Blu-Ray.
Australian Ballet with Elizabethan Melbourne orchestra conducted by Barry Wadsworth. Lavish 1984 production by Maina Gielgud. Christine Marsh as Aurora; David Ashmore. On Kultur DVD.
Harking back to its roots in Russia, this ballet can be seen in 1989 filming of the Kirov Ballet. On RM Arts label. Viktor Fedotov conducting. Choreography uses the Sergeyev revision. Artistic director, Oleg Vinogradov.
A particularly stunning film of The Sleeping Beauty was performed on ice, totally choreographed by the modern dance artist Lar Lubovitch, only on Kultur VHS. Uses Tchaikovsky’s music, arranged and conducted by Bramwell Tovey, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Two Olympic medalists star: Rosalynn Sumners of the U.S., and Robin Cousins of the U.K. Fourteen other leading skaters were recruited also from Canada and Germany, as well as from the U.S. and U.K. Because they could do such amazing spinning and leaping—and throwing of the women—the performance can seem breath-taking. Among the highlights are the polonaise and mazurka by the entire cast. And the adagios are simply wonderful. Unusual sets designed by Michael Seymour, a real live baby and some magical touches. Unique!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEGZQXRL0Ww Good news! This is a recent You Tube mounting of Lar Lubovitch’s choreographic version for ice skaters. Even though an old film, still wonderful. Enjoy!
Scores to Sleeping Beauty: 1) Full orchestral study score, edited by Carl Simpson (Serenissma Music, Inc. available online; no location indicated in published score, no date). 2) Piano reduction, Kalmus (small size, no date. Available online). 3) Piano reduction arranged by A. I. Ziloti, hardcover (St. Petersbutg: Compozitor Publishing House, 2007); 4) Spiral bound piano reduction, arr. Z. Ziloti (Polonius Sheet Music, 2013, printed in U.S.). This obviously is most convenient if you are going to play from it.
For dance history buffs who like to know the names of original cast members: in the 1890 premiere: Carlotta Brianza was Aurora; Pavel Gerdt was Prince Désiré; Enrico Cecchetti portrayed both the bad fairy Carabosse and Blue Bird. Moreover, he choreographed Blue Bird. Marie Petipa was the Lilac Fairy. Incidentally, the prince in the ballet has been called different names: Désiré, or Florian, or sometimes Florimund.
For further details about the early performances, as well as a description of the plot, dance scenes, and scenic aspects, see George Balanchine and Francis Mason, Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Great Ballets, revised and enlarged edition (Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1977) pp. 540-58. They also offer critical opinions—both positive and negative—about various productions up to 1977.
Roger Fiske in his Ballet Music, p. 50, provides notated music and text for Vive Henri Quatre, which Tchaikovsky used for his grand finale.
The opening quotations from Alexandre Benois are from his memoirs as translated by Roland John Wiley, A Century of Russian Ballet: Documents and Eyewitness Accounts, 1810-1910 (Alton UK: Dance Books Ltd., 2007 republication of work originally published in 1990 by Clarendon Press), pp. 386, 388.
Alexander Bland, The Royal Ballet: The First Fifty Years (Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1981) pp. 80-81 has color pictures taken from the 1946 production of The Sleeping Beauty, and pp. 83-87 gives an account of the company’s move to Covent Garden. The company gave 78 performances of their 1946 Sleeping Beauty production.
This is a 2018 article by Rosemarie Gerhard entitled “The Sleeping Beauty Now and Then,” in which the author describes what the Russian ballerinas did originally, and then Dame Margo Fonteyn with the Royal Ballet. It seems safe to say that Fonteyn was the one to establish the expected traditional poses in back attitude during the Rose Adagio.
A b&w clip of Fonteyn performing this can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmbI8azLrS8
For information about the Maryinsky Ballet 1999 revival of Sleeping Beauty and how the ballet had been received by various Soviet audiences, see Tim Scholl, Sleeping Beauty: A Legend in Progress (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004). Most astonishing is the proposed revised story for The Sleeping Beauty, to be called the Sunny Commune, fixated on the revolution of the proletariat, and transforming Aurora from a fairytale princess just coming of age in her adolescence, into the “Dawn” of a new Sunny Commune age. Scholl’s book makes riveting reading, not the least for his translations of Russian reactions to The Sleeping Beauty over its first 100 years.
some ongoing assessments:
One assessment a century after composition of Sleeping Beauty was in John Warrack’s little essay in the program book for the Royal Ballet’s 1994 American tour, p. 23:
No ballet score of Tchaikovsky’s possesses a finer flow of brilliant, attractive, memorable ideas; but these make their full effect because of the strength of the musical design….for what his structure here requires is a skilful sequence of ideas, well contrasted and presented in attractive orchestration, to match the undemanding, unreal prettiness of the fairy story. Given a scenario as attractive as Vsevolozhsky’s and a choreographic plot as intricate and efficient as Petipa’s, he recognized that he was working with men of the highest professional skill; and he was resolved to match their standards with music of the kind for which he knew he had a special talent. He claimed to owe much to Delibes, and at the time of writing The Sleeping Beauty was studying Adam’s Giselle. But he far overtakes this example, for as no other composer of his day, he was the master of music which, while enchanting the senses, contains a sense of physical movement needing completion in dance, and uses dance as an instrument of drama.
Such observations are echoed by many of today’s dance historians. For instance, here are comments from Carol Lee’s Ballet in Western Culture, pp. 212-13:
Tchaikovsky had remarkably fine instincts with respect to ballet music. While his orchestration was richly textured, he avoided spectacular effects. His musical themes were ample and striking, and he used them as leitmotivs in successive waves of long crescendos. His three ballet scores…are among the world’s best and most performed….Tchaikovsky built on what he had learned from his research and composed ballet scores of such beauty that beyond their presence in ballet companies they are recorded for listening pleasure by orchestras worldwide. Since Tchaikovsky’s lifetime, numerous choreographers have also used his eminently danceable concertos, symphonic poems, and opera scores with enormous success….
from Roland John Wiley:
Always highly recommended to both dancers and musicians: Roland John Wiley, Tchaikovsky’s Ballets: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker (Oxford: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press, 1985). Chapter 4 analyzes the music, with notated examples. Chapter 5 gives information about the first production. The author concludes (p. 192) “The magnificent production of 1890 remains unparalleled in later stagings of the work. No impresario, save perhaps Diaghilev, has expended the money and talent that Vsevolozhsky [the theater director] lavished on the original.”
His description of the Bread Crumb Fairy is on p. 128; of the cat duo, pp. 145-46. He also discusses the sudden use of the piano in Act III perhaps in reference to money and material wealth to come; see p. 149. The quotation from Herman Laroche is from p. 191. The quotation from Petipa’s daughter Vera appears on p. 111. Also see the translated libretto, pp. 327-33.
Particularly important is Wiley’s information about the collaboration, pp. 109-111, his explanation that ballet master’s plan (in other books implied that this is what Petipa gave to the composer) was done six weeks after Tchaikovsky had composed the music.
Concerning tempos, Wiley offers some useful information, p. 151:
For the producer of Sleeping Beauty the most valuable data contained in the Hol [holograph, or original handwritten score] are the tempo markings. Tchaikovsky, knowing nothing of the choreography or of the performers, had indicated tempo in accordance with Petipa’s instructions–with words alone. The metronome markings would seem to represent Petipa’s precise determination of tempo after going over the music, in this likelihood lies their value.
And on pp. 383-84 Wiley gives the precise metronome markings in the holograph score. On pp. 401-411 he gives all the markings & what had been changed in the performance score. Finally, p, 294 note 7 editors of collected works wrote “Metronome tempo markings in the autograph written in later in pencil, in view of their questionable attribution to P.I. Tchaikovsky, are given in parentheses….Also, p. 154 Wiley comments:
Most of the changes in the last two acts seem to have been the result of the producers’ second thoughts at rehearsal, changes made, it appears, with Tchaikovsky’s agreement. For much of the score we have in addition tempo designations, which probably originated with Petipa, and instructions for expressive effects, almost certainly the work of Ricardo Drigo.
Petipa and His Composers
This is the story of Marius Petipa (1818-1910), a French dancer/choreographer who took his remarkable talent to Russia in 1847 and with a secure theatrical position and patronage of the Tsars, created over 50 ballets, including Sleeping Beauty, and set the standard for classical ballet which is revered to this day.
The choreographer brought to his work on Sleeping Beauty many decades of experience. Born in Marseille to a father who was a ballet master and a mother who was a dramatic actress, the young Marius began his ballet training at an early age, and by the time he was nine he appeared on the public stage. By the age of 16 he was also beginning to choreograph. The family had moved to Brussels when Marius was only an infant, and later settled in Bordeaux—a favorable place for the later-famous artist to grow up, for the theater there was second only to those in Paris, and as a young adult, Petipa received training from the famous Auguste Vestris. This led to professional positions in Bordeaux and subsequently for four years in Madrid. Marius also toured with his father to the United States in 1839.
By 1846 Petipa was back in Paris, but a year later Marius was offered a position as premier danseur in St. Petersburg, and four years later he was given a position as second ballet master (while Jules Perrot was in charge—from whom the newcomer learned a great deal). The next ballet master was Arthur Saint-Léon, and when he too was gone, Petipa was promoted and virtually controlled Russian ballet. For some 67 years in all he gifted audiences with both revivals of older works by other choreographers, ballets interpolated into operas, and original full-length ballets created in collaboration with composers who wrote new scores especially for Petipa’s productions.
first collaborative success
The set-up in those earlier years was that the theater had a resident composer/conductor for all collaborations. The first for Petipa was the Italian Cesare Pugni (1802-1870). In fact, Petipa’s first resounding success was with a score by Pugni: The Pharaoh’s Daughter, premiered at the Maryinsky Theatre in 1862. This became immediately popular and was given several hundred performances after the premiere.
