It’s been a bit of a week for finding things. I had a lovely email from a visitor to my site following the last few posts, asking if I knew where to find a piano score of La forêt enchantée which provides some of the material for the Grand pas des éventails in Le Corsaire (see clip below—it’s not in all Corsaires). The only one I knew of, from the wonderful www.balletmusic.ru site, was incomplete, and frustratingly, it’s some of the best bits that are missing. But it niggled me: I had had a score of the waltz once, with all the pages intact—I’ve even recorded it—so like a dog with a bone, I pursued it. Sure enough, here it is, a complete, downloadable piano reduction of La forêt enchantée from the Sergeyev collection at Harvard. As if that’s not enough, it’s got the dedication “to my dear friend Nikaloi Grigorovich Sergeyev from Riccardo Drigo, St Petersburg, 20.1.1910” on the inside title page, in the most elegant cyrillic script.
The Pygmalion solo
The beginning of the “Pygmalion” variation: click the score to download
There’s a solo from the Grand pas des éventails (at 13’15” in the video clip above) from another ballet, Pygmalion that I just happen to have done a piano reduction of. It’s short and sweet, and you can’t use it for much else except the variation, because it soon hares off into a coda, but it’s rather nice. And I can guarantee someone will ask you to play it and there won’t be a score anywhere in sight.
After I’d finished that last post on teachers and their summer school rep, I wondered whether I’d gone a bit too far on the world-weary musicians’ humour. But then the very next day, I was asked if I could locate music for the solo in the video below (sorry if it gets removed, that’s the pain of posting YouTube links. If it does, search for Franz variation, Coppélia, Bolshoi and probably another one will turn up). It’s Coppélia, I was assured. It’s not needed for the summer school I’m playing for currently, but for another that’s happening in a couple of weeks (and all credit to the teacher who knows enough to be looking in advance to get the scores together.)
The video I was shown was from the Prix de Lausanne some years ago, where the solo was announced as Act I of Coppélia, and was in E major. Now I’ve seen a few other videos (including the one above), I’m pretty sure it had been speeded up and pitch-shifted from D. So what? Well, I’d looked through hundreds of pages of scores of Sylvia, La Source, Le roi l’a dit and other ballets, looking for things in E major. It’s not that I wouldn’t have spotted the tune in another key, but a key helps to speed up the search.
How many dancers does it take to identify an interpolated solo?
At dinner last night, about eight illustrious stars of the ballet world sang along with the tune and said “what IS that?!” First answer? Raymonda. The director on my right rang Moscow. “It’s Coppélia.” Yes, so everyone keeps telling me, but WHAT IS THE MUSIC. Because the music isn’t from Coppélia. I had already asked the oracle (Lars Payne) who informed me that the solo wasn’t in the Schott edition of Coppélia which has includes music that was dropped from the first (Heugel) edition of the score.
Someone on YouTube commenting on this solo says “That’s Fille mal gardée not Coppélia.” You never know with YouTube commenters. They’re either mad bots, or they know something. Could it be?
I’ve done a transcription of the music, but I am pretty sure I am going to see it in print one day, because it sounds very familiar. My first thought was that it sounded a bit like Glazunov — it has resonances with that awful Jean de Brienne solo. But Glazunov would surely have had a few middle lines going? The opening really does sound like Delibes, but that middle section with the lazy falling chromatic bass? That sounds more like Lanchbery. Until that point, it sounded like it could have been Minkus or Pugni. I take that back. There’s something really rather fine about this solo, in its melodic construction, and in the voicing of the chords. In that sense, it has quite a different feel to the usual suspects.
Enter Ernest Giraud, wearing a kilt
Could it be Ernest Guiraud, who added a solo for Act 3 (see this article from the Petipa Society)? I’d looked through the scores available on IMSLP, but couldn’t see the solo. Then I hovered over Gretna Green again. Come to think of it, this music does sound like it could be Scottish, rather than Hungarian/Polish. IMSLP only have a scene and waltz from Gretna Green. Is there anything else on the net? Well, yes there is. There’s a manuscript full score at archive.org (on pages 196-201). As I’d done the transcription already, it was easy to recognise what I was looking for, despite the old score and handwritten notes. Et voilà, the mystery is solved. That solo — now the third interpolation for Franz that I know of in Coppélia is from Gretna Green, by Ernest Guiraud.
Gretna Green piano reduction at the British Library
There is a piano reduction of the whole ballet in a few libraries, and this solo starts on page 66. It’s available online at the British Library (direct link to the first page of the solo here). Now that I can see the piano score, it’s clearer that the solo (or whatever it was originally) was quite a bit longer, and the repetitions up the octave in the Bolshoi version are probably as a result of having cut out the middle section.
Doing this kind of transcription work is labour-intensive: I listened over and over to the video, taking down the solo by dictation. Having found the orchestral score, I amended the harmonies I hadn’t been able to hear properly. Now I’ve seen Guiraud’s own piano reduction, I see how I could have made mine simpler. However, audio transcription has it’s advantages. You make the arrangement much closer to how it sounds: for example, the simplicity of Guiraud’s arrangement is at the expense of the doubling of the cello and bass, which is what gives the solo the oomph it needs when you play it for a ballet rehearsal.
