Daily Archives: December 16, 2009 9:13 am

Musical surprises #16: The skating in Les Patineurs is nothing new

Christmas tree in 'The Mailbox' in Birmingham. It's huge.

Christmas tree in 'The Mailbox' in Birmingham. It's huge.

I wasn’t going to post this since I thought it was no longer surprising, but then I overheard an announcer on Radio 3 only this morning give full credit to Ashton for the skating in Les Patineurs, and decided I should do it after all to set the record straight.

Let’s start with the music. For one thing, Constant Lambert the ‘arranger’ of the ballet had virtually nothing to do with the music for Les Patineurs – it’s a direct lift from the ballets of two operas by Meyerbeer, L’Étoile du Nord and Le Prophète. And now for the skating: the idea wasn’t Ashton’s.  Le Prophète itself contained a skating ballet (done on roller skates, apparently since roller skating was all the rage in Paris in 1849, the year the opera was first performed). Before that, Meyerbeer had already done a skating scene in his ballet Der Maler und das Wintervergnügen in 1818, where he used roller skates because the theatre couldn’t build an ice rink on the stage.  (Can you imagine a composer saying to an opera house now ‘Oh, and for the ballet in the second act, I’d like an ice rink on the stage please. And ice skates for the whole corps de ballet. And skating lessons.’?)

Nothing against Les Patineurs as a ballet, but I am rather tired of hearing about Ashton’s witty, clever, cute, idea of doing a ballet about skating when it had already been done to the same music nearly a hundred years previously.