Steps in a polonaise rhythm: Rasmussen’s “Experiencing Architecture”

Share

Rhythm in architecture

A few years ago I was trying to write some study materials about “rhythm,” and tied myself in knots trying to connect all the different ways the word is used in different contexts: art, architecture, poetry, music: rhythm as repetition, rhythm as line, rhythm as flow, and so on. It’s an appealing thought to be able to talk about the rhythm of architecture, but what does that mean? Like many of the people I know working in music and dance, I want to be able to make enriching, useful connections like this, but don’t know where to look.

I was delighted, then, to find a wonderfully clear chapter on “Rhythm in Architecture” (pp. 127-158) in Steen Eiler Rasmussen’s Experiencing Architecture (1959/1964). The clarity comes from  Rasmussen’s honesty about the fact that rhythm is a fuzzy concept, and from a general tendency for scholars in the 1950s and 1960s to write more clearly and accessibly than they do now—in my view, at least. Having described the patterns of doors and windows in terraced houses in London and Venice, he says:

I am quite sure that most people would notice that all of these façades are rhythmically divided. And yet if you were to ask them what rhythm in architecture means it would be difficult for them to explain, let alone define. The term rhythm is borrowed from other arts involving a time element and based on movement, such as music and dancing. (Rasmussen 1964, p. 133)

He goes on to mention the importance of music and rhythm to the architects Eric Mendelsohn and Frank Lloyd Wright, in different ways:

For these two men, then, there is obviously a connection between architecture and music. But it still does not explain what is meant by rhythm in architecture. Architecture itself has no time dimension, no movement, and therefore cannot be rhythm in the same way as music and dancing are. But to experience architecture demands time; it also demands work—though mental, not physical work. . . .If you feel that a line is rhythmic it means that by following it with your eyes you have an experience that can be compared with the experience of rhythmic ice-skating, for instance. (p. 135)

In other words, the time element missing from architecture is supplied by you, the viewer, “reading” the building in time, as you might follow a score, or a dance. He describes the pattern of windows in the 15th century Calle dei Preti near Via Garibaldi in Venice thus:

As you glance across the front, from left to right, you experience something like a complicated dance rhythm; it could be played on four drums. (p. 132)

I can remember seeing either that row of houses, or one very like it in Venice, and being puzzled by the strange arrangement of windows, which he describes later as being “like the harmony of a four-part song.”

The Spanish steps of a polonaise

My favourite bit of all, however, is when he gets on to Piranesi’s Veduta di Piazza di Spagna (c. 1750), a detailed etching that includes a view of the “Spanish steps” in Rome.

Detail of

Detail of “Veduta di Piazza di Spagna” by Piranesi, circa 1750, similar to the one shown in Rasmussen (1964)

With its bends and turns, its design seems to have been based on an old-fashioned, very ceremonial dance—the Polonaise—in which the dancers advance four by four in a straight line and then separate, two going to the right and two to the left; they turn, turn again, curtsy, meet again on the large landing, advance together, separate once more to left and right, and finally meet again at the the topmost terrace where they turn to face the view and see Rome lying at their feet. (p.136)

Even if this is totally fanciful armchair theorizing, it’s a wonderful way to read those steps. The only problem for me is that he reads the dance going up the steps, whereas Piranesi’s drawing is from the bottom. Given that if stages are raked at all, the rake is towards the viewer, it would seem natural to consider the bottom of the steps, not the top, as the end point of the polonaise procession. I don’t think that particularly matters though: I’m quite convinced, now Rasmussen’s said it, that there is something very dancy about those steps, something, indeed, of the polonaise which looks so impressive as its lines divide and reform.

Nonetheless, as much as I love the idea, there’s a trace of what I have referred to elsewhere as they would have: They knew little about walking but so much more about the very ceremonious dancing of the period, and therefore they could move gracefully on those steps. . .” Rasmussen says (p. 136).  It’s a nice thought, and it’s true that that Piranesi’s drawing has lots of gallant looking people in farthingales and frock coats who look like they were made to process elegantly down that magnificent staircase. But Piranesi also shows people doing no such thing: on the left of the steps, there’s what might be a drunk, collapsed at the bottom. On the right, there’s what looks like a massive fight that’s ended in a pile-up. RIght in the middle of the central stairway, directly in the path of the elegant couple about to mount the stairs, a man is gesturing in angry desperation to what looks like a woman who absolutely refuses to move. She looks like she might be drunk and disorderly too, and maybe not even fully dressed, hence the exasperation of her partner. To the left of the piled-up gang on the right hand side is a man who looks like he might be taking a not very discreet piss against the walls. In short, “society” is as variegated in this picture as it would be on the Spanish Steps today (perhaps more so). The occupational hazard of working in dance and music for too long is that you tend to imagine the whole of society like a ballroom. 