More on Guiraud
Guiraud is an interesting person to follow up, judging by my skim through this dissertation on Guiraud’s life and works by Daniel Weilbaecher (1990). Born in New Orleans to French parents, he moved back to Paris to continue his music education. winning—like his father before him—the prestigious Prix de Rome. Gretna Green (originally Le forgeron de Gretna-Green), according to Weilbaecher (see p.71 of his thesis), was the first work of Guiraud’s to be produced at the Opéra in Paris, on 5th May 1873, choreographed by Louis Mérante. The famous Milanese ballerina Rita Sangalli was supposed to have taken the leading role as her Parisian debut, but preparations were delayed and so she made her debut in Delibes La Source instead. Now the interesting thing about that is that it was Sangalli’s specially composed solo from La Source (No. 23 in the piano score from IMSLP) which is one of the other interpolations into Coppélia for Franz’s solo.
Guiraud was best friends with Bizet, and good friends with Delibes (he was a pallbearer at his funeral), and the teacher of Debussy. Weilbaecher is full of fascinating stories that sound extraordinary given the stature now of the people concerned. Shortly after the premiere of Gretna Green, Guiraud was at Lalo’s house with Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Reyer and Bizet. Massenet, it seems, was all over Guiraud, praising his new ballet. Bizet intervened and told Massenet to shut up, and that he “disgusted” him—much as they all loved Guiraud, he said, Gretna Green was not as good as all that, you sycophantic creep. Or words to that effect (full story on p. 74 of Weilbaecher’s thesis). One contemporary opinion was that Gretna Green might have had a much longer life had it not been for the fire which destroyed the Opéra at the end of 1873. Whether or not that is the case, Guiraud was well-known and liked in Paris at the end of the 19th century, and I’m so pleased to be able to identify him as the composer of this solo.
Let’s run through the details briefly again: the teacher wants to do a solo, and says it’s from Coppélia (by Delibes) and is in Act I, and judging by the video, it’s in E major. As it turns out, it’s not by Delibes, it’s not in Act I, and it’s not in E major, it’s from a ballet with a Scottish theme, not a Polish one. The moral of the story? If you’re going to teach a repertoire class, get in touch with your pianist well in advance to make sure they can source the music. That’s how this fascinating journey started, and it has been a pleasure to sort out.
It’s that time of year again, ballet summer schools season, when teachers are supposed to tell you in advance what they are going to do in the repertoire classes, but they don’t decide until they’re making the coffee in the green room on the first day. Then they come into the studio, and see that they have a boy in the class that they weren’t expecting and it all changes again. Or they’re teaching a version of Swan Lake that has an interpolation in it that they didn’t realise was interpolated, and in fact not by Tchaikovsky at all, until today.
I’d bet money on the fact that if you play for summer schools, someone is going to say “Odalisques” to you, and expect you to know what they mean, and to have the score saved on your brain’s USB stick. As an aside, you might just ponder the fact that boys on summer schools get to be princes, heroes, idealists and poets. If you’re a girl? Here, I have a harem chambermaid solo for you.
Repertoire classes in the YouTube era
Repertoire classes have got worse for pianists (and others) since YouTube, because people in Vladivostok post stuff from a rare Soviet gala that they digitized from a VHS tape that they recorded in 1986, someone in a vocational school in England sees it and decides that it would be perfect for Arabella’s solo at the end of year show. For the performance, Arabella plugs her phone into the sound system at the side of the stage, and gets her friend to press play on YouTube, because it’s 2018, and that’s how we roll. A week later, Arabella’s teacher is teaching at a summer school and says knowledgeably “I thought we’d do the third act girl’s solo from The Cobbler of Archangelsk, do you have that?” The recriminations when you say you don’t. “But Arabella did it in Minehead, and the pianist could play it by ear.” Don’t get me started.
People seem to be frustrated when their flesh-and-blood supplier of music (i.e. the pianist) isn’t like YouTube. You can’t type <YAGP Elena Razumovsky 2014> on their forehead and wait for a result. The look of bewilderment when you say you just don’t have something, or don’t know it; don’t get me started.
Odalisques from Corsaire: a typical problem, and now a solution!
The solos from the pas de trois from Le Corsaire for three Odalisques keeps turning up at summer schools and repertoire classes, and I keep printing off the handwritten score from IMSLP. Le Corsaire is in the repertoire of many companies, but you can’t download or buy a score, or rather, the one you can buy is expensive and covered in all kinds of copyright notices because it’s someone’s version. Thank God for IMSLP, and for the two people who uploaded a couple of incomplete handwritten scores from cupboard in Russia somewhere. But these are only just OK. The second odalisque takes up four handwritten pages of score with awkward page turns, whereas in my typeset version, it fits on a single page.
Then there’s that moment where you thought you were safe with the solo, and then the teacher says halfway through the last class, “I thought as we’ve got a bit of time, we’d do the coda.” Have you got the coda? Of course you haven’t, don’t get me started.
Then there’s that other moment where you triumphantly come into the studio with the score, play all the way through to the last page, and oh—wait! What’s that? The teacher looks at you like you just rammed her car at the traffic lights. That’s not how it goes? Maestro, you must have cut some bars out? No, no, no, we don’t need that! Out comes the YouTube clip on the iPad, and you find that there’s another version that you didn’t know about. Don’t get me started.
At least for Odalisques, help is at hand. Here, free to download, is the pas de trois, with the intro, three solos, and the coda. The Bolshoi version and the Mariinsky version (there might be several, for all I know, don’t get me started) have slightly different endings for the entrée and the coda. Because I’m nice, I’ve put both in.
