This is day 7 in my 2007 Advent Calendar. This year, I’m giving the
story behind some of the music that I’ve collected for ballet classes.
All the pieces are on Studio Series Vol. 4 published by RAD.
There’s a wonderful bit in Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook (which I couldn’t put down, and read in about a day and a half) where he talks about the delightful, unconsciously strange speech of kids who’ve been bought up by their nan – their turns of phrase have skipped a generation, so they come out with things like ‘we’re in for a cold snap’.
I’ve come to believe that something similar happens in the world of ballet teaching with music – some of the rhythms and tempos of the music that ballet teachers choose for exercises are part of an unconscious oral tradition. How else do explain that even the youngest teachers almost naturally incline, when setting a pirouette exercises, to the musical attributes of the old ballroom mazurkas or polka mazurkas, even though these are no more part of their immediate experience than gaslight or farthingales?
I used to get annnoyed with ballet teachers who asked for tangos for fondu exercises which were slower than any tango they or I had ever heard. I wanted to say “Go on, find me one like that, and I’ll play it! Bet you won’t, though!”. But after I discovered things like the Redowa which matched the equally impossibly slow ‘waltzes’ that some teachers wanted, I began to wonder whether somewhere, there was a historical instance of the slow tango which was the basis for the ‘fondu tango’. I had a theory that perhaps it was all down to Godowsky’s arrangement of the Albeniz Tango (if ever there was a case of ‘hard cases make bad law’ in the world of music, this is it!). I had another theory that maybe what they really meant was a kind of Czardas (like Monti’s Czardas) – which does work equally well, as it happens.
But then, in the middle of last year, I was in Kensington Chimes, and happened upon a book called Tango: An Album of Brazilian Dances, and in there was the delicious Herminia by the extravagantly named Julio Cezar do Lago Reis, a tango which would bear playing as slow as you like, without losing any of its innate slinky charm. The whole book, in fact, is a revelation (as you’ll read when I come to Tentaçao later), as exciting for me as a new set of Parish records turning up for a genealogist. Could it be that this is the missing link that connects the ‘fondu tango’ of the ballet class to a real musical tradition? And if so, how did it happen?