The Steyrische Tänze Op. 165 by Lanner – source of one of the ballerina tunes in Petrushka
This is why I love IMSLP – it gives you a chance to recover sources like this. I can remember reading a book or programme note about Petrushka that said in a supercilious tone Stravinsky was caricaturing the facile melodies of Lanner’s waltzes, and in a sentence like that, Lanner gets pushed further to the bottom of the heap of composers that one is not supposed to like, or even look at – you can just rely on some secondary source to tell you what to think. I’m not saying that when you look at it again, you realise that Lanner was a master composer and this is a wonderful piece – but I do like to have the opportunity to hear this music without the modernist composer’s, musicologist’s or critic’s sneer all over it (hear it for yourself here.) It opens with a waltz in 3 bar phrases (like the Glinka Valse Fantaisie), and is really rather nice.
The only reason I found it was because I’ve realised that the Steyrische (or “Styrian”) has got just the right degree of turgidness for a certain kind of ronds de jambe exercise, so I was hunting around IMSLP to see if there were any good ones to add to the repertoire. I’ve played the Schönbrunner waltz several times in class, and no-one’s ever said “That’s Petrushka!” so I wonder if they’d notice if you played this. Of course, if they did, the nice thing is that they’d think you were playing Stravinsky, so you could put on your Stravinsky face and make out that it was really hard.
I’ve also played “Po dikim stepyam Zabaikalya” which is also quoted in Petrushka, and no-one’s ever noticed either the folk song or thought it was from Petrushka (they’ve not noticed the other folk tune – Я вечор млада во пиру была – that I play sometimes, either).
I like it when teachers set grands battements on what I call a rumpty-tumpty 3. My favourite pieces for this kind of exercise is the Zarah Leander song Davon geht die Welt nicht unter, and Hands, knees and boomps-a-daisy, but all good things must come to a brief pause, and so it was time to find another one, and Oh! Oh! Antonio is just what I was looking for. If you’re wondering why I’m suddenly bringing music hall into this game, after all that Schubert and czardases, I have to point out that rhythmically speaking, behind every balletic variation, there’s a tarty music-hall number dying to show its frilly knickers, and a bit of decorum (which flies out of the window once you put some swing into a waltz) is the only thing that divides these songs from Paquita or Bayadère.
How I discovered Oh! Oh! Antonio
I wonder what the chances are of anyone knowing this if you played it for class? I didn’t know it until last week, when it was used in Indian Summers, set in 1932: Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters) proprietor of the English Club in Simla leads the singing as the local English gather for the club’s re-opening. You never can tell: someone on a forum remembers his great grandfather (Welsh, who spoke no English) singing it to him as a child. Songs have a way of travelling through time. I always thought the Teddy Bears’ Picnic was a song from the 60s (because I heard it as a child) yet the tune was written in 1907, and the words in 1932.
In fact, this song is also about the way songs get transmitted. You may have noticed that it begins almost note-for-note like Strauss’s Kunstlerleben (Artist’s Life) waltz Op. 316, written in 1867, and regarded as the “twin” of the Blue Danube. Now listen to the words of the second verse:
Her old hurdy-gurdy all day she’d parade
And this she would sing to each tune that it played.
So what you’re hearing are new words to an old tune. But there’s a third temporal layer to this: the third verse (not on the recording, but available here) has the line (just before the chorus)
She faded away, but they say in the streets
The ghost of that girl in Italian repeats…
So this is a song about people talking about the ghost of a girl singing a song that she made up to an old tune playing on her hurdy-gurdy. A Pathé newsreel film clip from 1923 of the “first wireless barrel organ” playing this song adds yet another layer to the story: here is a kind of hurdy gurdy playing, ghost-like through the ether, a song about people talking about the ghost of a girl singing a song that she made up to an old tune playing on her hurdy-gurdy. Incidentally, it’s wonderful to see people waltzing in the street as they hear the music. I nearly wrote “spontaneously waltzing” until I wondered whether perhaps Pathé had placed those people very carefully there to make the clip more interesting. Sadly, there’s no audio on the film.