How I found Rasmussen 

Sometimes I wonder how much detail is too much when you’re documenting your sources. For me, the route is one of the most important parts: it shows respect to those whose work pointed you in the right direction, but if you’ve found something truly wonderful, it might also provide clues as to how to conjoin the right kind of search terms in future. But where do you stop—how many steps should you retrace? 

In this case, I was re-(skim)reading Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, and noticed his reference to rhythmanalysis (long before Lefebvre) which I hadn’t before, and to the name that I remembered from  Lefebvre’s book, Lúcio Alberto Pinheiro dos Santos—the Portuguese philosopher who first introduced the term rhythmanalysis in 1931. I was wondering how I had managed to miss Bachelard’s reference the first time round, so I googled dos Santos and rhythmanalysis as search terms, and came across Giovanni Campus’s doctoral thesis “The City as Theatre: The Performing Space.”  In the section of the thesis about rhythmanalysis, I found a discussion of Rasmussen, buildings and rhythm which set me on the path to this post. Thank you Giovanni. 

As I said in a recent post, sometimes I wonder how it is that you can fail to discover really useful resources for such a long time: surely, when they’re that good, or that close to your interests, Google will just find them? Well, no. When I tried to find the Campus’s thesis online again, I couldn’t. Then I remembered that when I first googled dos Santos and rhythmanalysis, I had misspelled what I could remember of the first names—Pinero, rather than PInheiro. Only when I googled <pinero dos Santos rhythmanalysis> could I find Campus’s thesis again—why? Because Campus himself misspells the name.  When Google can be so precise about not delivering relevant results to you for the sake of a simple misspelling, you wonder what else you might be missing. 

Footnote on dos Santos and rhythmanalysis

And all of that makes me as suspicious as I ever was about the benefits of Google unless you have something to bring to the search box yourself. Once I’d got Bachelard, Pinheiro dos Santos, Rhythmanalysis, and Lefebvre as search times, the useful results multiplied. Especially useful was this article by Jonas Rutgeerts, where in a footnote he explains what I was already beginning to surmise about dos Santos, from the lack of literature available: 

The Portuguese professor in literature and psychology Lúcio Alberto Pinheiro dos Santos allegedly coined the term rhythmanalysis in 1931, when he wrote La Rythmanalyse. However, up until today the theoretical relevance of this work remains unclear, as the book was never published and the original manuscript is lost. The only in-depth reference to the text can be found in Gaston Bachelard Dialectics of Duration. Moreover, as Bachelard neither intends “to give an over-all view of these nor to describe all the many lines of development,” it is virtually impossible to make claims about dos Santos’s own theory. (p. 99)

In the end, I begin to wonder whether talking about rhythm in architecture is just something refined people do as part of elegant conversation: a kind of linguistic curlicue that is decorative rather than providing useful insights. It seems every time someone wants to use the trope, they have to explain what they mean, at the same time as saying that what they mean is difficult to define. That to me is God telling you to use a different metaphor, or just say what you mean without resorting to metaphor at all. 

References

Steen Eiler, R. (1964). Experiencing architecture. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Waltz offences: when to call the police

Share
A fairground waltzer

A waltzer at Winter Wonderland, 2018. With no competition the most horrible experience (the waltzer) I have ever had. I thought I was going to die or throw up or both.

For no reason except that I love the story, here’s an interesting fact about the waltz in 19th century Innsbruck.

According to Eric McKee (2014) after 1780, the term deutscher Tanz, which until then meant any German spinning dance, began to refer to dances—like the Walzer (waltz)—where couples made circuits around the edge of the dance space, while also turning in their own, smaller circles. If you’ve ever been on a waltzer at a fairground, that’s the principle: a surprising case of a fancy name reliably describing the thing it’s applied to. 

