- Download the score of the Military March by Granados (pdf, free)
- Read more about my Year of Ballet Playing Cards
The march that isn’t a march: one of the perennial problems of music for ballet class
Another problem that I could have added to my “Confessions of an anxious ballet pianist” series is the search for something march-like that can nonetheless immediately adapt to its surroundings without losing its identity: a musical chameleon that can be staccato and legato, slow and fast, up and down on the beat, but not too much; loud and soft, rhythmed and even; even but not mechanical, strict but not rigid. You need this for a certain kind of battement jeté exercise that tries to be all things to all women, and is neither fish nor fowl, musically. Enter the Military March by Granados (Marcha Militar).
Originally for piano duet, this little march is great for those occasions when you start playing and then realise, horrified, that you misread the exercise in the marking: it turns out to be slower/faster, louder/softer, more down on the beat, more up on the beat than you thought, and so on. With the Military March by Granados, you can pick various levels of the meter and emphasise them. There are different sections that vary from soft and fluid to sharp and detached, but within those sections, you can also alter your articulation and dynamics without causing any life-threatening injuries to the music. I found it thanks to Susie Cooper, who recommended as something for a children’s piece in a school on a Facebook thread. I heard two bars, and fell in love with it. Thanks, Susie.
How fast is a march in music for ballet class?
The published score is marked allegretto: poco lento which would give this a warm, demure, leisurely, slightly pastoral feel: a parade in a country town after lunch, not the Red Army Choir or The Dambusters. In fact, it’s more of a literary march than a military one, to borrow a concept from Raymond Monelle, who talks about the “cheval écrit” — the literary horse. If there’s anyone marching here, it’s not an army, it’s the pianists, dressed up in toy soldier uniforms. It was written in 1904, and dedicated to King Alfonso XIII of Spain. However indirectly, the favour was returned later: when Granados and his wife died in 1916 as a result of the torpedoing of the SS Sussex , King Alfonso set up a collection to raise money for the orphaned Granados children.
There’s a nice performance of it here, (as the original piano duet) and another one in the clip below, for brass band. Both are faster (at least to my mind) than necessary, and lose some of the potential for elegance and subtlety —but they demonstrate how it could be played fast, as well as slow.
In making the arrangement, I’ve tried to keep almost everything in, so you can see what the chord voicings should be, but it would be impossible to keep that up all the way through. I’ve shown an ossia at the beginning to give an idea for what it could be, when simplified. I find myself that even when I know that an orchestra would double the bass at the octave, I’m nervous to actually do it unless I see it written down, so my principle in reductions is to put it all in and let the player decide.
The manuscript of the Military March by Granados
For some details about the composition/publication history (in Spanish) see this short article.