Today we can form some idea of what the collaborators’ style was like then and what appealed to their audiences, by viewing either the discs indicated in the notes below, or clicking to the online You Tube performance by the Bolshoi. The story, in brief, begins with an archeologist (Lord Wilson, the role created by Petipa himself) caught in a sand storm. Local Egyptians suggest he join them in a pyramid for shelter, and to pass the time, smoke some opium—which produces a dream in which Lord Wilson is transformed into an ancient Egyptian who saves the Pharaoh’s daughter from having to marry the king of Nubia. This was one of Petipa’s great successes, and viewers of today also seem to enjoy the extravagant settings against which the dancers in pointe shoes and tutus perform classical ballet set to orchestral music that has no suggestion of Egyptian music at all.
about Cesare Pugni
The Italian Cesare Pugni was the son of a clockmaker. In his own career, he certainly had to focus on keeping time! Pugni studied violin, theory, and composition at the Milan Conservatory. During his career as a composer, he showed an unusual facility for writing music for dances very quickly, and to order. It is estimated that he composed all or some of the music for over 300 ballets.
Pugni was successful as a practical musician, and by the age of 30 he became director of music at Milan’s famous theater La Scala. He composed at least ten operas, as well as religious masses and orchestral pieces. But alas, he took to gambling, lost his position, and hoping to find new opportunities moved to Paris with his wife and family, at first experiencing considerable poverty. Fortunes changed, however, and for eight seasons he was engaged as composer of ballet music at Her Majesty’s Theater in London. (Queen Victoria was reigning at the time.) There from 1843, Pugni wrote music for the choreographer Jules Perrot. Among the titles in his outpouring stream of ballet scores were Pas de Quatre, Ondine, Catarina, La Esmeralda, and Le Jugement de Paris.
La Esmeralda was based on Victor Hugo’s novel Notre Dame de Paris. The ballet is still performed in Russia, and it is possible to see online an engaging full length performance by the Kremlin Ballet. The music still sounds dramatic and varied, and certainly supports the story developments as well as the pure dance sections. The original choreography was by Jules Perrot in London in 1844, but Petipa did revivals in St. Petersburg in 1886 and 1889. The music is not all by Pugni, for quite a few interpolations were made of music by Riccardo Drigo, Ludwig Minkus, and several other composers.
Although not one of Pugni’s collaborations with Petipa, it is worth straying for a few words about Pas de Quatre because it went down in history as one of the most famous ballets ever. It all started as an idea of Benjamin Lumley, the manager of Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, to present four of the most famous ballerinas in one program, with the presentation to focus just on their dancing alone—with no story line. The brainstorm ended up in July 1845 with four performances starring Marie Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito, and Lucile Grahn in a work specially choreographed by Jules Perrot with a newly composed score by Cesare Pugni. There are all kinds of tales about the rivalry between the ballerinas, and nearly up to the last minute disputes about who would go last—since “last up” in ballet divertissements meant “best.” How the matter was settled is described in detail by George Balanchine and Francis Mason. Suffice it to say that the manager came up with the brilliant idea of suggesting that the oldest should go last, the youngest, first. The trick worked! So Taglioni, age 41, went last; Cerrito at 28 was next to last; Grisi age 26 before her; and first came Grahn age 24. Apparently they all smiled and looked congenial onstage, appearing hand-in-hand as the curtain rose.
After the premiere the Illustrated London News reported:
No description can render the exquisite, the almost ethereal, grace of movement and attitude of these great dancers, and those who have witnessed the scene may boast of having once, at least, seen the perfection of the art of dancing.
So taken were the audiences and critics with the performances by the unusual gathering of ballerinas, that it is difficult to find mention of the music to which they danced. It would be fascinating to know what Pugni was experiencing standing on the sidelines during all their altercations, and what it was like for him during the creative and rehearsal sessions! Listening to his music today, it sounds very peaceful, and seems perfect in kinetic impulse as well as emotionally “in tune” with each dance combination. In any case, the event certainly did not hurt his career. In addition to his London work for Perrot, Pugni was enlisted to write music for the famous Arthur Saint-Léon’s productions at the Paris Opera, and continued to work with this choreographer when both went to Russia. One of their great successes was The Little Humpbacked Horse.
Today we can form some idea of Pugni’s early style by viewing several online films of Pas de Quatre—including reconstructions with the Paris Opera Ballet and the Kirov Ballet. (See notes below.) But generalizing about Pugni’s style, the dance historian Ivor Guest commented:
Taken as a whole his music was always eminently danceable and compared well with most of the other ballet composers of his time.
Pugni also collaborated with the choreographer Paul Taglioni, who (according to the report in the Marius Petipa website) called Pugni “the greatest composer of ballet music he had worked with.”
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In 1850 Pugni was offered the position of composer of ballet music for the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg, where he continued until retirement in 1869. He also taught at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. In Russia, the composer again worked with Perrot and Saint-Léon, and with Petipa—not only on new ballets. but also on revivals.
In his brief memoir, Marius Petipa listed his original ballets in chronological order and indicated the composers. Interestingly enough, the very first one is The Swiss Milkmaid, which was danced by the famous Fanny Elssler to music by Cesare Pugni. Couple of lines down, Un Mariage sous la Régence, The Parisian Market, The Blue Dahylia, Terpsichore, Daughter of the Pharaoh, The Beauty of Lebanon, The Travelling Dancer, Titania, Florida, The Slave, Le Roi Candaule, and The Two Stars.
A customary procedure which later on Tchaikovsky would not accept, was still prevalent during Petipa and Pugni’s earlier years in Russia. As Cyril Beaumont explained:
If the ballerina were satisfied with her dances, well and good; if not, it was easy to cut the offending numbers, regardless of whether the musical sequence were interrupted or not. Again, there were few scruples at borrowing favourite numbers of proved success from old ballets in order that the ballerina should repeat her former triumphs; the possibility that they might not accord with the new production was immaterial!
As a consequence of this practice, Pugni’s music was probably heard in many ballets for which he was not the primary composer.
The next composer to have an ongoing position in the St. Petersburg theater was Ludwig Minkus, and he has already been introduced in connection with his musical collaboration for La Bayadère produced in 1877. In Petipa’s list there are also these ballet titles with music by Minkus: Camargo, Le Papillon, The Bandits, The Adventures of Peleus and Thétis, Roxana, The Daughter of the Snow, Frisac the Barber, Mlada, Zoraya, Night and Day, The Magic Pills, Kalkabrino, and Les Offrandes a l’Amour.
There are some other composers on Petipa’s list, but the next major ongoing one was Riccardo Drigo (1846-1930). His scores included The Talisman, The Awakening of Flora, The Pearl, and Harlequinade. Like Pugni, Drigo was Italian and spent many years as a composer-in-residence for Russian ballet. He was equally known for his conducting and arranging.
Born in Padua, the young Riccardo was encouraged in music by his father (a lawyer) and at age 14 was enrolled in the Venice Conservatory. By age 18 he was already working professionally as rehearsal pianist at the theater in Padua and other opera houses. He moved up to conducting operas for 10 years and composed several himself, in addition to concert and vocal pieces.
Drigo’s first offer from the Russian theaters was in 1868, to come and conduct a six-month season of Italian opera. He was then 32, and as things turned out, Drigo stayed for 40 years, gaining many honors along the way, not the least being praise from the Tsar. His first success as a conductor of ballet was with Pugni’s La Fille du Pharaon. With that, his future was assured. But in addition to conducting and composing original music for Petipa’s new ballets, Drigo was kept busy creating some 80 insertions into older ballets for revivals.
Some listener/viewers consider Drigo’s best ballet score to be the one he did for Petipa’s last full-length new production: Les Millions d’Arlequin, presented at the Hermitage Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1900.
In Balanchine and Mason’s book, the choreographer Balanchine recalled that as a child in Russia he danced in this ballet. Later when he was a student at the Imperial Ballet School, he danced an adult part. Calling Petipa a “brilliant creator of dance,” Balanchine went on to comment about Les Millions d’Arlequin:
What I liked about it was its wit and pace and its genius in telling a story with clarity and grace. It was a very different kind of ballet from The Sleeping Beauty, and showed the range of his genius.
Les Millions d’Arlequin had a great deal of influence, I think, on ballet history, becoming the model for comedy narrative.
In 1950 Balanchine arranged some of Drigo’s music from the original ballet as a pas de deux for Maria Tallchief and André Eglevsky, and in 1965 he staged the entire score to his new choreography for New York City Ballet, beginning with 32 children (recalling his own youthful experience in Petipa’s version where they were to represent larks). He did not recall the exact steps from Petipa, but tried to to emulate the quality.
A fascinating program comparing Petipa’s style with Balanchine’s setting of the same score by Drigo can be seen online. Held at the Guggenheim Museum as part of their Work and Progress series, the speaker was Doug Fullerton of Pacific Northwest Ballet, and the dancers were from both that company and New York City Ballet. It is well worth watching. Music was played by pianist Cameron Grant of New York City Ballet, and the lecturer gave an interesting history of Italian commedia della’arte.
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In 1886 when Ivan Vsevolozhsky decided that it would be good to enlist composers from among concert symphonists, he nevertheless kept Riccardo Drigo on, for both his conducting and composing as well as for attention to revivals of ballets with scores by other composers.