For that reason, McKee refers to the waltz, Walzer, and Deutscher with the collective term Deutscher–Waltzer. The difference between these dances and the later “Viennese waltz” was that in the earlier forms, couples tried to co-ordinate their travel around the room with the other dancers, so that it was in effect a very large group dance. By contrast, in the first decade of the 19th century, couples began to treat the ballroom as a kind of anticlockwise circular motorway, choosing to create other smaller “lanes” inside the space, and varying the length of their stride so they could dawdle or overtake, choosing their own, independent speed. 

And here we come to my favourite bit of McKee’s description: 

However, in some regions an ordered an arrangement of dancers continued to be practiced. As late as 1816 in a dance hall in Innsbruck, upon his second warning a man could be reported to the police commissioner for passing ahead of another waltzing couple of the ballroom dance floor (Fink 1990, p. 39)

[The Fink citation at the end is part of McKee’s text. The quote above is from McKee 2014, p. 175)—see references for details].

Having seen the dirty looks that dancers in open classes can give to someone who fails to get out of the way at the end of a travelling exercise, or who is still working out the steps in their head in the middle of the studio while others are about to crash in to them, I can see the attraction of being able to call the police when you’re beyond narked. I’d be interested to know what the police commissioner thought about this—and what similar dancing crimes would be so heinous as to warrant a call to Cressida Dick? 

References

McKee, E. (2014). Ballroom dances of the late eighteenth century. In D. Mirka (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory (pp. 164–193). New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199841578.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199841578-e-7
Fink, M. (1990). Tanzveranstaltungen und Bälle. In W. Salmen (Ed.), Mozart in der Tanzkultur seiner Zeit (pp. 33–46). Innsbruck: Helbling.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Historical dance resources page (Richard Powers)

Share

Illustration of quadrille formation from Howe’s Drawing Room Dances (1859) available to download from Richard Powers’ site. 

Now and again I come across resources on the web that make me wonder how it was possible to have missed them all this time. Richard Powers’ website about historical dance is one of those.

I was looking for an online translation of Domenico da Piacenza’s 15th century treatise on dance. I might as well say why, while I’m at it. It’s because in Michael Baxandall’s  Painting and Experience in fifteenth century Italy, there is the most wonderful description of maniera, and definition of rhythm: 

Maniera, according to Domenico, is ‘a moderate movement, not too much and not too little, but so smooth that the figure is like a gondola oared by two oars through the little waves of a calm sea, these waves rising slowly and falling quickly.’ Misura is rhythm, but flexible rhythm, ‘slowness compensated by quickness.’  (Baxandall 1988, pg. 78) 

I love this so much,  I wanted to find the original, see the context, and give a more detailed reference to the original work if I could. I didn’t find the translation (eventually I managed to look at one on Google Books), but I did find on Powers’ site a table, in chronological order, of nearly 1600 dance manuals from the years 1425–2000, the first being da Piacenza’s De arte saltandi et choreas ducendi.  He has a private collection of 1,950 such manuals, 108 of which he has made available on his downloads page. These are not the same manuals that are available from the Library of Congress site, or others. 

As it happens, I was also looking for quadrille music for a workshop (on quadrilles) that I did recently at Tring Park School for the RAD, with Nicola Gaines. Although I had plenty of quadrilles from IMSLP, I wanted to make sure I had a different set to the ones I had used last time. On Powers’ site, on the downloads page, I found Elias Howe’s 1859 Drawing Room Dances, which has several quadrilles in it, of many different types. Several other dance manuals or descriptions on the downloads page have sheet music included, so it is well worth looking here. 

Also well worth reading are his teaching guidelines, especially the section on music. It is astonishing how little advice or information there is out there on using music in dance teaching. Although this isn’t specifically about ballet teaching (but about historical dance), everything he says could be usefully applied to ballet teaching. The following observation, for example, is so true, yet I have never seen it written down before: 

Tempo warning: There may come the day when you think to yourself, “That music feels too fast. I think I’ll slow it down for them.”  Or, “I can’t believe I’ve been teaching it that fast all of these years!”  No, the music isn’t too fast; you’re just slowing down.  If your class is comprised of younger people, don’t slow the class down to a tempo which works for an older teacher.