A useful pas de trois to keep by the bread bin
Apart from being useful if you are going to be playing for the actual pas de trois, Odalisques is handy material for class. The opening is a curious mixture of legato, wafty, and allegro-like music. It’s perfect for when you’re not sure what kind of music is needed, because it’s got a bit of everything. The three solos and the coda are all at that slightly awkward in-the-middle tempo that you need for some exercises. For sure it’s not the most interesting music, but it’s useful.
It’s been a bit like smoking: I had tried a couple of weeks without Facebook in Prague in 2014, which was a good practice run for Lent 2016, when turned it off and cut down on Twitter. By the time I saw Jaron Lanier talking about his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Nowearlier this year, I barely needed convincing any more. I had already read Lanier’s earlier book Who Owns the Future? and was so impressed by his thinking that I was ready to listen to anything he had to say about social media. I read Ten Arguments in a day, and like someone who’d gone to an Allen Carr session on stopping smoking, I just went straight to my computer and deleted my Twitter and Facebook accounts, and haven’t missed either of them since.
There were two things in Ten Arguments that pushed me over the edge:
Finding your own passions again: Getting off social media leaves you free to find what drives you, when you’re not being constantly driven, poked, nudged, informed, advertised at, and inflamed by thousands of strangers and companies on social media.
The direction of social media is neither left nor right, it is always down. What drives engagement is negative feelings, outrage, disgust.*
On the second point, I knew Twitter was winding me up, and making me depressed. When I saw the “on this day…” posts on Facebook, I would be embarrassed at how often my posts were of the “THIS IS DREADFUL!” type, with a link to some worthy and miserable story. [Update in November: after a few months, I realized that even apparently serious journalism now operates in the same manner: look at headlines in the Guardian or Independent, and you see the same attention-grabbing headlines designed to feed pre-existing prejudices of the readership]. I also found that once I had started reading on Twitter on the tube or waiting for a bus, I could barely pick up or concentrate on a book any more. Since leaving, I have rediscovered the joy of reading novels.
As for the first, I had convinced myself for a long time that I could never leave Twitter because it was so useful for staying informed. The minute I left, I rediscovered how nice, how different it felt like to do your own research, follow your own nose, or the opposite: just do nothing, and not be inundated with suggestions for articles and books you might read. How lovely not to have to have an opinion on something.
From a different perspective, leaving Facebook and Twitter is about no-platforming. I’ve had enough of the hatred, the stupidity, the alt-right keyboard warriors, the journalist (and MP) “provocateurs” making money by stirring up outrage. Enough.
All the other reasons Lanier gives were enough in themselves, but it was these two that made the biggest impression on me. There was a third reason for quitting that has nothing to do with Jaron Lanier. It was finding out that Zadie Smith more or less shuns social media and the internet altogether. After I’d finished one of her novels, I noticed that she’d given a credit to SelfControl, an app for blocking the internet on your computer while you work, rather like Freedom, except that so far, SelfControl is free. Zadie Smith is probably the writer I admire most. There is something so perfect about her sentences, both in their formation and their truth. I’d give anything to write like her. It might sound stupid, but I thought, if Zadie Smith can write like that without being on Twitter, then there’s no reason to be on Twitter.
I used to say that my reason for staying on Facebook was to stay connected with people, and it’s too useful for work to ditch it. When I look back, Facebook has been instrumental in two jobs in years and years of being on it. In recent weeks, since being off it, I’ve met up with people in real life and had a wonderful time. It didn’t require Facebook, it never did. I’ve also just reconnected (via my contact page on this site) with my best friend from junior school, which has been wonderful. I’ve had a lot of work just by letting people know I’m available.
Velleity: the word we need for Facebook connections
Facebook helps you find and stay connected with people from all around the world. But what then? I only learned the word velleity a couple of years ago (again, thank you Zadie Smith). It means “a wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action.” I don’t know how I lived without that word until now. It perfectly describes how I feel about cigarettes 10 years or so after giving up smoking. If I ever think about smoking at all now, it’s no more than a velleity. That is the level, I feel, of interaction on Facebook. I glance at people and their lives and go “Uh huh OK, nice” and scroll on. Time after time after time. It’s easy, non-committal, and requires nothing of you. They probably do the same to me. If you do meet, it’s because you discover that by chance, you’re going to be in the same place at the same time. You get out of the habit of making plans to see people that matter to you.
How to contact me the old fashioned way
I’m delighted to say that many people have used my site to find me, and contacted me using a form such as the one below. If you fill this in, it comes to me as an email. I’ll reply to it!
*Footnote: Kathleen Turner, in an interview for Vulture, credits a similar line (but in relation to politics) to the American newspaper columnist Molly Ivins, “over ten years ago” so circa 2008.
“Beloveds, these are some bad, ugly, angry times. And I am so freaked out. Hatred has stolen the conversation. The poor are now voting against themselves. But politics is not about left or right. It’s about up and down. The few screwing the many.”
One of the reasons I started blogging was because I was frustrated that journalists and historians tended to focus only on the big names: the stars, the directors, the choreographers, the “game-changers,” the critics and scholars, while leaving out the people who did so much of the heavy-lifting: ballet mistresses, teachers, coaches, notators, assistants. Another category: those dancers who come over during a rehearsal and help you out when those at the front charged with doing so don’t know how to. Insiders know that ballet is a joint enterprise, and that on the dancing side, these are the people who make the ballet world go round, who hold it together, who support and lift everyone in it, who keep the ship afloat and motivate the crew in stormy seas badly navigated.