Reanimating ghosts: songs and musicians
When Florrie Forde sings Oh! Oh! Antonio, she brings that ghost of a song back into the physical present (in 1908, that is). That’s one of the things we do as musicians – let songs breathe a bit longer, or, if you like, plant them in ground where they’ll suddenly flourish again just when they were in danger of expiring. There is no natural process by which “great” songs stay hits purely on their own, it only happens by transmission, and the processes can be unpredictable and strange (and expensive, in the case of Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke). They are “broadcast” both in the TV/Radio/Internet sense, but also in physical form as sheet music and records. They travel with people as carriers of songs, geographically and temporally.
Last week, I saw a 101-year-old woman teaching Are you lonesome tonight? to a young Filipino nurse in a care home in Streatham. I thought, that’s odd, she would have been 46 when Elvis Presley recorded it – surely this isn’t her generation of songs? But when I looked the song up just now, I discovered that in fact, it was first released in 1927, when she would have been 13 – which makes a lot more sense.
So let’s keep Oh! Oh! Antonio going a bit longer—why not? Sing along if you know the words (which you do, because I’ve put them in the score). It would of course be wonderful in any class where there’s an Antonio teaching or dancing, or maybe just for remembering your own Antonio-related history. There’s not an app for that, but there’s a song for it.
“Do you have anything smaller?” Music, meter and small change
Even though I haven’t used a laundrette in years, I can’t get out of the habit of holding on to 20p pieces for the dryer, just in case. Likewise, when I’m in Prague, my heart sinks when I realise that I’ve just taken out 2,000 Czech crowns at the ATM, because you’ll get a 2000 note, which is currently about £50. Try buying a bus ticket from the airport with that.
Some ballet exercises, particularly those in a medium waltz tempo, are like a launderette where you need a whole bag full of assorted change for the various machines. It needs to be lyrical (notes), then accented (pound coins) then some detail for smaller movements (20p pieces), then some 50p pieces for the bit that’s strong and lyrical, but not so lyrical as the bit you paid for with a tenner, and then lyrical again, but with a strong beat. In other words, whatever accompaniment, dynamic or articulation worked for one bit of the exercise won’t work for all of it, and it’s never quite one thing or another, and you need to be able to keep it all going just under the surface, in case you need to accentuate a different level of the music suddenly.
The “ballet music waltz”
I’m calling this piece from Le diable à quatre a “little waltz,” or a “ballet music waltz” because that term is usually a sign that you need to get your laundrette money out: a waltz is just a waltz, a big waltz kind of plays itself, but a little waltz, or a “ballet music waltz” is like an overweight dachsund that you have to cajole, but not so much that it drags it’s tummy along the ground. I apologise in arrears for all the metaphors, but that’s the nature of the problem – this kind of music isn’t anything in particular, it’s a lot of things at once, and it doesn’t have a name, just a capability.
It starts at 11:09 in the clip above (it should start there automatically).
This little ballet music waltz has got it all: it’s lyrical, with the possibility of long phrases. it’s sometimes in 6, sometimes in 3 (which is a big deal: see my earlier post on the rarity of truly triple metre) sometimes subdivided, sometimes not, sometimes heavy, sometimes light, sometimes quiet, sometimes loud. What’s more, you can play it several different ways without sucking the life out of it.
As if that weren’t enough reasons to include in my year of ballet playing cards, I love the fact that you can hear echos of Giselle’s opening Act 1 solo (the G major 6/8 one) in this.
The Pas de la Rédowa from Act 3 of Meyerbeer’s opera “Le Prophète.” Never leave home without this pirouette music.
The moment I see a teacher marking a pirouette that has a massive, sweeping balancé in it, I know there’s trouble ahead. Like the dreaded 2/4 sissonne of yesterday’s post, the slow mazurka pirouette is one of those ballet exercises that makes choreographic sense, but leaves us musicians with a problem, because – unless I just haven’t discovered it yet – there’s not a lot of music in the world that goes like this.