Also well worth reading is his “How to be a better dance DJ“—by which he means selecting and putting on music for social dances. But a lot of what he says is applicable to teachers selecting music for ballet classes, or for pianists preparing music for them. 

Powers is wonderfully generous with his resources, and for my taste, represents the best of the web—it makes me feel a little nostalgic for the early days (I’m talking 20 years ago) when people saw the web as an opportunity to share, rather than monetize. 

References

Baxandall, M. (1988). Painting and experience in fifteenth century Italy: a primer in the social history of pictorial style (2nd ed). Oxford [Oxfordshire] ; New York: Oxford University Press.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Drigo’s “Reveil de Flore” piano score online

Share

Thanks to Patty Noel who alerted me to the fact that Harvard now have this available online digitally. We’d both previously searched high and low for it without success, but then it seemed to suddenly appear. As always with Drigo, some wonderful music in there that in my view (shhhh don’t tell anyone I said so) eclipses a lot of Tchaikovsky’s ballet music. 

Link to Harvard University’s digital piano score of Le Reveil de Flore (Drigo)

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Little Humpbacked Horse thesis online

Share

Great to read Aaron Manela’s masters thesis “Arthur Saint-Léon’s The Little Humpbacked Horse in Context,”  which is available online. Here’s the abstract: 

In this study I examine representations of antisemitism, fantasy, and cultural imperialism in the 1864 ballet The Little Humpbacked Horse, composed by Cesare Pugni and choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon. As the creative team adapted the story from verse to ballet, they literally morphed the titular character into new fantastical forms. They also added Jewish, Muslim, and other oriental characters and ended the ballet with a parade of the Russian nations. Drawing on the works of Richard S. Wortman, Julie Kalman, and Roger Bartra, I place these transformations in the context of a larger Russian ambivalence around the shift from a rural and woodland economy to an urban one, the inclusion of Eastern provinces in the rapidly expanding nation, and the emancipation – and inclusion of – internal minorities. I then explain how the music, choreography, and focus of the ballet change as the relevance of these mid-nineteenth century concerns fades.

As I’m struggling with a very tricky paragraph about music and representation right now, it’s helpful to read something like this that is so clear about the connection. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

“. . . And she done the fandango all over the place”

Share
The Body and Everyday Life by Helen Thomas, the source of the fandango story in this post

The Body and Everyday Life: excellent guide to the field by Helen Thomas.

I’ve just found another beautiful piece of dance research. Beauty might be an odd adjective to use, but there is something deeply attractive about the careful observation, and attention to  social and musical details in this particular study. It resonates strongly with the kind of thing I and my ballet pianist colleagues often see in classes and rehearsals, and the analysis and conclusions throw interesting light on our world too. 

I found it in Helen Thomas’s excellent book, The Body and Everyday Life (Routledge, 2013), on pages 32-33. Thomas refers to Anya Peterson Royce’s description of arguments between members of a Zapotec dance group from Juchitán, Mexico (Royce, The Anthropology of Dance, 1980, pp. 27-31).  The detail is what makes the story, so there’s a lot you can’t skip, but I’ll try to summarize it briefly.

The fandango rehearsal

In Royce’s account, six couples are rehearsing the Fandango, a dance which has alternating fast and slow sections. Four of the couples change place two bars before the new tempo begins, whereas the other two change place right on it. An older dancer from one of the “two-bars-before” couples , considered an expert on dance and a regular performer at the annual dance festival, corrects one of the women from the “right on the tempo change” couples, saying that two bars before is the correct way. She also happens to be the right-on-it woman’s older cousin, as well as being from a distinguished old Zapotec family.

You’d think that the younger cousin, being younger, and being outnumbered and outclassed in terms of dance experience, would have just said “OK, thank you” and taken the correction from her older cousin, especially as there were other relatives from the same family in the rehearsal who sided with the two-bars-before view. But she didn’t. She insisted that her way was right, and what’s more, she’d even learned it  from her older cousin’s grandmother—considered one of the best dancers in Juchitán. She refused to budge, and said that the grandmother should be called on to arbitrate. 

Having seen both versions, the grandmother declared the two-bars-before version to be the correct one. I rather like the sound of the younger cousin, who now says that she’d seen the grandmother moving on the tempo change, not two bars before it, on a recent occasion. When grandmother asked her daughter (i.e. the older cousin) whether that was true, the cousin said, no it wasn’t, she’d moved two bars before, as they’d been saying all along. The younger cousin had finally to bow to pressure and give way in the face of all the odds stacked against her. 