I wanted to do two things: to say thank you to the people who had explained the ballet world to me when I was floundering, particularly at the beginning of my career; but also, to disrupt the web search results, so that some of the people I admired most would come out of the footnotes to other people’s biographies. It was the early 2000s, and at the time, people believed (perhaps they still do?) that if you couldn’t be found on the web, you didn’t exist.
They weren’t all women, but the fact that men in these roles are also overlooked has, I believe, a lot to do with gender, with the tendency to dismiss supportive, other-directed, compassionate, nurturing and emotionally intelligent behaviour as unimportant “women’s work,” compared to the more attention-grabbing projects of choreography, composition, or building new premises. Joyce Fletcher writes about this in Disappearing Acts:
[C]ertain behaviors “get disappeared”—not because they are ineffective but because they get associated with the feminine, relational, or so-called softer side of organizational practice. This implicit association with the feminine tends to code these behaviors as inappropriate to the workplace because they are out of line with some deeply held, gender-linked assumptions about good workers, exemplary behavior, and successful organizations. In other words, the findings [of Fletcher’s research among female design engineers] suggest that there is a masculine logic of effectiveness operating in organizations that is accepted as so natural and right that it may seem odd to call it masculine. This logic of effectiveness suppresses or “disappears” behavior that is inconsistent with its basic premises, even when that behavior is in line with organizational goals. The result is that organizations adopt the rhetoric of change—moving, for example, to self-managed teams—but end up disappearing the very behavior that would make the change work, such as recognizing the effort involved in helping a team work together effectively.
As an example, she cites a discussion in a manufacturing firm where everyone agrees that “the ability to bring people together, to resolve differences, and make team members feel at ease with each other is something that is very important in getting a diverse group of people working well together,” (p.2) yet these do not get added to a list of core competences because “they are not measurable or something that could be written into one’s objectives.” If you’ve ever had to write learning objectives, or been told to make your goals S.M.A.R.T. you’ll know what it feels like to have to bring yourself kicking and screaming into line with this way of thinking.
This is about women who want to be listened to and taken seriously and to make a difference to the ordinary workplace. Power isn’t just stratospheric. It’s not just about the glass ceiling. There’s quite a lot of women who feel so far from the glass ceiling that that metaphor is a real turn off. This is about how we operate together at every level in the culture, whether that’s around a university seminar, or high school, or a retail store, or whatever. It’s about thinking about who we take seriously, how, and why.
This list is 13 years old, and I could add many, many more to it now (I won’t, because if I start, I’ll end up doing a new Advent Calendar) but it’s wonderful that I still know, work or catch up with most of them today, and they are still every bit as fabulous.
10 Fabulous Ballet Women for International Women’s Day
If I ever get to play what I think of as “a waltz” for class (you know, the rollicking, flowing, swaying kind that has a pendulum swing in it that propels you forward without ever getting tired) , I mentally crack open the champagne. Ninety percent of the time in class, you’re trying to find something that is waltz-like, but not exactly “a waltz.” I suspect the problem is that the waltzes we know from the concert repertoire were made more for ears than legs. I have rarely, if ever, found a suitable moment in a ballet class to play Léhar’s Lippen schweigen (“The Merry Widow Waltz”), yet that’s one of the first tunes that comes to mind when someone says “waltz.” Over ten years, many of the posts on this site have hovered around this topic in one way and another, to the extent that I’ve now created a page listing the “waltz problem” posts.
The sound of three heads turning
Much of the music you’re asked for in class has zen-like conundrums in the specifications. A colleague said he’d been asked by one teacher for a “melting march.” Sounds familiar: I tried to solve a similar problem with what I called a “chameleon-like March by Granados). Waltzes for multiple pirouettes are similarly taxing: you need something slow, but not too squidgy. Rhythmic, but with space for allowing more turns without sounding naff. Elastic and steppy for balancés, but then with three sharp beats that can signify three “heads” for a triple pirouette.
If there’s a model for the tune that can accommodate all this, then perhaps it’s the opening theme of Kaiserwalzer Op. 437 by Johann Strauss II:
But it doesn’t last long, and it’s played so often for classes, you can only use it sparingly.
That’s why Dvořák’s Prague Waltzes is such a find. Like the old slogan for Andrex toilet paper, it’s soft, strong, and very, very long. If you’ll forgive the comparison, the design problems of pirouette music and toilet paper are not so dissimilar. Beats in waltz music need a softness combined with a tensile strength such that they can hold together and stretch without breaking, but also separate with a quick tug when you need them to. And here you have it: pages and pages of pirouette music that does all the right things (though I’ve made a few minor cuts to make it class-ready).
Prague Waltzes is a useful model of what “waltz” can mean. This composition is evidence that waltzes don’t just go “1 2 3 1 2 3” — there’s a whole world of varied accents and tempos and rhythms within a single phrase. Most significantly, in my view, there’s a lift/accent/length/weight, call it what you will, in the middle of the bar rather than beginning, and often a sense of direction towards the third beat, not the first; sometimes there are three separate gestural beats in a bar, not three subsumed into one. Prague Waltzes also provides many examples of how to vary and extend a waltz idea when you’re improvising.
