Confessions of an anxious ballet pianist day #21: The grand battement “march”

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La gazza ladra overture: the grand battement march everyone knows

Overture to “La Gazza Ladra” —the grand battement march par excellence. Horrific.

Ballet classes seem to be full of things that aren’t quite what they should be: polonaises that are really boleros, waltzes that are mazurkas, mazurkas that sound like minuets, rhumbas that are choro. Then there’s the what you might call the “fondu tango,” that thing in habañera rhythm that is so slow, it’s hard to know how anyone ever thought it was a Thing in the first place. Little by little, I’ve managed to collect pieces that will get me out of these messes: you can, for example, play the Monti czardas instead of a “tango,” and it sounds like the kind of thing they want. But when it comes to the “grand battement march,” I still draw a blank.

Is there any music in the whole wide world really goes “aaaaaand a one…” as the marchy grand battement demands? How and when did anyone think that the overture to La Gazza Ladra would “do” for grands battements, just as long as you reduce the speed by about 400% and put accents in places that should be illegal? The trouble is, I can see exactly why teachers want music that goes like this: it wouldn’t be better on a 3/4, or faster, or as a completely different exercise. There’s a point to doing a grand battement like that.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a piece of music in the world that fits the template without ruining it. You’d think that any high-kicking number from a musical would do it, but no. There’s nothing worse than picking your moment for Springtime for Hitler, only to find that by the time the teacher’s flagged down the tempo to the speed of the exercise, you’ve killed one of the funniest moments in musical theatre, right there in your ballet class.  If anyone’s thinking, “Dance of the Knights” from The Apprentice, think again. It doesn’t go like that, trust me, get the CD and listen to it.

I’m still hunting, and still open to suggestions. Until I find something that works, the marchy grand battement is going to make me anxious for a long time yet.

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4 thoughts on “Confessions of an anxious ballet pianist day #21: The grand battement “march”

  1. Ines de E.

    One of my favorite marches for grands battements is a minor-key Appalachian ballad called “The Carnal and the Crane.” Its unfortunate side is that because it’s a ballad the tune is quite short; but it definitely has that “and-a-ONE!” feeling that always seems to be needed- or at least wanted. I haven’t the music for it, but it’s easy to work out. I learned it as performed by Custer LaRue and the Baltimore Consort – I imagine it’s findable on YouTube – and play it somewhat slower than she sings it, but not too slow.

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    1. Jonathan Still Post author

      Oh my word, I’ve just listened to it, what a find! It’s beautiful, I’d never heard of this before. Thank you so much for the tip, that’s going straight in my repertoire! By the way, I’m now going through your recital programme finding new ideas, too! “Ah quel dîner” would be perfect for a little pointework number. I always wanted to play Les berceaux for class (Nell was another one I would love to try and get in somehow), but couldn’t find a way to fix it. I just had another listen, and I can see a way that wouldn’t completely ruin the song. Either that, or I’ve been so long in this world that the cuts hurt less!

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      1. Ines de E.

        And re: Les Berceaux, I think I know what you’re trying to do; It’s a matter of shortening or lengthening some phrases slightly. I can’t type what I mean, but I think you know; that extra-long note at “qui leurent” is two beats shorter, thus squaring the phrase; and I think you’d have to leave the repeat of the last line (of words) out, playing only the second “par l’ame des lointains berceaux.” Have I read your mind? I’d love to hear what you do with it.

        “Nell” is a favorite of mine too and I’m quite sorry I didn’t do it on that recital — (that and “Dans les ruines d’une abbaye,” which is so sweet. That one might also work well for ballet — it’s very regularly phrased!) The hard part of doing Nell as a piano solo, though, would be adding the melody in the middle of that whirlwind of arpeggios!

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