But Royce later performed the fandango with another member of the two-bar-before family, and in keeping with what she had observed in the family drama, made to move two bars before the upcoming tempo change. At this point—and if you work in the dance world, you’ll have guessed this bit already—she was told that she should only move when the music changed! After a lot of questions and further observation, she realized that it was acceptable to do the dance both ways, changing before or on the tempo change—but under the circumstances, family values won the day, not choreographic truth. It reminds me of those rehearsals where everyone does what they’re told if the visiting choreographer or ballet mistress wants a change made, but as soon as they’re on a plane, things get changed back to how they were, at least for those who have sufficient status to get away with it. 

Commentary on the fandango rehearsal

I love the story, but also Thomas’s commentary on it: 

The dancers’ body movement in time and space in the context of the rehearsal became a site of resistance to and an affirmation of the cultural codes of behaviour which almost go unnoticed in everyday life. This case also raises the question as to when a performance event (in the case of a rehearsal) can be said to begin and end, which, in turn, leads to a questioning of the closed-off notion of the ‘performance event’ from everyday life” (Thomas 2013, p. 34). 

As class and rehearsal pianists for ballet you get to see, or hear of, similar altercations about music that are about so much more than just music because they are thoroughly embedded in social structures (for some reason, dance seems to be particularly prone to such things, perhaps precisely because it involves bodies moving together socially). And yet, you absolutely have to have the musical detail for the story to make any sense at all. That’s why I think this is such a beautiful bit of research. It’s about so little and so much at the same time, and music is not accompaniment or background, but part of the cloth from which the whole story is woven. 

She done the fandango

I couldn’t resist calling this She done the fandango all over the place. Years ago I was at a party at house of the wonderful poet, Kit Wright. He’d found a Victorian music hall song with that title in a compendium of such things, and as after-lunch entertainment, sang it, accompanying himself on the guitar, in the style of a Country and Western ballad. Every time I hear fandango I remember that song, and that party. I am certain that Kit’s book had it as She done the fandango, rather than she “did” or “does,” because that was why it sounded so funny, but I’ll have to wait til my copy arrives to find out. Meanwhile, here’s the chorus from Henri Clarke’s 1883 song, “She does the fandango all over the place.” 

She sang like a nightingale, twanged her guitar
Danced the Cachuca, and smoked a cigar
Oh what a form, Oh what a face
And she does the Fandango all over the place.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Moira Shearer, according to Francis Sparshott

Share

Sometimes I put things on my website just because I know that I’ll never find them again, and because they’re so darn weird, blogging about them is the only way to get it out of my system. 

So here it is, the strangest thing I ever read in a book purporting to be on the philosophy of dance, or about Moira Shearer, come to that.  I discovered, rather too late, that the philosopher Francis Sparshott had written a whole chapter on music and dance in A Measured Pace (1995), one of his two philosophical books on  dance.  I’m skimming through, then all of a sudden, I see this extraordinary passage about Moira Shearer, who, Sparshott relates, had once said that for her, some modern ballets, performed to “squeals, grunts and groans, or no music at all,” seemed to contradict what dancing was. In her view, or it must surely be fair to say, in her experience, choreographers wanted to choreograph out of a response to music—”Something surely makes one want to dance,” she says. 

That sounds pretty normal to me—let’s face it, it’s probably not the money, the lifestyle, or the career prospects, and although it’s not everybody’s reason to dance, an awful lot of dancers will say that it was because of the music, or that they don’t like dancing without it, or that they chose to choreograph a piece because they liked the music. But for Sparshott, who’s already written 200-plus pages on dance by now, this seems “strange.”

“One would have thought,” he says, as if philosophers and their readers are better placed to know the mind of the dancers they are writing about, “choreographers simply wanted to compose dances, and dancers wanted to dance them,” he says on page 218. “She [Shearer] might have said, with equal reason, that something makes musical composers want to compose.” To me, that doesn’t seem so strange either.  I can understand that a composer must primarily be interested in putting sounds together, otherwise they’re doomed, but it seems perfectly reasonable that they might look to the world around them for inspiration. They might have to, if they’ve been commissioned to write something. Also, speaking as a musician, I don’t find anything strange in the idea that there is something that precedes music before you actually make it: it’s particularly acute in performance, where you have to have an idea of the music before you start playing, otherwise what are you going to do? At the most basic level, if you’re playing for a class, and you need to set the tempo, you also first need to set the tempo for yourself. In a sense, there is something that is “making you want to play” in that tempo, even if you are part of that process yourself. 