I also love the title, having spent every 14 of the last 15 years playing for the International Ballet Masterclasses in Prague. It’s a city I will associate forever with ballet, playing for some of the best and nicest people in the ballet world. I wish i’d had this music for some of them, however, considering how many hours of pirouettes I must have played for.
Tempo for Prague Waltzes
I left the allegro vivace on this arrangement out of deference to the orchestral score, but to me this doesn’t sound right given what’s on the page, and so the metronome marking range is mine. I like the tempo that Jirí Belohlavek takes it with the Prague Symphony Orchestra (I also like to think they must know what they’re doing with this Czech music). For class, you could take it even slower, and pull it about in different ways as necessary. Belohlavek plays around with the tempo quite a lot for the sake of concert interest, but the opening sections are the kind of tempo which works well for a lot of pirouette exercises.
You’d think that if ballet teachers have a mental model of how a polonaise goes, this would be a distillation of all the polonaises they’d ever heard, the top of the bell curve, just as when you go to buy a door, you expect that the shop will have a selection of them that resembles your idea of what a door is, even if the panelling and materials are different. Polonaises like the teacher’s model should be a dime a dozen in the repertoire, you’d think.
But they’re not. As I’ve written elsewhere there’s hardly a polonaise in the ballet repertoire that you can play for class straight out of the box. They have all kinds of little annoyances in them—2 bar fills, 10 bar phrases, four bar phrases, 5-phrase sections. They’re too slow, or too fast, too lyrical, or too complex rhythmically. So you hunt again, and find another breed of polonaise that, if it was a food product, would have the ominous word flavour on the label. Polonaise flavour. Contains polonaise flavouring. A teacher wrote to me recently, asking why it was that the grand battement on a polonaise she’d tried out for class didn’t work—she wanted to cross-phrase it so the leg went up on 1, 3 and 5 across a two-bar phrase (i.e. 1 2 3 4 5 6—a hemiola, in musical terms). She knew exactly what she was doing, but it didn’t work. I wasn’t there, but I would put money on the reason being that the pianist used a polonaise-flavoured room spray, rather than the eau de parfum.
Triple meter and the polonaise —(trigger warning: meter theory, including some hemiola)
Metrically speaking, the eau de parfum of the ballet teacher’s polonaise is one in which all the beats of the bar are equal, so that if you want to cross-phrase, hemiola fashion, you can. The classic case from the pianist’s repertoire is the opening section of Chopin’s A major “military polonaise” Op. 40 No. 1, or the final polonaise in Tchaikovsky’s Suite No. 3 (used in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations). But many polonaises aren’t like this. They tend, like the middle section of the Chopin polonaise I just mentioned, towards a kind of unequal meter, with the first part twice as long as the second (2+1). Even if you try to play with metronomic accuracy, there’s going to be a pull towards unevenness, either on the part of the performer or listener.
This is a much bigger issue than it might appear on the surface. In Beating Time & Measuring Music in the Early Modern Era ,Roger Grant devotes a chapter to “a renewed account of unequal triple meter” which sets out the problem. Somewhere in the 16th century, triple meter became “grounded in a basic inequality.” Beating duple time consisted of an equal lowering and raising of the hand, whereas triple time involved a lowering (i.e. a downbeat) of double the length of the upbeat. In this form, “triple meter was an unequal meter, similar in nature to the unbalanced meters in five or seven with which we are familiar in the twenty-first century” .
Now get this:
In theoretical writings of the past forty years, however, triple meter no longer garners special treatment. It has become, for the most part, an equivalent of duple meter with different cardinality (that is, a different number of beats per measure). In these theories, triple meter is an isochronous meter—all of its parts are equal in length. This is the result of recent scholarship’s heavy theoretical investment in the properties of equal division and graduated hierarchy. .
Although Grant is here comparing theoretical perspectives, as a ballet pianist, you see this played out all the time in practice, and the polonaise problem I outlined above can be analysed in precisely these terms. The teacher has a conception of triple meter—in the polonaise, at least—in which the 3/4 bar is an isochronous meter, i.e. three equal beats. A lot of music in 3/4 isn’t like this. There is an unequal ebb and flow in the bar, a proportion of 2:1. Even if the pulse you’re playing to is even, the rhythm of the music draws you into this pattern, so that if you’re trying to cross-phrase your grands battements, the music pulls in another direction. Nonetheless, there are some polonaises which are examples of isochronous triple meter, and Tchaikovsky, when he’s polonaising, tends towards this pattern. The trouble is, most of them aren’t good for class for one reason or another (including overfamiliarity if you’re playing for a company).
Enter Nápravník, on an isochronous triple meter
This one by Nápravník is one of the rare pieces I’ve found in years of searching that comes close to the model of the ballet teacher’s polonaise without sounding like it’s been knocked together out of two-by-fours and MDF. Czech by birth, Eduard Nápravník was principal conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre, and conducted many of Tchaikovsky’s works, including the first performance of the 1st piano concerto, and the posthumous performance of the Pathètique. At the double bill premiere of Iolante and The Nutcracker, Nápravník conducted the opera, Drigo the ballet.