What in the world is a “slow mazurka”?
In terms of tempo, this kind of pirouette music is heading towards a polonaise, but a polonaise doesn’t have the right feel. Rhythmically, it’s in the region of a ballroom mazurka or polka mazurka, but those two dance forms are really too light and dainty for the expansive power that the exercise needs. The nearest thing might be the waltz from Act I of Giselle, but playing that probably won’t make you many friends in a company class. The A minor mazurka from Etudes (see earlier post for sources) is nearly right – but is still too fast for the kind of exercise I mean. The Rédowa from Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète – used in Les Patineurs (on page 147 of this score from IMSLP) – is almost perfect: you can play this really slowly, and it still works. It fills out the space between the beats, and it’s very triple, and you can play it anywhere between butch and dainty without ruining it. But that’s just one piece, and it’s probably not a good idea to play it if Patineurs is in the company’s repertoire.
The problems of pirouette music on a slow three
So you have to improvise, and improvising in a slow three is hard. One of the biggest problems with it is that we’re so used to the metrical model of the waltz, that when you’re faced with something that needs to have three proper, solid beats in a bar, and a main accent at the beginning of each one rather than every two bars (i.e. it’s truly triple, not a kind of duple hypermeter like most waltzes), it’s difficult to stop your mental metrical framework slipping back into waltz mode. If you do, you’ll be constantly too fast and out of time with the dancers, and you’ll spend half your mental energy trying to keep at the right tempo, and you won’t succeed because the metrical pattern is basically wrong.
It’s also easy to get lost, because you start to think in little phrases of six, losing your sense of where you are in the eight-bar phrase. Well I do, at least. It’s also hard to be interesting. If you look at the model of the Prophète redowa, that’s an awful lot of notes and unexpected melodic, harmonic, metrical, and rhythmic activity – like ending with a cadence on the last beat of the bar, for example. Unless you’re a genius, you can’t just keep making this stuff up in interesting ways while 40 groups of dancers do 16 bars each.
An associated problem is that mazurkas are habit-forming, because the rhythm and tempo gets under your skin so that it’s very difficult to think how ordinary music goes again afterwards. The slow mazurka is so useful for pirouettes, and also for a lot of pointework exercises, that teachers can sometimes drift into using them for almost everything in a class (or fall into an M-hole, as some colleagues and I call it), which of course is their right, except that it can be difficult if you’ve run out of mazurkas by the fifth exercise.
As with the 2/4 sissonne, this is one of those ballet problems that you just have to deal with, and if this sounds familiar, it’s because I’m repeating myself: I’ve already written about this in another Advent Calendar (though I wrongly said the piece was from L’Étoile du Nord). The Redowa is one of the things that I refer to as a musical “honey spoon” because it’s a rather weird implement that does one, necessary task. It’s not got any easier since writing those posts. If anything, it’s more difficult, because the more aware you are of what the “musical body” of an exercise should look like, the harder it is to be satisfied with playing things that don’t quite work. Reading that earlier post from 2007, there’s a hint of snideness about it which I no longer feel. In the intervening years, I’ve come to realise that you don’t solve these problems by getting annoyed at them, but by respecting them.
A year after I wrote this post, I decided to try and solve some of the problems in my “year of ballet playing cards” series. There are a few slow mazurkas that would work as pirouette music in that series, including
I’m not saying that Chopin couldn’t write a waltz, or that his embodied sense of waltzing was too fragile to be able to incorporate it in music. But I wonder if the inherent tripleness of his waltzes is not a question of pure compositional technique, but a difficulty in shaking off an ingrained Mazurka habit. In other words, are Chopin’s waltzes really mazurkas in all but name?