After the winter seasons, the musician would normally go back to Italy for engagements in the summer. During World War I, however, he left in 1914 and did not come back for two years—when he was welcomed all round. Surprisingly, Drigo stayed during the time of the Russian revolution, and it was then that he had perhaps the most difficult time in his life. An account appears in the International Encyclopedia of Dance article written by Joseph Gale, and it includes the following information:
Two fur coats and a box containing most of his decorations, awards, and other valuables were stolen during his last years in Russia. One of the decorations, the Order of Commander of Saint Vladimir, elevated him to the status of nobility and assured him of a comfortable pension. After the Revolution he was told he could receive the pension and his royalties if he became a Russian citizen, but Drigo, now seventy-four, preferred to spend his final years in the country of his birth. He was repatriated in 1920 (in exchange for eleven prisoners of war), taking with him only the unpublished score of his last ballet, The Romance of the Rosebud.
The unattributed article in Wikipedia gives a differing and more grim account. For many years, Drigo had lived in the Grand Hotel, but he returned to Russia to find the building had been converted to offices for the new Soviet government. Then:
For a time Drigo was forced to live in considerable poverty in a camp with a group of his fellow Italian émigrés. He later recalled in his memoirs the many cold evenings he spent with his close friend and colleague Alexander Glazunov waiting for hours in bread lines and subsequently carrying their rations through the snow on a sled.
Finally when he was to return to Padua to live out the rest of his life:
Allowed to take only 60 kilograms with him, Drigo left all of his belongings in Russia with the exception of a collection of his manuscript scores, which he used as a pillow during his two-month journey to Padua.
Once safely back in Italy, the composer accepted a position with the theater in Padua where he had started his career so many years before. He composed a comic opera titled Flaffy Raffles in 1926, and three years later had another opera performed. He also did some conducting and composed sacred and secular vocal music. Riccardo Drigo died in 1930 at age 84.
As an indication of the admiration given to the ballet music that Drigo wrote, his unattributed biography on the Wikipedia website gives a sampling of reactions. Regarding Le Forêt enchantée:
The music of this ballet is outstanding in a symphonic sense, reveals an experienced composer, a man with taste, and an excellent orchestrator. There are beautiful melodies in it, the rhythms are not overdone, and everything is listened to with pleasure from beginning to end.
Regarding the music for Petipa’s ballet Le Talisman, the artist Alexander Benois later wrote:
It was Drigo’s simple and charming music that had attracted me. In fact I had been so delighted with it at the premiere that I could not stop applauding and even felt compelled to exclaim: “Mais puisque, excellence, c’est un chef-d’oeuvre!”
And a professional critic wrote about The Magic Flute in 1893:
Mr. Drigo astounds the listener with his ability to create a near limitless variety of beautiful dansante rhythms and melodies, all the while including rich, almost symphonic orchestration.
views of later musicologists
After reading a few then-contemporary opinions and learning even a little bit about such specialist composers for ballet as Cesare Pugni, Ludwig Minkus, and Riccardo Drigo (who were all invited to come from other countries to work at the flourishing theaters in Russia), one can only puzzle about the castigations of so many later music historians who applied the label “hacks” to their talents.
A more practical viewpoint of music by Minkus and Pugni—and one probably more applicable to the mid-19thcentury Russian theatrical practices—can be found in Vera M. Krasovskayay’s paragraphs on music in her Petipa entry as translated for the International Encyclopedia of Dance:
They had an intimate knowledge of the contemporary ballet scene and were well versed in the rich variety of dance forms at the time. Their music was impulsive, flexibly tuneful, and eminently danceable. Petipa valued it for its convenient tempi and meter, plasticity, and resilience, all of which stimulated the imagination; the naive character of the music matched the naive content of his ballets. The music was not without its own imagery….In short, music was not the deciding factor in a ballet; rather, it was auxiliary material. It did not prompt dance imagery but was completely at the service of the choreographer, who remodeled it as he saw fit, to suit his needs.
Nowadays there is a re-evaluation, and the word “hacks” mercifully seems to have disappeared from accounts by music historians in connection with these specialist collaborative composers of the past. They were not presuming to be great symphonic composers like Tchaikovsky; rather, they were carrying out musical services—and on short-order at that.
More and more, music and dance historians are coming to appreciate some of the qualities and ingredients that contribute to effective music for theatrical dance—particularly in the melodies and in the rhythmic underpinnings. Moreover, modern choreographers are discovering that some of the older music is appealing enough for them to set brand-new dances for audiences of today.
But going back to the past: after initial years when the talents of many foreign-born dancers and musicians had been enlisted, over time the directors of Russian ballet developed stellar home-grown dance artists and instrumental musicians. And as a consequence of the Russian theater director Ivan Vsevolozhsky’s change of policy regarding no more single resident composers, subsequently on Petipa’s list of collaborators after Tchaikovsky came Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936). Glazunov was (like Tchaikovsky) mainly a composer of concert music. Also like Tchaikovsky, he wrote only three ballets, all for the Russian Imperial Theatre.
The first ballet that Glazunov composed for Petipa was Raymonda, set in the Middle Ages in Provence. Its premiere conducted by Riccardo Drigo in 1898 was a great success, and there continue to be performances especially of Act III with its Hungarian dances. This was a ballet that Glazunov wrote when he was only 32 years old. It has beautiful and dramatic music and is well worth watching on DVD. The story got handed down that in his brashness, the composer gave his score to his publisher even before the choreography had reached final form. And Petipa apparently was angry with cause because this newcomer did not want to agree to any cuts or changes in his composition!
However, Glazunov did learn more about how collaboration for the theater has to work. Subsequently, Petipa thought to have Glazunov write music for his Harlequin ballet to be staged in 1900, and to have Drigo compose a different short ballet for the same occasion at the Hermitage Theatre. However, when the two composers talked about the upcoming program, they realized that each felt better suited for the other’s project. So they switched, and Glazunov’s contribution turned out to be the charming one-act ballet Ruses d’Amour. For a program the following month at the Maryinsky, his Les Saisons was included, with scenes of winter, spring, summer, and autumn. It featured not only attributes of nature, but also gnomes, fairies, birds, naiads, satyrs, fauns, the spirit of Corn, and the winds of Zephyr.
Both the full-length Raymonda and the two shorter ballets are full of lush orchestration and distinctive melodies and forms. One DVD that is enthusiastically recommended is Nureyev’s stupendous staging of Raymonda for the Paris Opera Ballet. (see notes.) The performers are amazing throughout, but particularly special is the final act with its Hungarian style music and dances.
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How did these collaborations fit into Glazunov’s musical life? Born in St. Petersburg, he was the son of a father who was a wealthy publisher and amateur violinist; his mother, an excellent pianist. The young Alexander began formal piano lessons early on and also from about the age of 11 started to compose his own pieces. When his early teen-age compositions were brought to the attention of Alexander Rimsky-Korsakov, that composer took him on as a private student. Part of his studies included learning to play many instruments—which obviously helped him when it came to orchestrating his ballet scores.
As an adult, in his music and activities, Glazunov was a champion of his country’s musical traditions and was taken under the wing of the wealthy Mitrofan Belyayev, who devoted a great deal to promoting the talents of Russian composers.
Glazunov’s professional career included not only composing, but also conducting and teaching, and importantly, he was director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory from 1905 until he left Russia permanently in 1928 to live in Paris. He died in 1936 at the age of 70.
Among the works he left behind that continue to be performed are certainly his three ballets. His two concert waltzes are also quite beautiful and sound “danceable.” There is also a suite Scènes de Ballet that includes a marionette dance, a mazurka, a waltz, polonaise, and several other movements that might well lend themselves to theatrical dance. And choreographers through generations have found Glazunov’s music so attractive that they have set dances to some of his other scores. The majority of Glazunov’s output were mainly instrumental concert works: eight full symphonies plus many other orchestral works; concertos for piano, violin, cello, and saxophone; seven string quartets; piano pieces; and songs. And as mentioned previously in the essay about Les Sylphides, Glazunov orchestrated some of Chopin’s piano music for the ballet created by Michel Fokine, and he assisted Rimsky-Korsakov in preparing a performable score of Borodin’s opera Prince Igor.
With his scores for Petipa, Glazunov was fortunate in seeing some of the most famous dancers perform to his music. For instance, in the premiere of Les Saisons, there were names that dance artists will recognize even now: Anna Pavlova, Lucien Petipa (brother of the choreographer); Nikolay Legat, Mikhail Obukhov, Pavel Gerdt, Marie Petipa, and Olga Preobrazhenskaya.
In the modern Broadway show Chorus Line, one character sings of how everything is beautiful at the ballet, a world in itself. And indeed, the history of this theatrical genre can often be characterized by several aspects: a respite from the rest of life; satisfaction in difficult physical achievement; a projection of perfection in skills; and a dedication to the work of bringing together so many people with diverse talents in order to produce a particular ballet.
But in their real lives, dance artists and musicians in the world of ballet—like most people—have always had difficulties and challenges, some self-made, some beyond their control (as with illness or physical disability); some due to cultural values around them; some due to wars and other disasters.
Petipa’s career flourished until late in life (he was still working at age 80). Tastes were changing among public audiences and theater directors. But the choreographer took things very hard at the end when he felt he was being shoved aside. Pugni’s gambling and drinking caused his family hardship. One should say several families, for he had eight children with his first wife, eight more with his serf wife, and died destitute. Tchaikovsky had to deal with severe emotional depressions and the ongoing fear that his homosexuality would be exposed in public (at a time when there would be severe consequences). Drigo suffered the consequences of war and being a foreigner in Russia. And Glazunov? Well, it seems that his “devil” was drinking alcohol—which sometimes had disastrous results when he was conducting concerts, according to his wife. One would have wished for these artists that they might have been spared life’s imperfections, for their creations continue to add something special to our lives.
