Taruskin on ballet music

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Taruskin, Volume 4

One of the excitements of this year is being able to afford a volume of The Oxford History of Western Music. I snapped it up in Blackwells the other day, when I noticed that there was an entire chapter devoted to ballet music. I always glance through the index of music history books to see whether ballet gets a mention at all, or whether, as usually happens, it gets either erased altogether, or is treated like not much more than a bit of sellotape annoyingly stuck to the great big walking boot of serious music.

Knowing that Taruskin is one of the few people in the serious music world to admit that ballet happened at all in Western culture, and that he’s written at length about Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky’s ballet music, I was hopeful.

And indeed, there it is in chapter three, under a heading ‘A MISSING GENRE’,

“It is time to confess to a scandalous omission. An entire genre, with a history extending back as far as the sixteenth century, has been virtually missing from this account of Western art music, and it is high time to redress the neglect.” (Richard Taruskin, The Oxford History of Western Music, p. 131)

There are still big gaps, and a tendency to discuss the big names more than the people who kept the whole enterprise running (imagine a history of 20th century music that mentioned  Andrew Lloyd Webber only in passing, before moving on to a meaty interpretation of West Side Story), but it’s a darned good start.

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