The date of Nápravník’s opera Dubrovsky, 1895, suggests that if there’s any influence, it must have been from Tchaikovsky to Nápravník. But with Tchaikovky’s documented respect for Czech composers—he “unreservedly praises Saint-Saëns, Delibes, Massenet, Grieg, Svendsen, Dvořák, and in the latter’s train Zdeněk Fibich, Karel Bendl, Karel Kovařovic, and Josef Bohuslav Foerster” and for Nápravník, it’s not inconceivable that perhaps some of the influence flowed in the other direction.
Like so many other polonaise composers, Nápravník doesn’t write in blocks of 4 x 8 bar phrases, so I’ve had to cut it in places, and double up a four-bar phrase in another to make it usable for class. It was very hard to decide how to do this without committing a crime against music, but I think it’s worth it. Some of the cuts and repeats feel criminal to me, but I think of all the times in real life productions where choreographers have cut or repeated, and once you’ve heard it a couple of times, you get used to it. Cuts, like murder, get easier after the first time.
I haven’t simplified the arrangement, as if the exercise is slow, you might be grateful of having something to play while you wait for the next beat to arrive. There’s no getting away from it, polonaises are just difficult to play, particularly this kind. There’s a rather lovely trio section in the middle which has echoes of one of the servant girls’ chorus (“Dyevitsy krasavitsy”) in Onegin. Given thatNápravník conducted the first performance of that opera, and would have known it well, the similarity is perhaps not surprising.
I’ve just had an email from a teacher, asking me what I understand by the term “Lyrical Waltz.” Short answer, I don’t understand anything by it, but the long answer is that I’m rather fascinated by how a term like this can gain such currency over a long time, without apparently having much meaning.
Lyrical waltz: a potted personal history
The first time I heard the term “lyrical waltz” was when I started work at the RAD back in 1986. I think it was something that teachers had been told was a meaningful musical term to use to pianists. I used to improvise waltzes that started with a dotted quarter note + three eighth-note pattern (as in the Sleeping Beauty lilac fairy attendants example below). I soon ran out of ideas. I think the reason I associated this pattern with “lyrical” was because somewhere in a syllabus book there was an exercise that had “lyrical waltz” as a tempo indication, and that’s roughly how the music went.
Lilac fairy attendants from Sleeping Beauty (Tchaikovsky). When I hear “lyrical waltz” I think of this rhythmic pattern of dotted quarter note + three eighth notes. But I’m not convinced that’s good enough.
What—if anything—is a lyrical waltz?
Over the years, I have tried to work out what, if anything, a “lyrical waltz” is in musical terms, but have only come up with more questions.
Does it mean something that has the quality of a song? That doesn’t really work, because there are plenty of songs that have a bombastic quality.
Does it have a melody that is song-like, rather than being motif-based like the Act 1 waltz in Swan Lake, or the opening of waltz of the flowers in Nutcracker, where you can hear the composer at work, rather than the singer. However, as soon as you start singing these tunes, they have a song-like quality, they’re singable. Back to square one.
Does it mean something that has more eighth-note motion than 1-in-a-bar feel? Not an infallible criterion, because there are 1-in-a-bar waltzes which could be described as lyrical, and eighth-note ones which aren’t.
Does it just mean slow? I don’t think so, because teachers who have ever asked for this didn’t (I think) want something ponderous
Does it mean something where the melody takes precedence over the accompaniment, i.e. something like La plus que lente by Debussy? Up to a point, but if teachers use the word “waltz” at all, I presume they’re expecting more rhythmic predictability than this.
Lyrical waltz—a pedagogical category only?
By “pedagogical category” I mean a term that has arisen from a teaching context, but has little relation to the world outside, but has somehow stuck. Whoever started using it may have had a particular waltz in mind, like the “Lyrical Waltz” of Shostakovich, from which they extrapolated a category, without giving it much thought. I think this happens a lot—where people like a single tune, not realising that what they like about it is particular, not generic. Take La cumparsita which people have sometimes used as a generic template for “tango” — when it’s about the only tango that goes like that, and in fact, was never a tango in the first place, but a march. As an illustration of this in practice, a colleague told me of a class where the teacher had sung a tune while she marked the exercise, and then said “But don’t play that. Play something similar.” You guessed it: after a few try-outs, she said “You know what, just play what I sang.”
Incidentally, this is the opposite of that odd, ballet-only scenario where a teacher will ask for “The same thing” by which they don’t mean literally the same thing, but something that is in metre, tempo, style and feel the same, without being, you know, the same. This is where the everyday German distinction between das Gleiche and dasselbe is useful. There might be an interesting intersection here between musicology and everyday ballet class practice. In Music, Imagination and Culture (1991), Nicholas Cook writes of the tendency to “hear works as individuals rather than as exemplars of a type” (p. 147) and that this is a “defining principle of the aesthetic attitude,” citing Dahlhaus’s Analysis and Value Judgement (1983, pp. 13-14). In my experience, ballet pianists are much more attuned to attuned to what dance forms are as a genre than classically trained musicians. Ask the latter for “a polonaise” and they’ll play an exemplar, of which they probably only know a couple of the Chopin compositions, without being aware of the things that make it a polonaise in the first place.
Lyrical waltz—or little waltz?
One teacher I play for often asks for “A little waltz” and for some reason, I know exactly what she means, though it could also be the tone of voice and gesture that conveys the idea. “Little” to me here suggests something in moderate tempo, moderate volume, not bombastic, not grand, with a smooth melody line, perhaps like the Tchaikovsky E flat major waltz Op. 39 , or the Little Waltz by Teresa Carreño. A piano piece, rather than an orchestral number reduced for piano. A miniature. Little is a more productive and meaningful term for me than lyrical, though I’m still not convinced it helps. I’m also referring mentally to particular pieces that have an overall quality elicited in performance more than composition.
Lyrical—just a name, rather than a category?
I searched around for “lyrical waltz” on Google, and then for Valse Lyrique. Once you exclude Shostakovich or Sibelius, it’s not a huge list, so the idea that there was once a whole category of waltzes called “lyrical” is suspect (though you’ll find quite a few of them on ballet pianists’ albums, which supports my theory that it’s a pedagogical term, not a real-life one).
In the US Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries 1945 (Music) New Series Vol 40 Pt 3 No 10 there are more compositions in the index with the word “Valse” in the title than “waltz,” and only a handful with the term “lyric.” When you look at the list of adjectives associated with “valse,” (see below) apart from lyrique including erotic, beige, parfumée, you begin to wonder whether any of them have much meaning, except as a way of flogging a generic composition as if it might be particular. Perhaps lyrical is doing the work of organic, natural, new, advanced, healthy, free-from! in food-labelling. If we’re fooled by food labels, I’m sure we can be taken in by sheet music covers.
Extract from the Catalog of Copyright Entries (Music) 1945, compositions with the title “Valse”
Postscript: Is “a lyrical waltz” something to do with the body, not music?
Once I’d written this, I began to wonder whether the term “lyrical” has some purchase with dance teachers because of the genre of lyrical dance, in which case maybe it means “the kind of music I can do emotionally charged slow bendy dance to.” That opens the field up more, without the need to get too metrical-technical about the music.
A while back, a friend and colleague who is about to start a PhD asked me if I had any advice. I said, don’t ask me, given that I had to interrupt for a year, and I’m living on borrowed time for my final draft even as I write this. But, he said, that’s exactly who he’d like to take advice from—a struggler. So, I started this list of things that I’m glad I did, wished I’d done earlier, and wished I hadn’t done as a birthday present. True to form, I missed the deadline, but I’m now publishing this for him, and for two former students of mine who asked me if I had any advice for them as they begin their part-time MAs as mature students. The advice probably applies to young postgrads as well, except that I think balancing work and study, and the distractions and commitments of everyday life get harder as you get older.
Here goes—and comments would be wonderful to help anyone else in the same boat.
Five things I’m glad I did:
Used reference management software from day one, and invested time learning to use it well. I use Zotero (the standalone version), but you can compare others here. One of the best quick guides to Zotero in my view is this one from the Old Bailey. The day that I discovered how to use the Library Look-up feature changed my life. I learned that from the IoE library pages. Zotero has too many cool features to mention. Put in the time early on learning to use it, and you’ll reap rewards ever after.
Decided who my heroes were as writers and thinkers, and kept their work in mind as my inspiration. I hardly needed telling to do this, but it’s a good thing to remind yourself. My heroes were: Howard Becker, Erving Goffman, Tia DeNora, Philip Tagg, Georgina Born, Lucy Green (who happens to be my supervisor, so I’m lucky). Very late, I discovered Jean Lave, Michael Billig, Leah Greenfield. I’d recommend Michael Billig’s Learn to Write Badlyto anyone, whether they’re in the social sciences or not.
Turned off the internet to write/read. The internet, bad writing, social media, the phone, are all the enemies of any kind of work that you need to do as a researcher or writer. I keep coming back to what Dani Shapiro says in Still Writing: online newspapers, magazines, emails and such like, this is “the opposite of reading. It pulls you away, instead of directing you inward.” (p. 34). Pulling away is exactly what distraction means. I used Freedom when it was free, but changed to the free SelfControl app, after I noticed Zadie Smith’s had given thanks to it at the end of one of her novels. Whatever you use, don’t trust yourself to switch off the wifi.
Kept a research diary. Include all the bad stuff as well as the good. I keep mine in a local installation of WordPress on my computer, using MAMP. On depressing days when you get nothing done, you can at least write about how depressed you are. I wrote several days of entries when I tried to read Foucault. The fact that I still couldn’t cope with him several years later told me that it was a good thing I didn’t hitch my work to his particular wagon.
Didn’t wait to write until I’d done my research. “Memo writing”—ad hoc, on the fly, as-you-go writing about your research as you’re doing it— is a favoured feature of grounded theory approaches to research, and what the GT people say is correct: often, those memos end up being part of your final work. Howard Becker says in one of his excellent books on writing, that there’s nothing that says the stuff you write quickly is necessarily any worse than stuff you toiled over. E. H. Carr in What is History said something about not being able to read more than about three books before he had to start writing. It’s not a crime.
Five things I wished I’d done earlier:
Used ONE application for all data. For a long time, I wavered between nVivo, MaxQDA, Scrivener, physical notebooks, bits of paper, Word documents, my blog, my private diary, putting things here and there. I’m clearer now: anything that is in any sense data —interviews, odd bits of information, articles, ad hoc conversations, notes written on the back of envelopes, notes on books and articles that I’ve read—goes into MaxQDA, loosely categorized, but finely separated (i.e. each event, book, topic, article, note or whatever has its own document). It’s not that I necessarily need MaxQDA to analyse it, but I need to know where all that stuff is.
Kept the equivalent of a commonplace book for everything else. Doing research makes you interested and ravenous for new things. You need to put them somewhere, and be able to find them one day. You can’t tell what might eventually go in your research after all.