But back to the “beautiful” onstage world and The Sleeping Beauty, here is the comment that Petipa added in his list of ballet works, with regard to the 1890 premiere: “Enormous success.” Yes indeed!
notes and explorations:
https://petipasociety.com/about/ A link to the Marius Petipa Society’s informative website. Includes illustrated biographical information about the choreographer. [Unattributed]. There are also excerpts from Alexei Ratmansky’s recent versions of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, including the grand pas de deux reconstructed from notes by Pavel Gerdt. Also photographs and biographies of Petipa’s colleagues and information about his ballets. Also link to an excellent presentation at the University of Michigan, by Tim Scholl discussing Sleeping Beauty and challenges of mounting reconstructions of it including the staging by Alexei Ratmansky. Scholl also makes the point that we can’t reconstruct the audiences!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marius_Petipa Unsigned but very good information about Petipa’s life and works.
For an introduction to Petipa in print, see IED, V. 5, pp-149-62, entry by Vera M. Krasovskaya.
https://academiccommons.columbia.edu/doi/10.7916/D8JH3K3P Lynn Garafola’s translation of The Diaries of Marius Petipa is unavailable in print now, but can be downloaded with no charge at this website. Originally published by the Society of Dance History Scholars, Studies in Dance History, Spring 1992. This is a unique source through which to gain some “slice of life” idea of what the career and life of this famous choreographer were like, at least in his elder years, when he was quite beset with skin illness. Among daily details, readers will discover how cold the outdoor temperatures were, what rehearsals Petipa had, which dancers were out sick, whether he won the lottery, how his daughter Vera was doing in class, the fact that Drigo came to say good-bye before departing for Italy, the news that Russia had a constitution in October 1905, and that previously Petipa had gone to the consulate for his gold palms—which he received at age 87, thinking that it was time!
Marius Petipa, Russian Ballet Master (Memoirs) edited by Lillian Moore, translated by Helen Whittaker (London: Dance Books, republication of 1958 edition). This is a book the choreographer wrote late in life sort of to vindicate himself when he was being elbowed out of the theater that he had so long served. Not too informative about his career except for a few anecdotes, but does have his own chronological listings of ballets and productions and a list of the operas for which he contributed dance sections.
The only lengthy biography in English is Yadine Meisner, Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). The author, a former dance critic, also holds a Ph.D. in Slavic languages, and both her notes and bibliographic references in Russian script attest to her understanding of various materials. She acknowledges that exploring musical aspects of Petipa’s works is not within the scope of her coverage. But for readers who are looking for information about the choreographer’s career and family, there is that focus, plus interesting descriptions of the actual theaters in Russia, the bureaucrats, the tone set by tsars, and individual well-known dancers from those times. Starting p. 208 is a section about the “Music Reform” and chapter 9 titled “Big Music, Big Dance” discusses each of the Tchaikovsky ballets briefly.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1oa9iYkRMs Act 1 of The Pharaoh’s Daughter performed by the Bolshoi Ballet. 28 minutes. Very colorful, and gives us an idea of the style and the music of Pugni.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPUsHboG4do A 33-minute clip of Pharaoh’s Daughter, Act 2. The daughter of the Pharaoh wears pointe shoes and a blue tutu! One viewer commented: “Beautiful music!” After Pierre Lacotte revival. Viewers found the dancing excellent. It can be noted that while there was much interest in “exotic” stories and locations in 19th century Russian ballet, later on in the U.S. modern dancer Ruth St. Denis was to latch onto such themes too, however concentrating not on stories but in atmosphere and trying to evoke some sense of the physical bodily movements in dances from other cultures. But she too did not use the music of other cultures.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKZsFjYOEIo A 44 minute clip of Act 3. Much pantomime and drama, and a satisfying apotheosis.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twT9BnkpZ6A excerpt of Bolshoi performance from La Fille du Pharaon. Good example of the clear musical phrasing expected by choreographers then, and kinetic underpinning for various kinds of dance movement.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNKZqTzXoIw Sir Anton Dolin reconstructed and choreographed a similar gathering memorializing Pas de Quatre with Alicia Alonso, Carla Fracci, Ghislaine Thesmar, and Eva Evdokimova.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owp5qhsJhvI Anton Dolin tells about his reconstruction of Pas de Quatre. Unfortunately very brief, but shows the challenges.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4k-sRqwk_8 Five-minute excerpt with Nina Ananiashvili, a Georgian ballerina, with Darcy Kistler, Rose Gad, and Tatyana Terekova. Cesare Pugni’s Pas de Quatre.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPAEI3wIi7I Paris Opera Ballet Pas de Quatre. Soirées Jeunes Danseurs (2001) Choreography: Jules Perrot (Restaged by Ghislaine Thesmar). Music: Cesare Pugni. Dancers (in order of appearance): Miho Fuji (Lucile Grahn) Peggy Dursort (Carlotta Grisi) Myriam Ould-Braham (Fanny Cerrito) Christine Peltzer (Marie Taglioni). Lovely film.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9F_nQ05TcTY Ondine 10-minute clip, music by Pugni, choreography Pierre Lacotte.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znm9vA5iFnc Kremlin Ballet, a little over 2 hours, La Esmeralda. A grippingly tragic story, and beautifully danced performance. The music is always emotionally evocative. (By Pugni, Drigo, and others.) The scene about Diana and Acteon has been moved to the last act as an entertainment for the aristocrats. For a listing of the specific dances and indications of the composers for each section in La Esmeralda, see Naughtin Ballet Music, pp.212-18.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–On-XzM9Wk A lovely pas de trois excerpt from The Little Humpbacked Horse with choreography by Alexander Gorsky, music by Cesare Pugni. Only six minutes.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCL0VgYjUYs Excerpts of performance of La Vivandiere, music by Pugni. Ends with fabulous male solo.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWpGlQrbffY Lovely clip of Harlequin, Russian dancers.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMLA9feb38I Les Millions d’Arlequin reconstruction by A. Mishutin, 2017.
For a detailed description of the plot and performances of La Fille du Pharaon, see Cyril W. Beaumont, Complete Book of Ballets (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1938) pp 391-400. The quotation about ballerinas’ choices is from p. 387.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pharaoh%27s_Daughter A brief description plus an explanation of the plot for The Pharaoh’s Daughter.
The information about Pas de Quatre was drawn from Balanchine and Mason, pp. 412-17. Also from Cyril W. Beaumont, pp. 250-54.
The quotation from Ivor Guest is taken from his entry for Pugni in the IED. Ivor Guest wrote the introduction to the 1970 facsimile of the 1845 Pas de Quatre publication. Available now for over $1,500, an indication of how historically important the event was.
https://petipasociety.com/cesare-pugni/ This is an excellent introductory biography of Cesare Pugni, based on the research done by California poet Donald Sidney-Fryer, which resulted in the five-volume study described below. The Society’s account includes a long listing of the composer’s works by category. Highly recommended for succinct overview.
Donald Sidney-Fryer’s five-volume set (edited by Alan Gullette) is titled The Case of the Light Fantastic Toe: The Romantic Ballet and Signor Maestro Cesare Pugni, as well as their survival by means of Tsarist Russia. (Phosphor Lantern Press—no address, 2018). Available through amazon. This chronicle offers an appreciative feel for going back in time to survey the more than 300 works of the ballet composer in Milan and Paris, and notably in London for Jules Perrot and in Russia for Saint-Léon and Petipa. Despite the caution (inserting words such as “evidently…probably…may have…it seems that” etc.) in presenting biographical information that obviously was difficult to gather, the chronological thread is unique in English. The lengthy translations of then-contemporary press reviews are fascinating and attest to the appreciative audiences for Pugni’s music for ballet, his ten operas, and his purely instrumental works—even a symphony for two orchestras in canon! Offers commentary about the composer’s career, the important musicians in his life, the theaters themselves, collaborative practices for ballet, and the tastes of audiences in various locations. Pugni impoverished himself through gambling, and the author explains that in those days, Italian opera houses had gambling rooms to help pay for the production of operas.
Apparently the poet/author worked on his determined researches since the 1950s, writing from 1980 until 1999, and finally publishing this five-volume work just in late 2018. The books can also be downloaded via kindle. This is not a musicological analytical study, rather one of cultural history that can be understood by readers who are seriously interested in the history of Romantic ballet in Europe. Many details, obviously, with each volume around 500 pages. Generalizing about Pugni’s style and other ballet music of those times, Donald Sidney-Fryer had this to say:
While surely less than austerely beautiful, such…music hovers in actual accomplishment somewhere between the lovely and the pretty, and is usually well-bred, elegant, and possessed of considerable charm. It does not aspire in any way to greatness…[yet] it can on occasion surprise us with a poignant moment of grandeur, or perhaps of refreshingly old-fashioned sentimentality.
The mannered grace; the endlessly lilting cadences; the warm, facile, but unassuming lyricism; the studied inconsequentiality and insouciance of much of the thematic material (especially for the set dances); the pleasantly glib quality of the dramatic moments; the then much-prized aery lightness: –these are all some of the chief characteristics which inform Pugni’s ballet music and give it mood, atmosphere, and personality….At their best the facile and fashionably elegant scores furnished by Cesare Pugni for the choreographic masterpieces of Jules Perrot…possess a charm no less delicate and fragrant of the period….Pugni’s ballet music is true period music, in the way fashionable or popular music tends to be, and far more characteristic of its time in history than the music produced by the so-called great masters, not usually held to be such unequivocally until after their demise. [Vol. I, p. 175]
And in Volume III, pp. 1408 and 1409, the historian again emphasized how Pugni’s music for ballet stood out in his own time:
Make no mistake about it: whatever less than elevated opinion that connoisseurs and musical historians may hold of his ballet music today, he had achieved something extraordinary as a creative artist….
