[update on 26/4/2018—broken link mended: click here for the full book at archive.org]
I just love simplicity like this – here’s a page, that’s right, a single page, that tells you about as much as you need to know about what music goes with exercise in a ballet class. It’s from Russian Ballet Technique, As Taught, by Alexis Kosloff, and published in 1921, now made available for all by the wonderful Forgotten Books website. For teachers and pianists, it’s the quickest rough-guide I’ve ever seen. It’s very interesting, too, to see that the first thing Kosloff identifies is “3/4 (waltzes etc.) with mazurka feeling”. I wish someone had told me about that when I started out. As it is, it took me years to work it out (see this post), probably because the ballroom mazurka on which so many exercises are based, died out long ago without being revived: you have to dig it up to see what it looked like. I guessed you’d call that a kind of musical skeuomorph, would you?
Russian ballet technique, as taught fascinates me, because I’ve always been curious to know how bits of music end up in ballet classes and stay there. For example, I think there probably isn’t a ballet pianist in the world who doesn’t at some point play Quando m’en vo, O mio babbino caro, or Albeniz’s tango. And while we’re on the subject of tangos, I wonder where and how this thing about tangos for fondus come in? I keep thinking that one day, I’m going to unearth the ballet book that contained this piece, and we’ll know how it got into everyone’s repertoire, teachers and pianists alike. But while there are several pieces in Kosloff’s book that I recognise from my own or other pianists’ repertoires – amazing, after 93 years – that tango isn’t there, nor is the idea of doing a fondu on a tango.
If you’ve got any clues on this subject, I’d love to know, because it really is strange. At the speed that most fondus go, there’s hardly a tango in the world that would be appropriate. I’m fairly certain of that, because when I was researching music for the RAD’s vocational graded syllabus, I searched through literally thousands of pieces of music, and was thrilled when I finally found two habañeras that work – one by Chabrier, and another by Messager [link to score only]. And that’s about it – there are other habañeras, like the Saint-Saëns one, or the Ravel one, but you’d be hard pressed to make those work for class. Adios à Cuba and other pieces by Ignacio Cervantes are in the right style, but almost too poetic for a fondu – you’d want to stop and listen. So how did it start? And when? And why?
Meanwhile, if you’re on the hunt for free sheet music for ballet classes, this is a pretty good start. It’s not foolproof – exercises and classes and terminologies have changed quite a bit in 90 years, but it’s there, and it’s free.