But here’s the oddest bit of all, that I’m afraid made me wonder if I should pay any attention to this book any more. I’m going to put it in bold so you don’t miss it: “It is not surprising, as one reads this, that Shearer abandoned her dancing career—no doubt her heart was never in it.” (Sparshott, 1995, p. 218). What on earth is a comment like this doing in a book on philosophy? And what are the implications of it? That Shearer had no right, if she were to fit his conceptual claim about what being a dancer was, to have four children, or enjoy anything other than dancing? On that view, Vicky had no option but to throw herself under that train in The Red Shoes. 

Now, as it happens, a comment in  Shearer’s obituary in the Daily Telegraph lends some support to Sparshott’s comment. She is reported to have said that she never really wanted to be a dancer as a child, and later on, that “there was so much more in life than dancing – so much ordinary living to do.”  But that does not seem unreasonable either. It’s not given to most of us to be able to have the extraordinary, multi-faceted career that Shearer had, so to dismiss her other work and life choices as “abandoning her dancing career” seems a pretty mean-minded way to support your conceptual claims. And above all, if you’re a philosopher, why pick an argument with Moira Shearer, rather than other philosophers? 

I’d forgotten when I posted this that I’d long ago posted a link to a wonderful interview with Moira Shearer about The Red Shoes. Delightful to read again. 
 
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Jewels from the Ballet: down the wonderful rabbit-hole of English ballet history

Share
Jewels from the Ballet

Jewels from the Ballet: a music anthology that has followed me around since I was a child. I never realized what a jewel it really was.

I’ve seen this book so many times in my life, either as the piano version, or the one for violin and piano, that I have come to instantly disregard it. Oh yes, that book, with all those tunes that I know backwards, standing on my head. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been a bit snobbish about it, most likely because, published in 1946, it looks like the kind of book that was already long out of date and out of fashion when I was a child in the 1960s, and spoke to me—whenever I saw it in second-hand book shops or on the shelves of ballet schools—of a thankfully bygone era. I mean, who nowadays would use a phrase like jewels of the ballet?

And that oddly composed picture—it’s so full of quaint sentimentality, compared to those faceless sweaty Athena-style prints of the 1980s: perfectly-crossed fifths in legwarmers, or the close-up of the pointe-shoe battered toes of a ballerina. If I’m even more honest, there’s  something about being classically trained that makes you think that serious music shouldn’t have pictures on the cover, unless they are black and white engravings from so far in the past that they are historically informative. It shouts “commercial!” at you, when you want to believe that the people who publish the music you play are doing it for scholarly, dignified reasons. Such thoughts are so deeply embedded and habitual, that it’s only when I came to pick this anthology up and look at it more carefully that I recognised my own absurd prejudices. 

Pauline Grant and On with the Show

I took it off the shelves because I wanted an example of a certain kind of anthology. This’ll do, I thought. I turned the cover, expecting to find the contents page, but to my astonishment, found this full-page picture of a tableau called “Wedgwood Group,” choreographed by Pauline Grant for “On with the Show” on Blackpool North Pier. And then the trip down the historical rabbit-hole started. Even though I was supposed to be writing about something quite different, I couldn’t get this picture, and what it symbolized and portrayed, out of my mind.  I instantly thought of what VIrginia Taylor says in her thesis about the contrast between dance in the working theatre, and the companies that we know most about such as the Royal Ballet or English National Ballet, and a phrase used by one of my school friends about his sister, a ballet dancer (albeit not of this period): she did all the summer shows. 

Pauline Grant's "Wedgwood Group" —unknown English ballet history

Pauline Grant’s “Wedgwood Group” from On with the Show, Blackpool North Pier.