Pugni’s purely dance music…is invariably catchy and kinetic, impelling the feet to move in time with the dance’s cadence, one of the principal features about it that caused all types of ballet dancers during the last almost thirty years of the composer’s life to prefer it to almost all other types of ballet music in particular and of dance music in general.
The documentation notes for all these books are in the last volume. For readers eager to delve into the vast details of Sidney-Fryer’s account, here are the general topics:
Vol. 1: Early life of Pugni in Italy and Paris; London working with Jules Perrot.
Vol. II: In Russia; collaborations with Perrot, Saint-Léon, Petipa.
Vol. III: Still in Russia; other composers—Minkus and Drigo; summary of styles.
Vol. IV: After Pugni: Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, others.
Vol. V: Last of Victorian Ballet Theatre; ballet in London; overview of later comments in reference works; reiteration of general styles. Notes for all five volumes; appendices; information about extant scores; Russian glossary.
Although it contains relatively little specific information about Pugni, yet another source of related information is Ivor Guest, Jules Perrot: Master of the Romantic Ballet (London: Dance Books, 1984). On p. 126 he has a nice quote from London’s Morning Post about Esmeralda that certainly indicates contemporary admiration for Pugni’s score:
The music of the ballet is, from end to end, highly descriptive and characteristic; the air of the truandaise, the plaintive transition when “the curfew tolls the knell of parting the day,” the charming violoncello instrumentation in the third tableau, as well as the spirited chorus dances, are instances of infinite talent.
https://imslp.org/wiki/Main_Page Petrucci Music Library offers free downloads of musical scores in public domain—including some by Pugni.
Cesare Pugni, Music from Five Ballets, edited and introduced by Robert Ignatius Letellier (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012). Includes piano reduction of Pas de Quatre reproduced from London publication of 1845. Especially nice to be able to see the music used for the historic performances by each of the famous ballerinas! The other ballets, all reproduced from 19th-century editions, are: Ondine, Esmeralda, Catarina, and Théolinda. Letellier’s introductions are always of interest, and he includes a synopsis for each ballet. It should be noted that the Ondine choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton for Margot Fonteyn used modern music by Hans Werner Henze, not Pugni’s original score.
Cesare Pugni, Pharoah’s Daughter, edited and introduced by Robert Ignatius Letellier (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012). Reprint of piano score. This was the first big success that Pugni had collaborating with Petipa.
https://petipasociety.com/riccardo-drigo/ Illustrated brief biography of Drigo.
For a brief but helpful article about Riccardo Drigo and his ballet scores, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riccardo_Drigo
A very good brief overview of Drigo’s career is article by Barrymore Laurence Scherer, “Toast of the Czars” in Ballet News, January 1982, pp. 26-28. Also see https://www.nytimes.com/1983/03/27/arts/three-composers-who-knew-what-dance-needed-barrymore-laurence-scherer.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_millions_d%27Arlequin A good overview article about Les millions d’Arlequin with music by Drigo.
The quote from George Balanchine was taken from Balanchine and Mason, p. 290.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5ih3xDYPq0 Program at Guggenheim Museum in their series Works and Process, comparing Petipa and Balanchine versions of Harlequin, with history of the Commedia dell’arte genre (including dances from 1892 Nutcracker). New York City Ballet dancers and those from Pacific Northwest Ballet, with PNB education director Doug Fullington. Cameron Grant, piano. Demonstration of how scenes are reconstructed using the long-ago notations, also explaining ways in which the music helped to develop the characters. Compares a variation reconstructed from Petipa, and Balanchine’s version. 1 hour 15 minutes.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00UUR0OAE/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 Spiral-bound digitally reimaged piano score for Drigo’s Harlequin.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLoLNQBouLE A rare film of Drigo’s Magic Flute score performed by National Ballet of Cuba, after choreography by Lev Ivanov.
https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/02/arts/dance/02serenade.html A 2010 review by Roslyn Sulcas in The New York Times of Peter Martins’ choreography for The Magic Flute.
Editions: The full orchestral score of Raymonda was published by Kalmus (expensive, but available). There is a spiral-bound piano solo reduction of Raymonda available from Performers Reprint, 2008. There is also a piano score of The Seasons in Performers Reprint edition.
The Ballets of Alexander Glazunov: Scènes de Ballet, Raymonda, and Les Saisons edited and introduced by Robert Ignatiuus Letellier (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012). The first ballet is reproduction of 1895 edition for two-piano parts; Raymonda (from 1981 Moscow edition) and Les Saisons are solo piano reductions. Letellier begins his introduction with this praise:
Glazunov represents one of the greatest natural talents in the history of music…. His emotional world seems to have been centered in the atmosphere of the classical Russian ballet…..He was the composer of four masterful dance compositions….All became major works in the sunset of the Imperial Ballet, and remain landmarks in the history of theatre music for the dance.
In Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Ballet (p. 468) the choreographer stated: “Glazunov’s music for Raymonda contains some of the finest ballet music we have. And Petipa’s original choreography, which I remember from my student days at the Maryinsky Theatre, was superb.” He went on to say there were problems with the story, and to report on several versions (including Nureyev’s) that sought to address that.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymonda Provides brief history of performances and revivals of Raymonda, plus outline of dance sections.
https://www.amazon.com/Raymonda-Noureyev-Marie-Agn%C3%A8s-Martinez-National/dp/B074Q1ZBGX/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Raymonda+Nureyev&qid=1600293688&s=movies-tv&sr=1-1 This is streaming, at small charge, for Nureyev’s splendid staging of Raymonda with Paris Opera Ballet. This is truly in the “masterpiece” category as far as performance is concerned—especially exquisite is the final act with Hungarian style music and dances. Colonne Orchestra conducted by Kevin Rhodes. There is also a documentary DVD for purchase in the series of Dancer’s Dream.
https://www.nytimes.com/1987/07/12/arts/ballet-the-bolshoi-s-raymonda.html This is Anna Kisselgoff’s informative review in The New York Times, of the Bolshoi’s 1987 performance of Raymonda in New York, revival staged by Yuri Grigorovich. Provides some historical perspective too.
A DVD of Raymonda is available in the version choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich based on both Petipa and Gorsky, produced by NHK in 1989 on Arthaus Music label performed by the Bolshoi Ballet, and Theatre Orchestra conducted by Algis Zhuraitis and starring Natalya Bessmertnova (wife of the choreographer), Gedminas Taranda, and Yuri Vasyuchenko. It seems splendid, and the dances for the men look particularly vigorous. Viewers will hear, in addition to good accompaniment for lyric sections, waltzes, a Spanish dance, a czardas, modal melodies and ornamentation that do suggest Hungary as well as the Saracen’s culture, a touch of glockenspiel for pointy dances.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFWZaBLi2yU Raymonda full ballet originally produced in connection with Bel Air for Bolshoi HD showings in theaters. Pavel Sorokin conducts. Cast features Maria Alexandrova, Ruslan Skvortsov, and Pavel Dmitrichenko. A sparkling musical performance. 2 hours. Choreography by Yuri Grigorovich after Petipa and Gorsky. Solo dancing is quite special, and corps is spectacular. Many sections of the score are familiar from concert performances—notably the beautiful waltzes and the Hungarian section. The Bolshoi have put out a CD set—just the soundtrack from Raymonda. In addition, director Yuri Grigorovich and Victor Vanslow co-authored a book about the ballet in 1987, translated by Alexander Kroll, issued by T.F.H. Publications: The Authorized Bolshoi Ballet Book of Raymonda. It is fascinating how the Soviet viewpoint was injected even into a description of the music. Page 15:
His music is full of optimism, it is closely connected with folksongs. Simple, intelligible and clear—his music is perfect in form. It glorifies the beauty and greatness of man, tells about the joy of life, about the transient character of grief and suffering. It glorifies the immense vastness and the beauty of Russia’s fields and rivers.
Fields and rivers. Hmm. Not sure exactly which part of the score that is in.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPwh2gR2n1M Raymonda: Reclaiming a Classic. Tamara Rojo, artistic director of the English National Ballet, describes how she was adapting Raymonda for a premiere slated for January 2022. This documentary was shown on World Ballet Day 2021 and includes Lucinda Coxon talking about how she worked on a new narrative, setting the story in the Crimean War. Rojo labelled Glazunov’s music as “exquisite and overwhelming, the most extraordinary score ever written for ballet.” Music Director Gavin Sutherland characterized the score as “absolutely ravishing, gloriously Romantic” and went on to talk about the kinds of changes he made, to demonstrate the leitmotifs, and to mention the use of both cembalon and hurdy gurdy. Clips of the dancers rehearsing are included.
Sorry to say, the new production was panned, though theater-goers still found the score by Glazunov glorious. The criticism centered around the changes in the story, characterized in the review below as a “tangled reimagining.” It should be noted that the choreographer Tamara Rojo was announced to head up San Francisco Ballet. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/19/arts/dance/raymonda-english-national-ballet-tamara-rojo.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pxf-urQe_AQ An unidentified but beautiful contemporary ballet performance of The Seasons, apparently Mariinsky as televised.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pByceAzSjqw This is a recording that can be heard as the orchestral score to The Seasons scrolls automatically.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxHNSlpXzvk Most unusual to hear online: Glazunov conducting a 1929 orchestra recording of The Seasons on Columbia label.
Also for The Seasons, there is a Telarc 2006 CD conducted by Edo De Wart and Minnesota Orchestra. Each season has several sections, for different dancers. This CD also offers a performance of Glazunov’s Scènes de Ballet.