This thought came out of a previous post about triple metre and waltzes, after which some pianist colleagues and I had an ongoing discussion about particular pieces. According to our (my) definition, for a waltz-like piece to be classed as ‘truly triple’, cadences have to fall on the second main beat of a 6/8 bar, or, in 3/4, on the 8th bar of the phrase (otherwise it’s 3/4 “masquerading”, so to speak, as 6/8). One musician cited Chopin’s Grande valse Op. 18 No. 1 (the finale of Les Sylphides) – is this truly triple, she asked? Well, yes it is. And so are most of the other waltzes.
As I mentioned in our Facebook discussion, my composition teacher Malcolm Williamson once praised Chopin’s treatment of the harmony in his waltzes, that is, he’s careful to make sure that it changes in every bar. At the time, I don’t think either Malcolm or I knew enough about waltzing to discuss this from a metrical point of view, the point he was making was about maintaining harmonic interest. One of Malcolm’s own great waltz tunes (he would probably not thank me for that, since he didn’t want it extracted from the opera as a single number), “Thank You, Saint Seraphina,” from Our Man in Havana was itself truly triple, which probably reflected his concern for both metric and harmonic interest.
Conversations with Malcolm lead me to think that he didn’t like to wait in music, in the sense of harmonic or metric inertia. And that’s the thing about 6/8s, once you know that you’ve arrived on 7, all you’re doing is just waiting for that extra beat. That can be OK sometimes, but in allegro, it’s not great. Which brings me back to Chopin and the waltz. The epigraph to chapter 6 of Eric McKee’s Decorum of the Minuet, Delirium of the Waltzis an interesting quote from Chopin
“I have picked up nothing that is essentially Viennese. For example, I can’t dance a waltz properly – that speaks for itself! My piano has heard nothing but mazurkas.”
In the light of this comment, those waltzes make rather more sense to me viewed as mazurkas, or waltzes with a mazurka feel, at the very least.
In my last post, I said “Truly triple waltzes are an impossibility. They shouldn’t exist, and they don’t”. Less than 48 hours later, while I was playing Ich weiß nicht zu wem ich gehörefor a warm-up tendu, I realised I was wrong. There are examples of waltzes in truly triple metre, and I’d just played one. These useful, slow, “English” waltzes are very common in German 1930s songs for some reason – Vom Kopf bis Fuß (Falling in love again), Ich weiß es wird einmal ein Wunder geschehen, Leben ohne Liebe kannst du nicht. Truly triple songs in English include The boy next door (from Meet me in St Louis), Would you? (from Singing in the Rain), What’ll I do.
But how many of those examples can we say are truly truly triple metre? If you take the position of cadences as the giveaway (i.e. for it to be truly triple, they must come on 8, not 7), then only Falling in Love Again qualifies (though Would you? meets the criterion in the first three lines). Their feel is more triple than other waltzes, but it’s only a feel, not a structural fact. Look more closely at Vom Kopf bis Fuß, the only truly truly triple ‘waltz’ of the ones I listed, and you’ll see that the cadences fall on the second beat of the bar, mazurka-style (or more appropriately, given the tempo, kujawiak-style). So the truly-triple-waltz turns out, in fact, to be more like a kujawiak, which we knew was triple already.
Adieu – Romance sem palavras by Ernesto Nazareth. Bars 6-8 of the tune.
So apart from the waltz-which-is-really-a-kujawiak, are there any truly triple waltzes, contrary to what I said in my earlier post? One very strong contender is Nazareth’s Adieu – Romance sem palavras, which we used for pliés in the RAD’s new Grade 5. It works wonderfully for Adages in a very slow 3, because it’s calm and measured, and wears its three-ness on the surface, so you get a clear sense of timing. And it really is in three – the cadences are on 8, not 7. Adieu is a strange example, though. The first four bars of the melody strongly suggest a 6/8 hypermeter, but the next four emphasise each bar individually, and reverse the accentuation of the hypermeter established in the preceding phrase, so that the weakest bars now receive the strongest accent. What’s more, whereas the harmonic change happened over two-bar spans in bars 1-4, in bars 6 and 8, that change is compressed into a single bar in a weak position. That’s a lot of metrical interest for an 8 bar phrase, and is perhaps why it works so well for complex ballet exercises where a lot is happening in a short space of time.