“End of the pier show” is used pejoratively, but this was by no means vaudeville: Pauline Grant choreographed the Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings (the same piece that Balanchine used for Serenade) for this number in On with the Show on Blackpool North Pier. There are a few more pictures after this one, of Pauline Grant, Mona Inglesby, and, with no great fanfare or top billing, Margot Fonteyn. I began to do my homework on Lawrence Wright, and discovered via this fascinating page on him from the Blackpool Museum, that he’d produced the long-running On with the show, and so now the connection between Pauline Grant, Jewels of the Ballet and him began to make sense: he was publishing music that had been heard in ballets in his shows. 

The more I researched, the more interesting it got. I had heard the name Mona Inglesby, but in somewhat disparaging terms, which I now realise is rather shocking, but also understandable: despite her enormous achievements and massive popularity, she has been all but wiped from ballet history. Her completely self-financing company International Ballet had  60 dancers and an orchestra while the Sadlers Wells were playing safe with Constant Lambert and Hilda Gaunt on two pianos playing arrangements. The Musicians Union thanked Inglesby for having kept so many musicians in work during the war. 

English ballet history: Ismene Brown’s Blackout Ballet

I then found  that Ismene Brown had had a similar shock of recognition when she was researching for an article about the Kirov’s recentish reconstruction of the Sergeyev Sleeping Beauty. Mona  Inglesby not only had Sergeyev to teach her company the original choreography from the notations, but after Sergeyev died, she sold the scores to Harvard (where they are now), who at the time seemed to be the only people who recognised what a legacy this was. Ismene Brown’s 30 minute BBC radio programme about this, Blackout Ballet is available here—scroll down to the bottom of the page for the audio (but read the page, it’s fascinating and wonderful). A transcript of Blackout Ballet is available here, with some pictures as well. 

English ballet history: Karen Eliot’s Albion’s Dance

After that, it was only a matter of time before I found Karen Eliots’ Albion’s Dance which documents this period in detail,  painting a remarkable picture of ballet in wartime England that I simply had no idea about, companies that had come and gone, sometimes with enormous success, and certainly bringing ballet to audiences in a way that seems unimaginable now. Among others, Eliot quotes some lovely stories from Joy Camden’s autobiography, and it makes me sad to think that I had no idea who I had been talking to when I played for her RAD exam session for a week in Newcastle back in 1986, and that it’s taken me 33 years to find out, mainly because English ballet history has been so skewed by the big, arts council funded names.

The biggest surprise of all, which I am still pondering, is that all this music which I knew as a child from albums like this, had perhaps been made famous not by the big-name companies, but by these passionate, hard-working war-time ones. If it hadn’t been for Lawrence Wright and Pauline Grant and Blackpool Pier, would I ever have been sitting at a piano in the 1960s playing selections from Coppélia and other pieces in this album? Would Les Sylphides and Coppélia, La Source, and The Nutcracker been regarded as “classics” had it not been for Mona Inglesby and her touring? 

And just as an aside, here’s the book which in a sense gave me a career. The Keith Prowse “Standard Series” Book Two, Ballet Music etc. for piano arr. by Ernest Haywood. I had listened to the LP we had of Coppélia countless times, and loved it as a child, and learned to play the mazurka from this book, and did so over and over again. I was so astonished to find one day that I could make a living out of having so much fun. 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Presentation at DANSOX summer school, Oxford, 7th July

Share

Presentation at DANSOX

A packed and interesting programme of lectures/events at the DANSOX summer school in Oxford coming up (6th–8th July 2019), including a joint 2-hour presentation by me and Susie Crow based partly on our doctoral research into ballet classes. That’s on Sunday 7th, 4-15–6.15pm. I promise you, there’ll be a piano, dancing, and no PowerPoint, plus, I hope some interesting conversations about our nerdy interest in ballet class as a hot topic for discussion. 

There’s a nice short video here about DANSOX by Prof. Susan Jones 

 

 

£15 for a day ticket. 

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Sources for the “Esmeralda” pas de deux

Share

One of the oddities about the ballet repertoire is that the more famous and frequently performed the piece, the more tricky its musical history, like the  “Black Swan” Pas de Deux, for example, which does not exist in Tchaikovsky’s original score, at least not in its entirety, as you know it, or where you’d expect to find it. Over time, people like Adam Lopez who writes so much for Wikipedia on the Imperial Russian ballet and its music, and the brilliant ballet music librarians Lars Payne and Matthew Naughtin (see “Black Swan” link above) have solved many of these mysteries.

