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Image of schottische music from "The Pharoahs Daughter"

Now where’s that Schottische music I put away for a rainy day?

I’d originally selected this as an “extra” for a male ballet syllabus project I was working on for the RAD, back-of-the-book music for free allegros and so on. In the context of the other music we’d chosen, it sounded a bit too light and inconsequential.  It was only after we’d ditched it that I saw what they did to it in the ballet (The Pharaoh’s Daughter) and then I realised that there’s almost no other music that would have been suitable for those steps, and that you have to have seen this little duet to understand that the music isn’t so much twee, as rather understated fun. That’s the musical problem with medium allegro, in my view – the fact that you’ve got to try and support difficult movements but maintain lightness, and maintain lightness without sounding too light.

More interesting than it looks: give it a try

If you take one look at this and think “oh that’s a bit dull,” bear with me and just try it once for some medium allegro step in 2 which you’re struggling to find music for, and see what you think then.  The value of this music isn’t primarily in the tune, or in the overall rhythm but in the fact that it fills out the spaces that other music usually leaves vacant – the anacrusis and the offbeats. There’s not much in the way of dynamics or articulation in the score, but Pugni makes a point of marking accents and slurs on the weak beats of the bar, and they make a huge difference.  Just any old schottische wouldn’t necessarily have been as useful. This particular one is like a pair of cargo pants and Swiss penknife that has all kinds of accessories for different bits of an enchaînement, and you can make as little or as much of them as you like or need to.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist