Tag Archives: Adolphe Adam

A year of ballet playing cards #44: A long, jolly polka/galop from Le Diable à quatre (5d)

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galop for ballet class by Adam

Click to download the score of this galop for ballet class (pdf)

Something about this galop for ballet class is so similar to a piece by Shostakovich (I think it’s in Moskva Cheremushki) that if I’d heard snatches of this on the radio, I would have sworn it was by him, not Adam. That sold it to me, because sometimes you need something long and jolly for those fast exercises at the barre, and to be honest, nothing beats an accented  G flat in the middle of a sea of B flat major: it’s the musical equivalent of a whoopee cushion, and I expect composers will still be doing it a hundred years from now when they want a laugh at the Proms. In the clip below, it begins at 51:00 – clicking on it should take you there automatically, but if it doesn’t, drag the slider to that time.

Recipe for a galop for ballet class: 95% diatonic blandness, and 5% fun

To me this is a text-book example of how to be cheeky, funny, good-humoured, or call it what you will, in music. It requires 95% diatonic blandness spiked by the occasional funny face poking out from behind a doorway (accented wrong notes, or syncopations), sudden changes of direction (key or dynamics, but not at the same time  – less is more), mock-seriousness (minor keys), sleight of hand (repeating the same thing so many times you know what’s coming next – and then changing the ending), and then – how can I put this? – there even seems to be a little bit of national stereotyping going on, when a krakowiak suddenly appears just when you thought the whole world was a galop. This music has to be at a silly tempo – not show-off speed, but just slightly too fast.  I reckon about 121 bpm should do it. Too slow and it’ll sound leaden, too fast and it’ll just sound like showing off. Fast is rarely funny, unless it’s this kind of fast (thank you Gavin Sutherland for drawing my attention to it), the Circus Galop by Marc André Hamelin for player piano:

A year of ballet playing cards #42: Diable à Quatre male variation – big 2/4 jumpy thing (D3)

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Male solo from Diable à quatre piano score: a big two for allegro

The male solo from Diable à quatre: an example of a “big two for allegro”

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Click here to download the score of Diable à Quatre male variation  or click the score above. There’s the full solo (pages 1-2) then on page 3, an adaptation for class – it’s not entirely even, and there’s a lot of waffle at the end.

See here for more about my “A year of Ballet Playing Cards”

One of my “ballet problems” is finding a big two for allegro: music for those medium/big allegros in 2/4 like sissonnes (see previous post on the “dreaded 2/4 sissonne“). I suppose the canonical version is the male “Black Swan” variation.  In this post I’ve solved two problems at once – I’ve found a piece of music that does exactly what I want, and  settled something (in part, at least) that’s been nagging at me for over a decade.

The search for Diable à quatre

It’s about 14 years ago that I got a phone call from Dance Books in the middle of a summer afternoon, saying that they’d got Yosvani Ramos in the shop:  he wanted to know if they’d got the music to Diable à Quatre. They didn’t, so they put him on the phone to me.  I was so pleased to be asked, and so wanted to help, but I couldn’t. It’s bugged me ever since, because it ought to be out there somewhere, but it doesn’t seem to be, even though I’ve been checking all the sources I can think of.

So, like the Black Swan solo issue, if you want something done, do it yourself: I set about finding a youtube clip, and transcribed the male solo –  both in deference to Yosvani since he put me onto the idea in the first place, and because it’s the right kind of music.  What’s really good fun about having stuff like this in your repertoire is to play it for class, and see who recognises it.  For me, there’s nothing so gratifying as when someone turns round and says “Oh that’s such and such a piece, isn’t it?” when you’ve played one of your favourite ballet musical shibboleths.

You can see a version of the solo in the clip below – it starts at 8.40 – but it should start there automatically if you click on the video. If you know who the dancer is in the clip, let me know (or put it in the comments on Youtube).