Update (26/9/14) Re-reading what I’ve written about Adieu, I think it’s hard to make a case for it being “truly triple” except for the fact that the final cadence is on 8 rather than 7. Otherwise, though, it’s hypermetrically duple. The feeling that it is triple comes, I think, from the fact that the harmony frequently changes every bar, or at times, within the bar at quarter-note level.
The chorus of Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins is truly triple, apart from the middle eight, but I can’t think of many more – can you?
I’m thoroughly enjoying Eric McKee’s book Decorum of the minuet, delirium of the waltz: a study of dance-music relations in 3/4 time. There are books that you grow up with that made the world what it is for you, and other books that don’t yet exist, but they’re so begging to be written, they hang around you like literary ectoplasm. This is one of those, and it’s a joy to read. There are plenty of books and articles on works, performances, composers, collaborations, but not about how music and dance relate in teaching steps and dances. This does the job magnificently, with loads of musical examples.
This is one of my favourite quotes so far, in a section about how dancing masters composed their own music to help teach dance steps:
“While visiting Paris in 1762, Leopold Mozart observed that “in the whole town there are about two or three favourite minuets, which must always be played, because they people cannot dance to any save those particular ones during the playing of which they learned to dance.” (McKee 2012, 21)
It sounds like when children or teachers can’t remember an exercise in an exam syllabus until they hear the music that goes with it. But it also points out what is so different about ballet training. Children can do the same exercise to different music. You can play a famous piece from a ballet for a company class, and dancers don’t fall over because they go into autopilot and start doing whatever ballet it was from instead of the exercise.
The male solo from ‘Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux’ – a truly triple 3 (despite the 6/8 time signature)
If you’ve been following this blog recently, you know that I’m a little obsessed with time signature and metre in the 18th & 19th centuries (see Compound errors and Counting Tchaikovsky). Today, it paid off in company class, when I managed to play about 5 minutes of pirouette exercise in 3/4 without getting a single tempo correction. That’s rare for me. I speed up in pirouette exercises.
This is how learned to stop doing it: I wondered whether it would help if I deliberately thought in 3 – maybe I inadvertently think in 6 when I’m playing waltzes. 3/4 bars never stand alone in waltzes, they’re always in pairs, and usually in pairs of pairs. It had never occurred to me to make a connection between this and my acceleration problem. But my speeding-up was cured instantly when I made an effort to think in 3 rather than 6. That is, I made sure my cadences were on ‘8’, not ‘7’, and that every bar was a closed circle of 3, rather getting sucked up into an imaginary 6/8. It was hard work. I’m correcting a habit of a lifetime, made worse by playing all that waltz music which is by nature in hypermetrical duple compound metre, not ‘truly triple metre’ as I call it.
I coined the term ‘truly triple metre’ when I wrote the RAD’s Music in Focus and Dance Class Anthology books (2005). I’ve recently repurposed some of this for Dance rhythms for ballet pianists on the RAD website. The hardest rewriting was about ‘truly triple metre’ for grand allegro, because all the truly triple metres I can think of are polonaises, mazurkas and so on, which of course aren’t right for grand allegro. So what’s wrong?
Truly triple waltzes are an impossibility. They shouldn’t exist, and they don’t. What teachers mean by a ‘big waltz’ or ‘grande valse’, is usually that big balletic waltz-type variation that you only get in ballet, and while they’re in 3/4 and they’re reminiscent of waltzes, It would be better not to use that name for this type of music except as shorthand for something that we all know is really something else. The only trouble is, we don’t have a name for it. I call them ‘waltz-type variations’, and I think Galina Bezuglaya does in her book about ballet accompaniment (in Russian), but I can’t find the page right now.