Alexi Ratmansky made an exquisite setting of Glazunov’s Seasons for American Ballet Theatre. A pas de deux from it, to adagio music from the “Autumn” section, was performed by Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside and shown on the internet as part of the company’s pandemic-time program filmed at New York’s City Center and made available in March 2021 as a fundraiser for ABT fans everywhere. Originally choreographed in 2019 to celebrate Ratmansky’s 10th anniversary with ABT.
https://observer.com/2019/05/alexei-ratmansky-triumphantly-opens-american-ballet-theatre-spring-season-review/ An enthusiastic review by Robert Gottlieb of ABT program at the Met in New York, featuring a number of ballets choreographed by Ratmansky, ending with his first viewing of The Seasons.
March 17, 2022 review of San Francisco Ballet performance of Ratmansky’s Seasons, just after he quit Russia during the invasion of Ukraine. The company actually co-commisioned the choreography, and Rachel Howard writing in the San Francisco Chronicle reported exuberant audience reception to the local premiere. At least we can see photos included in article.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlI5OkUgHZw Delightful recording of Glazunov’s Ruses d’amour with the score scrolling. Includes libretto in French indicating pantomime. Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Algis Zhuraitis. 52 minutes. The story revolves around social dancing, and plan to see whether a Marquis is interested in marrying just for wealth or for personal attraction. So maid and mistress disguise and change places. Of course the Marquis falls in love with the maid, who is actually the lady he is supposed to marry. Many dance forms, and lush instrumental settings with many different tone colors. The score includes a sarabande, a farandole, a dance for marionettes, waltz, march, scene for villagers’ dance, a French melody introduced by horns, a grand pas de deux featuring violin and cello duets, and other music in a sweet traditional style, also obvious pantomime and movement sections. The fast finale has a spirited return of the opening melody and is titled La Fricassee!
An excellent CD of Ruses d’amour was recorded in 1987 by the Romanian State Orchestra conducted by Horia Andreescu and released in 2010 by Naxos.
Diaghilev’s Sleeping Princess
The most important facts to know about Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929) are that he was a Russian art connoisseur who founded the Ballets Russes in 1909 in Paris, attracted outstanding dancers such as Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina, and continued running the company until his death in 1929. He commissioned new choreography from Michel Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Bronislava Nijinska, Léonide Massine, and George Balanchine. Equally stunning were the musical scores he elicited from Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Darius Milhaud, Erik Satie and others. As for the collaborative visual artists: Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Georges Rouault, and Natalia Goncharova. Big names in their day.
This talent in attracting collaborating artists made Diaghilev a leader in thrusting theatrical ballet into the modern age. Additionally, however, among the impresario’s major efforts was the introduction to Western European audiences of outstanding works by Russian artists—not just by those who were living at the time, but from the past as well. He awoke the heroine who had never traveled to England, and premiered The Sleeping Princess (same Tchaikovsky score, just different title—Beauty to Princess) in London at the Alhambra Theatre on November 2, 1921. It had been partly reorchestrated by Igor Stravinsky, and there were splendid sets and costumes designed by Léon Bakst. Diaghilev engaged Nicholas Sergeyev, former ballet master at the Maryinsky Theatre (then fortunately living in Paris) to reconstruct Petipa’s choreography with the aid of Stepanov notation (a written way of documenting choreography for future productions).
Diaghilev and the composer Igor Stravinsky had interpolated some music from The Nutcracker. In the new Prologue, the Lilac Fairy danced to the same music as the Sugarplum Fairy had in Nutcracker. The Arabian and Chinese dances were also interpolated for Act III of The Sleeping Princess. And the coda of the grand pas de deux in Act III became a character dance for Innocent Ivan and his brothers.
In addition to the choreography as handed down from Petipa, there were some new dances by Bronislava Nijinska. There were a few problems with foliage on the opening night, but otherwise, things went pretty well. The biggest subsequent problem turned out to be that offering ongoing performances of just a single full-length ballet did not attract the numbers of London theater-goers necessary to sustain the tremendous costs.
Diaghilev expended a lot of love on this production, but also a lot of money. Previously the theater’s arrangements had been that the presenting visiting companies would collect all the receipts and pay rent to the theater. In this case, however, the theater took in the proceeds, and everybody had expected that The Sleeping Princess would run for six months and turn an appreciable profit. That didn’t happen. Instead, the ballet closed sooner, running for 115 performances from November 1921 to February 1922, and the original co-producer, Sir Oswald Stoll, impounded all the costumes and sets to cover the debt that Diaghilev owed. Furthermore, the Ballets Russes was prohibited from performing in England until late in 1924.
The Sleeping Princess was never revived anywhere. However, Diaghilev was able to salvage something from his efforts, to present a one-act Aurora’s Wedding at the Paris Opéra in 1922.
Unfortunately we can’t see films of The Sleeping Princess because Diaghilev never allowed any filming of the Ballets Russes. So what we have as witness are words. For instance, here are some from Cyril W. Beaumont, who attended many London performances as well as being privileged to observe prior rehearsals:
I could have confined myself to the theme of La Belle au Bois Dormant, but since the revival may be regarded as having considerable resemblance to the original, I have preferred to describe this glorious ballet in detailed action as I saw it night after night for some three months. This production was a landmark in the history of ballet in this country [England] and many years will pass before its like is seen again.
Beaumont gives us some clues about musical revisions from the original Russian production, reporting the principal changes occurring in the last scene:
The dances for Cinderella and Hop o’ my Thumb, his Brothers, and the Ogre were omitted, and their places taken by the Danse Arabe and Danse Chinoise borrowed from Casse Noisette, the Tale of Bluebeard and the number called Innocent Ivan and his Brothers. Another introduction was the Danse de la Fée Dragée from Casse Noisette, which was rendered by the Lilac Fairy in the first scene. The last-named variation followed the standard version by Ivanov, but the several numbers mentioned above, together with the mimed scene Hunting Dance and Aurora’s variation in Scene III, were arranged by B. Nijinska.
In his introductory information, Beaumont reports that the Prelude to Scene 3 and Aurora’s variation in Scene 3 were both orchestrated by Igor Stravinsky. Commenting about Tchaikovsky’s original score, however, the writer could not refrain from being ecstatic:
The score is full of lovely melodies, sparkling silvery music, entrancing to listen to and a joy to the dancer, who seems borne on waves of glorious sound. There is no composer whose work is more danceable than that of Tchaikovsky.
And Stravinsky, working on the score for the London premiere of The Sleeping Princess, wrote a letter to Diaghilev expressing an equally admiring attitude about Tchaikovsky and references to French regal times:
This cultured man, with his knowledge of folk song and of old French music, had no need to engage in archaeological research in order to present the age of Louis XIV; he recreated the character of the period by his musical language, preferring involuntary but living anachronisms to conscious and laboured pasticcio; a virtue that appertains only to great creative minds. I have just read again the score of this ballet. I have instrumented some numbers of it which had remained unorchestrated and unperformed. I have spent some days of intense pleasure in finding therein again and again the same feeling of freshness, inventiveness, ingenuity and vigour.
notes and explorations:
information: Some of the information about Diaghilev’s production of The Sleeping Princess was drawn from the IED article by Susan Au.
Concerning the financial consequences of Diaghilev’s losses in connection with The Sleeping Princess, Lynn Garafola made the following observation in her book Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (Da Capo Press 1998 edition of the work originally published in New York by Oxford University Press in 1989) pp.223-24:
Most significantly, the economic failure of The Sleeping Princess made very plain the inadequacy of “free enterprise” as a system of artistic production. In the summer of 1922 Diaghilev explored various ways to stabilize the company on a new financial basis….As it turned out, Princesse Edmond de Polignac placed a “sum at Diaghilev’s disposal that enabled him to save the company and proceed with the strictest economy” while through her good offices, the Ballets Russes became a resident dance troupe of Monaco’s Theatre de Monte-Carlos.
Whereas Tchaikovsky, Petipa, and everyone else involved in the creation and performances of the original Sleeping Beauty had the support of the Tsar (who at the time was said to be the richest man in the world), according to Garafola, after his London experience, Diaghilev came to recognize that:
…high art enterprises could no longer survive in the private sector without large and regular infusions of cash, but that with costs and risks so high, no single individual could be expected to assume the role of a permanent Maecenas.
Summing up the changed economic situation, Garafola concludes (p. 236):
Thus, from 1918 to 1922, the logic of the marketplace completed the process, set in motion in 1909, of transforming the Ballets Russes into a modern business enterprise. Now, to an ever greater degree, fluctuations in the business cycle, competition, and the forces of supply and demand held the company as surety in the scramble for profits. The transformation of the dancer from “free artist” to wage worker betrays yet another sign of this “modernization,” as the dance boom, through its reserve army of competitors, toppled Diaghilev’s dancers from their erstwhile position of privilege. From 1918 to 1922 Diaghilev revealed ballet modernism to Europe’s war-weary audiences. But he also revealed the limits of the commercial marketplace as a haven for artistic enterprise. The crisis precipitated by the failure of The Sleeping Princess drove home a lesson Diaghilev never forgot. Henceforth, government largess would underwrite at least some portion of his Ballets Russes.
For a loving account of The Sleeping Princess by Cyril W. Beaumont, who attended performances “night after night for three months,” plus some prior rehearsals, see his Complete Book of Ballets (New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1938) pp. 454-82. The quotation in this essay is from p. 476. The concluding quotation about Tchaikovsky’s score is from p. 477. For a specific list of the numbers in Aurora’s Wedding, see p. 482.
Constant Lambert, longtime conductor/composer for Sadler’s Wells Ballet, wrote an exceptionally perceptive essay on “Tchaikovsky and the Ballet,” included in Robert Gottlieb’s book Reading Dance (New York: Pantheon, 2008) pp. 1171-75. (Originally in Gordon Anthony, Sleeping Princess Camera Studies (Routledge, 1940) pp. 15-26.