Other examples of the big two for allegro

I’ve found it hard not to mix this up with one of Medora’s solos in Le Corsaire (not one of those that’s in the ENB production, but it’s in the Corsaire piano score  at IMLSP, on page 20, in A flat). It’s in the same kind of tempo and style, but it also has the same way of starting with a dotted rhythm, and finishing up in a scale of triplets:

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phrase ending of Medora solo from “Le Corsaire” by Adam – from IMSLP, on page 20

Then that got me thinking that the rhythm of the first line is almost identical to the Polichinelles music in Drigo’s Les Millions d’Arlequin (Harlequinada) on page 80 (No. 11). Put these three solos (Corsaire, Harlequinada and Diable à Quatre) and you can begin to see a model emerging.

harlequinade-1

 

Here’s a clip from that section of  Harlequinada performed at the Whitehouse in 1979 (starts at 4:41 if the clip doesn’t start there automatically).

Recordings of Diable à quatre

If you want a recording, hurry: as of today there are only three second-hand ones left at Amazon.co.uk (at £6.96). It was recorded by Richard Bonynge and the LSO, but this album wasn’t included in the Decca 10-CD re-release.

The Scotch Snap: everything you needed to know, and a hundred more questions

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This is probably the most interesting video I’ve ever seen on a musical question. If you want to know why, read on below the clip. As it happens, I’ve posted this on Robert Burns Day/Burns Night, so the topic of the Scotch snap couldn’t be more appropriate.

Philip Tagg: making sense of the Scotch snap at last

Philip Tagg and his articles have kept me sane since the day I discovered him somewhere around 1999.  He gets inside the same questions that perplex me about music, and is one of the few musicologists that make much sense when it comes to understanding dance and music.  One of the things that has intrigued me for years and years is the ‘Scotch snap’.

I’ve probably thought about it daily for about 10 years, mainly because of the Waltz in the ballet Giselle (1841) and that Mozart minuet in E flat, both of which exhibit scotch snaps in 3/4 time, and because my yearly trips to Prague have given me occasion to overhear Scotch snaps in Czech music, or at least folk music that’s played in Prague (which might be Slovakian or Hungarian, or Romanian, depending on who’s playing it, and when your maps were drawn).  One pianist I know deliberately plays the scotch snaps in the Giselle waltz as if they’re before the beat. When I asked him why, he said he’s always thought that bit ‘sounded silly’ if you play it like it’s written. Sometimes I’ve wondered whether some scotch snaps in classical music are  just notational errors:  I seem to remember reading that there are  instances where copyists would write a dotted rhythm using the semiquaver first as a kind of shorthand meaning the opposite. Can’t remember where I read that, unfortunately.

The Scotch snap and stress patterns in Croatian

And there’s more: as a student of living in Zagreb, I remember being fascinated by the comment of a Croatian translator who noted that since all stress in Croatian is on the first syllable, there was no iambic poetry in that language. Considering that iambs are so common in English (think of all those children’s skipping songs) the idea that a language could just exist without an iamb to speak of seemed bizarre. But I speak Croatian, so I know that it’s not.  Then there’s the added fact that Croatian/Serbian have accents of length as well as of stress, sometimes it’s really difficult to tell whether someone’s elongating a vowel, or stressing it – so someone could tell you that the accent is on the first syllable of a word, but to me it sounds like it’s on the second, because it’s a long vowel (the same is true of Czech sometimes).

The great thing about this video is that Tagg has done all the work that I knew needed to be done, but I wondered if I’d ever live long enough to start doing it. It’s a wonderful advert for the kind of interdisciplinarity that makes me get up in the morning, and which Tagg himself advocates in his 2011 article Caught on the back foot.  By the end of the video, there are just even more questions to ask, which to me is what good research is all about. And Tagg’s conclusion – that you should be looking for class divisions before ethnic ones if you want to understand issues like this in music – resonates hugely with a great article I read yesterday on the concept of the ‘ballet boy’ (Time to confront Willis’ lads with a ballet class?) – in which the author says that it’s class, not gender that’s the issue in ballet & Billy Elliot, but gender’s an easier issue to tackle if you’re trying to pretend that you live in a classless society.