Coded (i.e. categorized) my information more assiduously. I went to a lecture by music psychologist Andrea Halpern a couple of years back, who said in passing that if you don’t “code” stuff, you don’t memorize it. She said something like “it’s nice to colour sentences in with fluorescent markers, but don’t kid yourself that you’re doing anything useful. It’s just pretty. It doesn’t tell you anything about why you did it. To make it useful, you have to code it somehow.” People talk about “coding” as if it’s only something you do when you’ve got interview data. If you do it as you go with everything (like if you have a commonplace book, q.v. and you need to decide how to categorize something), it’s amazing what a difference it makes to your own comprehension of what you’re doing and reading.
Read challenging, well-written stuff first thing in the morning. Don’t take my word for it, try it and see. It’s like shutting the door and learning to hear again. The advice came from either Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing, or Annie DIllard’s The Writing Life,both of which I’d strongly recommend, alongside the practical but not so poetic The Psychology of Writing.
Sorted out details of punctuation. When I got my first article published, I had to finally commit to knowing whether the comma came inside the quotation marks or not, and a dozen other really annoying things. They’re like tripping over your shoelaces as you walk. You think early on “I’l deal with that later.” Knowing in advance means that you save yourself hours of editing later, and hours of daily annoyance now.
Five things I wish I hadn’t done
Taken on side work projects. Clear time in your schedule, and—having done it—don’t let anyone or anything in there. Vanity projects and things that are marginally related (but not useful) to your research are the worst.
Made incomplete notes. I’ve got dozens of instances in my notebooks and in files where I’ve quoted a large block of text, forgotten to say what page it was on, or in which book. At the time, because I was immersed in it, I thought I could never forget. You will.
Let other things slide. Daniel Levitin got me on to this one in The Organized Mind. The temptation is to stop everything so that you can get your writing done. But all those other things (washing, tax returns, health checks, dentist, the garbage taking out etc.) need to be done. If you don’t do them, they add up in your mind as a mass of worrying distractions. It’s counter-productive to binge-write and let everything else go hang.
Started planning future projects. I’ve seen this referred to a lot: the temptation to start planning the next thing, while this one remains unfinished. You might as well do drugs.
Over-reflected. The downside to keeping a research diary is that I ended up sometimes writing more about thinking about writing than actually doing it. Treat writing like digging a road, or data entry.
What a difference an e makes: the difference between a grand waltz and a grande valse
Ballet teachers often ask for a “grande valse” or a “grande waltz” or a “big waltz” for grand allegro, probably as a result of someone telling them to do so on a teacher training course, but to be honest, it’s a misleading and much misunderstood term. It’s clear from the way that many teachers make a kind of Popeye-flexing-his-biceps gesture as they say “grande valse” that by grande they mean something with oomph, or butch, or—to use a phrase I haven’t heard for years—to give it some welly.
But the grande in grande valse in compositional terms refers to the scale and nature of the work (i.e. long and discursive) rather than its dynamics or capacity to be used for big jumps. And there’s the problem, because when composers write large-scale works, they usually introduce contrast, interest, variation, symphonic-style development, the unexpected, including changes of speed, and the playful expansion of melodic material. For that reason, many of the pieces in the concert repertoire called grande valse won’t be that useful for ballet class, given that what is needed is a succession of 16-count phrases of similar dynamics for each group of dancers as they come across the room. Composers of grandes valses don’t last long before the temptation kicks in to try some canonic imitation or rhythmic dissonance over a pedal point. If you’re trying to do grand allegro, or play for it, this is often more of an annoyance than an interesting feature. A notable exception is Chopin’s grande valse op. 18 No. 1, which has a lot of usable sections in it—but on the other hand, it’s not very “grande” in terms of tempo and oomph.
Tcherepnin’s Grande valse: the best bits
Tcherepnin is unfortunately no exception to the general rule (incidentally, it should really be Cherepnin—the ‘T’ comes from French transliteration, where the T is needed to make the “ch” sound, otherwise it would be pronounced “Sherepnin”; Chaikovsky, a.k.a. Tchaikovsky is another example). No sooner has he stated his big tune, than he begins to take it apart, like a dog pulling at a lead while you’re trying to head straight through the park. Depending on the exercise, there might be times when this can work, and in principle, If you’re going to have 10 minutes of grand allegro, much nicer to be able to play stuff that develops and changes than keep repeating yourself. For that reason, I originally intended to transcribe the whole waltz: it’s wonderful. However, I had to keep cutting and cutting until there were only two pages left. In grand allegro, you can’t suddenly drop from fortissimo voluptuousness into the coy experiment in the example below. It’s an example of what Christopher Hampson once called being “musical” in a pejorative sense (see earlier post on “Being too musical“). The grande valse concert repertoire is littered with them, which is fine if you’re listening rather than dancing.
Tcherepnin giving in to the temptation to be ‘too musical’
However, the first couple of pages of this is great for a certain kind of travelling (rather than jumpy) grand allegro, and it’s wonderfully dramatic, wistful and film-scoreish in a similar vein to Geoffrey Toye’s 1934 Haunted Ballroom waltz .
Listen to Tcherepnin’s Grande Valse from Le Pavillon d’Armide
Many of the Youtube classical music links I post eventually disappear for copyright reasons, so listen while you can.