In her book Ballet in Western Culture, Carol Lee reported that “Western dance historians have generally considered the revival of The Sleeping Princess a grand artistic success. But there was simply not a large enough British dance-following to support a half-year run of one ballet.” [ p. 264.]
Also see Nesta Macdonald, Diaghilev Observed by Critics in England and the United States 1911-1921 (New York: Dance Horizons/London: Dance Books, 1975) pp. 268-285. P. 282, reports packed house every night; her account seems to attribute the loss rather to the fact that Diaghilev agreed to have costumes and scenery made at considerable cost to the theater management, with over-runs. [p. 270-71]
The cast of Diaghilev’s version: Olga Spessivtzeva, Princess Aurora; Pierre Vladimiroff, prince; Lydia Lopokova, Lilac Fairy. The original Aurora, Carlotta Brianza now appeared as the bad fairy Carabosse!
Richard Buckle, Diaghilev (New York: Atheneum, 1984). Biographical account of the impresario’s career and personal life. The book offers quite a bit of financial detail concerning the challenges of being an independent impresario. The information about the cuts in the score is drawn from p. 388.
It is worth mentioning that Léon Bakst, the designer for Diaghilev’s Sleeping Princess, set the ballet first in the time of Henri IV (King of France 1589-1610) and then after the awakening, in the time of Louis XIV (who reigned 1643-1715). The original concept of The Sleeping Beauty was to recall the glory days of Louis XIV, and that is why the apotheosis was supposed, for a few minutes only, to feature a glimpse of Apollo as Louis XIV. However, more often nowadays in productions of The Sleeping Beauty, it is the Lilac Fairy who holds center-stage focus at the end, blessing the newlywed couple.
Fiske (p. 51) gave excerpt of letter from Stravinsky.
Nureyev and Classical Tradition
“No sounds are more thrilling than Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty,” declared the late Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993). And after his defection from the Soviet Union in 1961, countless audience members felt that this male dancer was thrilling to watch in classical ballet. For some thirty years in the West, he performed many diverse roles, including first the prince and later the bad fairy in Sleeping Beauty. From 1983 until 1989 he served as artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet and set both inherited choreography and his own versions of the classics on a number of other companies.
The first role that Nureyev danced in Paris was that of the prince in Sleeping Beauty—starting to rehearse with the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas one week after his defection. In 1989 Nureyev mounted his own revival of Sleeping Beauty on the Paris Opéra Ballet, based on traditions he had imbibed when he was in the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg (home of the original Sleeping Beauty choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1890). The heritage from Nureyev is most unusually documented in the Dancer’s Dream DVD listed below. Many of the ballet artists attest to Nureyev’s dedication to continuing the style developed in St. Petersburg by Marius Petipa and to maintaining a high standard of classical technique. The 20th century dancer also expanded the roles of male dancers—for instance, adding a lengthy solo for the prince in Act II of Sleeping Beauty.
* * *
Every ballet company has its own style, stars, conductors, and choice of tempos for the music. Just as contemporary musicians can play classical works from centuries ago thanks to now-standard musical notation, similarly ballet artistic directors of today can mount their own revivals of classical ballets. They may omit sections or change the order of dances, or the use of the music. Nevertheless, the same basic work can be recognized though the stagings may vary. This is partly because the movements and styles have been handed down dancer-to-dancer through many generations, but also because several systems of notating dance movements were invented. Additionally, films help maintain traditions.
There are interesting differences even between the same artist’s choreography for Sleeping Beauty, but on different companies. As an example, there is Rudolf Nureyev’s 1972 version for the National Ballet of Canada that can be compared with the DVD of the 2000 revival by the Paris Opera Ballet.
The DVD showcasing the Canadian company offers a glimpse of Nureyev’s talent in his youth as both dancer and choreographer. He not only staged The Sleeping Beauty, but also performed the part of the prince, and choreographed a long solo for the prince in Act II. Some fairy dances were omitted, and the Act III characters were limited to bluebirds and cats. The waltz music originally scored for the third act’s gold fairy was used by Nureyev for an additional solo for the prince.
Musically one of the highlights is the performance by the violinist in Act II. The violin solos in Sleeping Beauty are very virtuosic—going from melodies played on the lowest string to high harmonics. Tchaikovsky as he was composing knew to whom he could entrust such challenges. For the original production of Sleeping Beauty, these solos were played by Leopold Auer. This musician, a Hungarian by birth and education, was in Russia from 1868 until the revolution in 1917, teaching at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. (His methods were widely esteemed, and his published graded books for students are still used today including in the U.S.) Simultaneously he was first violinist at the St. Petersburg Theatre. Until 1906 he played almost all of the violin solos in the ballets—appreciated by both Petipa and Tchaikovsky, who once praised the violinist’s expressivity and poetic interpretations. Auer moved to the United States in 1918 and did make some recordings—which listeners may be able to hear in certain libraries.
The main choreographic highlights were kept in the Canadian production: the Rose Adagio, the Bluebird, the grand pas de deux at the end, and the beautiful scene with naiads, Lilac Fairy, the prince, and the vision of Aurora in Act II. The panorama of the boat wending its way through the mist and forest is quite special. Other highlights are certainly the prince’s solos in Act II, and the sarabande that opens Act III with the men in elaborate costumes with feathered hats and high boots. Their slow syncronized movements are remarkably striking in the details.
In his IED entry, writer David Daniel spoke of Nureyev’s “sublime aristocratic poise” in his production for the Canadian company. Also, generalizing about the artist’s performances, Daniel pointed to his “highly poetic style and eloquent legato phrasing based on an acute musical awareness.” In concluding his encyclopedia article, the writer observed that Nureyev’s performances of Romantic ballets were “without rival in his time and have become the models with which present and future interpreters must contend.”
Paris Opéra revival
For comparison with the Canadian film, there is a DVD of the Paris Opera staging by Nureyev, plus a fascinating documentary of the company’s preparations to revive this version. For musicians, it may be particularly humbling to watch a slice of the work done by ballet mistress Patricia Ruanne, who seemed to have every movement of every part stored in both her brain and her body. Additionally it seems that she could sing and summon any musical phrase from this full-length ballet, even if what she wanted were only patterned sections rather than melodic ones. She had worked alongside Nureyev when he was mounting his version, and said she felt a responsibility for overseeing a new production without the former dance artist at her side. She needn’t have worried! The film of the resulting performance attests to the company’s mastery of classic traditions for Sleeping Beauty.
The Kirov Ballet
After seeing Nureyev’s filmed productions in the West, it is most interesting to watch the DVD that the Kirov Ballet made of Sleeping Beauty in 1989. This is the St. Petersburg-based company in which Nureyev made his debut as a dancer—and which he left in order to defect from the Soviet Union in 1961. But because of its history, the Kirov’s version of Sleeping Beauty continues to be regarded as a standard of classical style based on the choreography of Marius Petipa. Their production was based on the revision by Konstantin Sergeyev. Writing about this in 1981, the ballet historians Mary Clarke and Clement Crisp commented:
Meticulously preserved in Leningrad, which to this day honors its illustrious past—the Kirov Ballet’s presentation is still the ideal production of this masterpiece.
And offering a similar viewpoint, Balanchine and Mason wrote:
In Leningrad itself, The Sleeping Beauty remains the work that shows Maryinsky-Kirov dancing at its purest and most poetic.
The Kirov dancers get things off to a magical start as the fairy corps all wearing tutus and wings enter en pointe to offer a charming waltz. There is stately music—and our ears alert us that of course the king and queen are present. Sounds of harp and clarinet suggest that worthwhile fairy gifts are being bestowed: such as beauty, wisdom, wit, musical and dance ability. Solo fairies each have distinct music for their personally distinctive dance movements. And the Lilac Fairy is elegant indeed.
Among the nice touches to appreciate in the Kirov film is the sense that in Act II after the courtiers leave and the Lilac Fairy’s theme is heard (with a few pitch changes as variant) the prince immediately senses something beyond what he knows. And when the vision of Aurora is summoned by the Lilac Fairy herself, there is a corps of dryads dressed alike. The prince dashes in and out among them, searching for the one he is to love. All this calls to mind the scene in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake where that other prince searches for the Swan Queen, going in and out among the look-alike swan maidens. Musically, Tchaikovsky used cello and oboe solos for beautiful romantic melodies, in both ballets.
In some accounts of the scenario, it is suggested that Aurora is 20 years old when coming of age. However, the Kirov sticks with the tradition that she is only 16—and this is certainly more believable in relation to the music and the dances that she performs in Act I. The Kirov’s ballerina exudes youthful charm, curiosity, enthusiasm, and pure delight in just being alive at her birthday celebration. She is also not going to be quick to pick one of the four courting princes from abroad! When she is awakened from 100 years of suspended animation, she is still joyful, but somehow matured enough to be pleased about a prince asking her to wed. Everybody around her enters into the joy by dancing a group mazurka as a grand finale.
Throughout these filmed performances, among the interesting things to see and hear are the varying tempos at which different dancers perform the same or similar choreography.
Views from Margot Fonteyn
It seems appropriate to close this section with some observations from the prima ballerina assoluta Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991). She set high artistic standards with her performances in the role of Aurora, and her partnership with Rudolf Nureyev is now legendary. She had this to say about him in her 1980 book The Magic of Dance: “He changed the face of ballet by setting a completely modern image.” But going on to trace his lineage as a classical artist in the Russian tradition and its roots in Europe, she wrote:
Nureyev, the Tartar born on a long train journey across Siberia to Vladivostok, on the Sea of Japan, and raised in Ufa, at the foot of the Ural Mountains, graduated from the Leningrad ballet school in 1958 to make his début straight into principal roles at the Kirov Theatre….