There is one ballet mystery  which just won’t go away, however, and that’s the question of the source for the “Esmeralda” pas de deux. I don’t mean Pugni’s 1844 ballet, but the one with the famous tambourine solo for the ballerina created by Pyotr Gusev in 1949, and later produced by Ben Stevenson in 1982 for the Jackson International Ballet Competition (see Matthew Naughtin’s Ballet Music: A Handbook). 

Naughtin says that the opening is by Drigo (for a revival of Petipa’s L’order du roi), but by chance, while I was looking to see if there was a scan of Marenco’s Sieba (1880-1881), which is reputedly the source for the tambourine variation, I found a couple of pages of that score (i.e. Sieba) in Matilda Ertz’s doctoral thesis.  Look at example 29 on page 287-288  (pdf page 311-312, the opening of the tempest from Sieba) and you’ll see that the  latter half of it is note for note part of the adagio in the Esmeralda pas de deux. For the full thesis, see Nineteenth-century Italian ballet music before unification: Sources, style, and context” Matilda Ertz, (Univ. of Oregon, 2010).  It might be that some is by Drigo and some by Marenco—it’s certainly a very abrupt cut and bizarre modulation from B major down to A, at the point that the Sieba tempest comes in, and the materials don’t seem to be related at all. Incidentally, Ertz’s thesis is really interesting if you’re into ballet music. 

I haven’t managed to find a scan of the score of Sieba beyond these two pages, but it would make sense that the tambourine solo is from the same piece as the adagio—though if the attribution to Drigo is not correct, or at least, an erasure of underlying sources, then I wonder if we should question the tambourine solo’s origins too, until we see the evidence. I  can’t find the coda of Esmeralda in the source that Naughtin gives, either (Pugni’s The Pharaoh’s Daughter). I have seen that coda in another ballet, but I cannot for the life of me remember which one it is. 

Thanks to Adrian Mathers, the mystery of where the coda came from (see crossed out section above) is now solved. Matthew Naughtin was right, it is from The Pharaoh’s Daughter, and I had seen it before, but I had completely forgotten that where I had seen it was in the violin repetiteur of that ballet, not the piano score. It was Adrian who drew my attention to the fact that it’s in the repetiteur but not the piano reduction. You can see the Pharaoh’s Daughter repetiteur it for yourself, digitized in Harvard Library. The coda of Esmeralda is on pages 125-129. 

If anyone has either a piano reduction of Sieba to send me (there’s a copy available in the reading room of the British Library, I know, but I don’t have time to find it right now). 

Giselle and the Peasant Pas de Deux

While I’m at it, there’s another mystery to be solved—or at least, in my view it’s a mystery. How many times have we heard that the Peasant pas de deux in Giselle is by Burgmüller, and a piece called Souvenirs de Ratisbonne Op. 67? Well, Aki Kuroda has recorded it, and it sounds like this: 

In other words, it’s not the peasant pas de deux in its entirety, but one of the female variations, transposed from its original C major into D. There’s an awful lot more music that needs to be explained.  Now, I’m sticking my neck out here on the basis of not a lot of knowledge about Burgmüller, but from what I know of his music, I find it hard to believe he’s the author of the entrée polonaise, because it’s very polonaise-y, whereas his tend to be waltzes with a funny left hand. The pas de deux? Maybe. But the E major male  solo that begins with the whole-beat upbeat? That’s very Franco-Italian metrically speaking (see my post “compound errors” and the section on Franco-Italian hypermeter in this post for more on that topic) and not at all like the kind of thing Burgmüller writes usually—even one of his tarantellas begins on the first beat of the bar. You find Franco-Italian barring all over Pugni’s scores, but not Burgmüller’s. On the other hand, there’s something I don’t quite trust about the female solo in G major (2/4). That looks like the kind of solo that should begin on the upbeat, like these by Auber but it doesn’t. It looks like a French solo in German clothing. 

Whatever and whoever is behind this story, there is more to it than simply Souvenir de Ratisbonne. Cyril Beaumont in his The Ballet Called Giselle (1945) is more precise: he refers to “a waltz entitled “Souvenir de Ratisbonne” and a suite of dances which used to be performed by Giselle’s friends and their two leaders,” but I haven’t yet come across anything more than that in music scholarship. Contributions very welcome. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email