This is day 20 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.
Medium jumps are, for my taste, the most difficult things to accompany in class. While a medium sized jump for a dancer requires considerable effort, skill & preparation, ‘medium’ in music is a potentially deadening adjective. Moderato, moderation, moderate, it’s like someone saying ‘I think we’ll just order a small glass each, shall we?’ when you’re ready for at least a bottle.
Worse still, when it comes to things in triple metre, a ‘medium’ waltz is just about the worst thing you could play for allegro. It will, quite literally, never get off the ground, and why should it? Waltzes are about turning and gliding, not jumping.
Look in the opera-ballet repertoire of the 19th century, and you find what we were looking for all the time – a nice, bouncy dance in triple metre, at a moderate tempo, but with the same kind of strength & elevation as the jumps that it accompanies. It’s a combination of a lot of factors. Look at this one from I Vespri Siciliani and you see, for example:
- A solid floor (pedal note in the bass) for the melody to bounce off, rather than the 2-bar shuffle between tonic & dominant you get in a waltz
- A leaping melodic contour with a large tessitura & and an anacrusis that has considerable welly
- Occasional implied or real accents on the second or third beats of the bar, which prevents the bass from ‘walking’
- Lots of little acciaccaturas to spice up the melody line
The second half (which no-one ever seems to play) is very ingenious too – the ‘cadence’ of the first part becomes the beginning of the second tune, so that you feel as if you’ve suddenly lost a beat, but it all gets paid back in the end, and once you’ve heard the whole piece, that bar becomes a kind of trompe l’oreille – you can never say whether it’s the beginning of something or the end of something – and as it happens, the piece never ends, because it goes straight into