Truly triple allegros are not waltzes. Think of the male solo from Tchaikovsky pas de deux, the cabriole variation from Bayadère, Flower Festival male solo, the E major solo from La Source that is used in Australian ballet’s Coppélia, and the Act 1 pas de trois male solo from Swan Lake (C minor), the coda from Diana and Acteon pas de deux, and one or two of the Paquita solos. Then there are waltz-ish variations that have a really marked three in a bar, even if they have their cadence on 7 rather than 8 (the giveaway for not-really-triple-metre*) – the Bayadère and Diana and Acteon male solos, for example.
The reason I get faster playing pirouettes is because I’m treating every other bar as a weak hypermetric beat, which I then tend to swallow up or slightly snatch (something I do in 4/4 as well, I’ve discovered, listening to recordings. Sometimes that can be just right, but if there’s stuff happening within the bar, like the finish of a pirouette, then the dancer needs all the time that’s available in the bar. That’s what real 3/4 would sound like, it’s just that it doesn’t happen very often.
* The exception (I think) is where you get a cadence on 7, but then 8 is a proper thump of a final chord – not an afterthought, but an autonomous accent that isn’t an appendage to the bar before.
Even though teachers often ask for a ‘waltz’ for pirouettes on a 3, sometimes (in fact, most times) what works much better is a mazurka. Not the character-type mazurka that you get in Swan Lake or Coppélia, but the ballroom type that is slower than your average waltz, and has a more marked three-in-a-bar as opposed to the swaying feel of the late Viennese waltz. In particular, a mazurka for pirouettes works much better if there are any balancés involved.
Don’t look to Chopin for this type, or to many of the early 20th century composers who wrote ‘exotic’ mazurkas on the model of the folksy ones, because these are fast, and have a hold on 2, they’re not very triple. You have to look to the popular sheet music of the 19th century, where ‘mazurka’ meant the ballroom kind by default. ‘Polka mazurka’, while a different dance, has the same kind of feel. It’s closer to the three-step ländler type of waltz that you find in Giselle.
It’s a curious thing, this, the way that a long-forgotten dance form gets embedded in the conventions of a contemporary dance class. I discovered this trick by accident, by playing one of these that I’d found online for class one day. Try some of the 1062 mazurkas listed at the American Memory Sheet music collection for your next pirouette exercise and I think you’ll see what I mean. Go to the search page, and type in ‘mazurka‘. You’ll get a bunch of pieces back, some will be the folksy type with the held second beat – ignore those. Go for the ones called ‘polka mazurka’ or the ones which are rhythmically close to the polka mazurka, like the Falling Dew Mazurkafor example.
I got my copy of Zorn’s ‘Grammar’ via Abe Books a few years ago, but it occurred to me that it must surely be out of copyright, and digitised by now? And sure enough, here it is, Grammar of the Art of Dancing from the Internet Archive in several formats including Kindle. The online book version is worth trying too, for the very sophisticated searching opportunities it provides.
Friedrich Zorn’s Grammar of the Art of Dancing is one the most concise but exhaustive accounts of dozens of 19th century dances and their music. In 938 short, numbered paragraphs with musical examples and Zorn’s own dance notation, he can tell you all about different types of waltzes, what a Varsovienne, a Redowa and a Polka Mazurka are, and how musicians should improvise changes in their playing to fit the two-step or three-step waltz. The book is full of all kinds of fascinating details, like a comparison between the difference in tempo that people waltzed in different cities in Europe (Russians were the fastest, if I remember correctly), or that the first polka was danced at around 88 b.p.m which was soon considered too dull for social dancing, so it sped up.
As a ballet pianist teacher, you’re left – even in the beginning of the 21st century – with a legacy of these dances, whose rhythms still haunt music everywhere. To try to stratify them for yourself from the repertoire you know, which is what I did for years, is a slow and ineffective process. Why is it that we seem to be so much better acquainted with dances from the distant Baroque than from those only just over our shoulder? From the moment you start reading Zorn, you have a pair of metrical spectacles with which to view the vast repertoire of dance music of the 19th century, and begin to recognise the shapes and patterns of those dances in music all around you.