Nureyev has an impeccable lineage in classical training that reaches back in a direct line to the great teachers of France and Italy in the early 1800s. Nureyev’s teacher was Alexander Pushkin, a charming little man with few words but a prodigious understanding of the body’s ability to master movement….
Pushkin taught for many years at the Kirov School in Leningrad. Among his teachers had been Nicholas Legat…a famous dancer who left Russia as an émigré from the Revolution and settled in 1926 in London, where he lived and gave classes in a building next to the present Royal Ballet School. At the age of twelve, I took lessons with him for a short time….
Legat had been a pupil in St. Petersburg of the great teacher Christian Johansson, a Swede who had trained in Copenhagen with Bournonville, who had studied in Paris with Auguste Vestris in 1820. Johansson used to accompany his lessons on a little violin, as did all the early dancing masters.
In concluding her brief outline of Nureyev’s heritage, the ballerina commented that the combined store of knowledge from all the old teachers, “treasured in the Leningrad ballet school, is every dancer’s heritage.” However, her partner went beyond that tradition, she wrote, noting that “anyone who generates so much sheer excitement onstage as Nureyev makes the stuff of magic, and that is what matters.”
Although Fonteyn’s book is largely about other dancers in history, yet near the end of her engaging volume, she did devote a few pages to the music for ballet, observing:
It would be rather absurd to write so much about dance without mentioning music; the two are so interlinked that for a ballet to be successful it should have music that at the very least is appropriate to its subject and the period of its presentation….
And addressing Tchaikovsky’s scores in particular, Fonteyn wrote:
How hard it is now to grasp that people could have been bewildered by the novelty of this music! It is so clear and so expressive of the action at every point; every emotion is there, waiting only to be danced in the spirit in which it was composed—and, for that, the dancer has only to hear with the heart.
…Music, supposedly, affects only one of the five senses, but could there not be a sixth sense associated with physical response? Instead of “tangible” or “visible,” could there not be “danceable”? Anyway, it is a fact that Tchaikovsky’s ballets are supremely so.
notes and explorations:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkAHSXki4eI Splendid filmed performance from La Scala with their corps de ballet. Conducted by Kevin Rhodes, choreography by Rudolf Nureyev. Regal settings and gorgeous costumes! Diana Vishneva and Roberto Bolle in lead roles.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Oyy8uxURjo Performance by National Ballet of Canada in 1972 with choreography by Rudolf Nureyev, who also performs as the prince. Veronica Tennant stars; George Crumb conducts. This is available on DVD below.
Video Arts International DVD of 1972 performance shown by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. National Ballet of Canada. Staged by Rudolf Nureyev based on Petipa. Nureyev also portrays the prince; Veronica Tennant is Aurora. Orchestra of the National Ballet of Canada, conducted by George Crum. 87 minutes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNqVhddnbiQ This is an excerpt of the Canadian DVD of just Nureyev’s solo in Sleeping Beauty.
Dancer’s Dream: The Great Ballets of Rudolf Nureyev; Sleeping Beauty, a TDK DVD filmed in 1999 tracing rehearsals to performance, narrated by Elisabeth Platel (shown preparing role of Aurora) and with documentation of the work by Ballet Mistress Patricia Ruanne in restaging this classic for the Paris Opera Ballet. Orchestra conducted by Vello Pahn. Manuel Legris was preparing role as Prince Desiré. Highly recommended.
Rudolf Nureyev’s The Sleeping Beauty, Kultur 2000 DVD with Ballet de L’Opéra de Paris, with Aurélie Dupont and Manuel Legris in lead roles. Conducted by David Coleman. Choreography and original staging by Nureyev; restaging by Patricia Ruanne. This is the finished product of all the work shown in the previous DVD, albeit with a different Aurora. This includes the prince’s lengthy solo that Nureyev had added. The Lilac Fairy is virtually a walk-on part with no dancing; she wears a full-length gown. Costumes and sets are splendid—as are the group dances by both men and women. The last act omits some character dances, but includes the cats, the bluebird, and the “precious stone” fairies in different colors, including silver woman and gold male partner. Instead of a spindle, Nureyev had a sharp needle delivered in a bouquet of flowers on Aurora’s 16thbirthday. Nureyev emphasized the regal settings by highlighting several group court dances. Also a nice remote-controlled boat. A production to enjoy, especially after watching the rehearsal DVD. The violin soloist was Maxine Tholance.
A fine documentary of Rudolf Nureyev’s biography and career was made when he was still alive, on the Kultur label: Nureyev: A Portrait (produced by Patricia Foy). It includes unusual glimpses of remote Ufa where he grew up, clips of the ballet school he attended, with documentation of some of his famous roles and clips of actual productions. (Omits talking about his 10-year battle with AIDS, or his personal life.) An excellent introduction to one of the great artists of the 20th century. For some 25 years as a dancer in the West, he would appear in 250 performances a year.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAqmm9rAPXk Rudolf Nureyev: Dance to Freedom BBC film (recreation of many episodes) 1-1/2 hours.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8G0N3EJPlfo&index=3&list=PLyjYj_nwLSvXoax0V2twm-xxCkFV8VJ4i&t=0s Part 2 of BBC 2007 BBC documentary (parts 1 and 6 are blocked); sequential parts (through 5 ) follow. “From Russia with Love.” Includes clips such as his 1958 performance of slave in Le Corsaire during a competition, an on-location in the airport retelling of the story of Nureyev’s seeking asylum in France—by the man who arranged it so quickly.
DVD distributed by Image Entertainment: The Sleeping Beauty. Kirov Ballet, filmed in 1989 by RM Arts in Montreal, Canada for broadcast on Canadian television. 129 minutes. Artistic director, Oleg Vinogradov. Conductor, Viktor Fedotov. Includes charming children from Canadian ballet schools, in the floral garland scene. Starring Larissa Lezhnina and Farukh Ruzimatov. Apotheosis includes flowing fountains.
The praise from Balanchine and Mason is on p. 552 of their Complete Stories of the Great Ballets.
The comment about the Kirov is from p. 252 of Clarke and Crisp, The Ballet Goer’s Guide.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1vVlMp2YTA This is a 1920 recording of Leopold Auer playing a violin piece by Tchaikovsky. Interesting to read the comments from those who listened online—about his sweet tone etc. This is the violinist who played all the solos for Sleeping Beauty in the original production.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QygG9ZFnmfk Another Leopold Auer recording, of a Hungarian dance. Recording made late in his life.
Leopold Auer wrote a book of memoirs, published in 1923, My Long Life in Music, and reprinted in paperback in 2007.
Leopold Auer’s memoir can be read online free via google books.
Because Sleeping Beauty is among the most masterful works of classical ballet, priority has been given here to mentioning filmed performances for viewing—and it was not possible to listen to and review so many CD recordings of just the music! That said, readers may want to explore what is currently available via online listings of amazon. It is helpful to scroll down and read some of the comments by listeners who have purchased various artists’ versions.
Among the offerings recommended is Andre Previn conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, 2-disc set of complete ballet, on EMI label. Via amazon, individual tracks may also be purchased.
The 1995 recording by Antal Dorati and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra certainly elicited diverse comments from listeners, many with interesting reactions to the tempos. And of course, that is an interesting point indeed when conductors and orchestras are giving purely musical performances and not responding to the requirements of specific dancers onstage! 2-disc set.
An even earlier recording, 1986 by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, just excerpt suites from all three of Tchaikovsky’s ballets. And so on. Many labels have issued performances of just the suites.
Finally, a 2-disc set was issued in 2013 featuring the experienced conductor Victor Fedotov (from the Maryinsky/Kirov Ballet) but here conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic. On Audiophile Classic label.
Nureyev and Fonteyn:
Margot Fonteyn: A Portrait. Kultur DVD. Filmed in 1989. Includes a clip with Fonteyn and Nureyev performing the “Black Swan” pas de deux from Swan Lake.
Fonteyn and Nureyev: The Perect Partnership. Kultur DVD. A documentary, but at least has some clips of the pair dancing. Nice to see, even though back then the filmers of theatrical dance were just learning techniques for doing that.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95N4J7B2XWI Documentary of Margot Fonteyn.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmbI8azLrS8 A b&w film from 1955 telecast of Fonteyn performing Rose Adagio. Orchestra conducted by Robert Irving.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCqIEc70iGw John Clifford mounted this updated color film of Fonteyn doing Rose Adagio. Here are his introductory comments (and notice what he has to say about tempos).
Here’s a newly restored video from what I believe is a 1969 film of Margot Fonteyn at age 50! It’s clear her solid technique was still intact, but what is more obvious is the complete joy she portrays, and the correct musical tempo. Too often today the music is destroyed by ultra slow tempi so that the ballerinas can get their legs up higher…but this ruins the drama and logic of the choreography. In this film it’s much clearer the intent of both the composer, Tchaikovsky (in one of his most sublime and exciting compositions for ballet) and the choreographer Marius Petipa. This is supposed to be about a 16 year-old Princess trying to decide on a suitor.
https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Beauty-Margot-Fonteyn/dp/B07DNL1BTN/ref=sr_1_fkmr2_1?keywords=Nureyev+Fonteyn+Sleeping+Beauty&qid=1565141614&s=movies-tv&sr=8-1-fkmr2 Fonteyn with Michael Somes in Sleeping Beauty. Available online viewing. 1 hour 6 min.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margot_Fonteyn Biography of Fonteyn
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Nureyev Biography of Nureyev
The closing quotations are from Margot Fonteyn, The Magic of Dance (London: British Broadcasting Company, 1980) pp. 13; 61-65; 269 and 274.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG7JvpPGdEU The legendary partnership: Nureyev and Fonteyn in the Act IV pas de deux from Swan Lake (the sadder, dramatic one, with oboe solo).