A ragbag of ballet music oddments

In This Article

Whereas literary scholars can publish small or isolated findings in a journal called Notes and Queries, neither the ballet nor the musical world offers a comparable vehicle for items that, while they don’t necessarily lead anywhere, and certainly don’t lend themselves to weighty development, have an intrinsic interest even so.

I have therefore decided to assemble into one article a miscellany of such discoveries (some final, some provisional) made over the past year or so—the fruit of email contact with ballet authorities and librarians the world over. Some of this information has been published already, but in out-of-the-way places that people who, like me, can’t speak or read Russian, would not otherwise be able to access.

Because there is no coherent scheme to impose unity on these odds and ends, I shall have to resort to that crudest of all taxonomical instruments—the alphabet. So here goes.

1. Casse noisette

I have a special interest in the music of Tchaikovsky, and have studied almost all of it closely, so I was startled to find an unfamiliar hornpipe in Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker: Clara’s Story. How to account for it, then, when my comprehensive knowledge of the piano pieces ruled out an insert on the lines of the variation that Petipa choreographed for Odile, and when David Brown’s definitive study of the composer made no mention of a Nutcracker hornpipe, an omission repeated in both my vinyl and CD recordings of the music.

Utterly mystified, I wrote to Michelle Potter, the editor of Brolga and the person responsible for introducing me to Murphy’s remarkable ballet in the first instance, and she kindly put me in touch with Harry Haythorne. He, with equal kindness, sent me an explanation. According to Peter March’s edition of the ballet for the Tchaikovsky Foundation, when Tchaikovsky received the first draft of Petipa’s Nutcracker libretto, his interest was aroused by the national dances of the divertissement, and he began sketching the English one—a gigue.

But when the revised version of the libretto arrived, the gigue had been exscinded, and so he abandoned it. Peter March published a piano version of the sketch as a numéro supplémentaire, and it was upon this that Donald Hollier, formerly of the Canberra School of Music, based his orchestral version for Graeme Murphy. (It also figures in Act 2 of the Nutcracker that Patrice Bart mounted for the Ballet of the Deutsche Staatsoper.)

Even though, according to Mr Haythorne, Hollier amplified the gigue with some additional melodic material, he did so in a way that is wholly idiomatic and persuasive— which is more than can be said for some orchestrations by those other Australian arrangers, Charles Mackerras and John Lanchbery.

One can note in passing that the ballet world seems habitually to have conceived of England in eighteenth-century terms. Pugni, for example, used a gigue to represent the Thames in his ‘Pas des fleuves’ from La Fille de pharaon (though in his version of the ballet Pierre Lacotte has transposed it to the preceding act and assigned it, appropriately enough, to John Bull), and in Marenco’s Excelsior a gavotte depicts ‘l’inglese’.

And when Edouard Espinosa danced at the Folies-bergère in 1903, the restive audience cried

'Oh ces Anglais, avec leur gigue. Ah ce qu’ils en font un potin avec leurs semelles de bois!' (bother these English and their jig, don’t they make a row with the wooden soles) and so forth. 1

2. Diana and Actaeon

It was my good fortune recently to make the email acquaintance of a young student and writer in America called John-Michael Sherrick. He takes a lively, uncondescending interest in nineteenth-century ballet music, and always has something fresh and interesting to say about it when he writes to me.

It was he who first drew my attention to the anomaly of having Diana dance with Actaeon as she does in the Kirov pas de deux of that name—something that, even with my knowledge of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, had never troubled me before.

An éclaircissement was on its way, however, for at about the same time that I began my correspondence with Mr Sherrick, I was also fortunate enough to ‘meet’ electronically the dance critic of The Wall Street Journal, and the author of Ballet 101, or, as it’s known outside America, Ballet: A Complete Guide. Robert Greskovic knows more about the Imperial Ballet of Russia than anybody I have ever encountered, and his knowledge is nurtured and sustained by a remarkable library.

He informed me that the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux was in fact Vaganova’s redaction of a Petipa pas de trois for Diana, Endymion and a satyr originally intended for Le Roi Candaule, but which she inserted into La Esmeralda (with that inexplicable change of title) when the former fell from the repertory.

Suddenly, everything fell into place for me. While there can be no doubt that Pugni composed a pas entitled ‘Les Amours de Diane’ for the original ballet (one of Mr Greskovic’s books reproduces an 1875 Bolshoi affiche on which it is listed), Petipa would seem to have scrapped it for his revival in 1891, and commissioned a gusset from Drigo instead. Most of it is Drigovian in tune and texture, but two items that seem to rework material from the original score of 1868.

These are the intrada and the little scherzino for the nymphs that functions as a breath-catching interlude between the adage and the variations. The latter strikes me as having been an ideal vehicle for some danced persiflage between the nymphs and the missing satyr, who might well have been entrapped by the circle of attitudes voyageants that forms part of the choreography. That is wholly speculative, however.

What is not is the fact that horn calls sound twice in the course of the adage, and on both occasions Diana acknowledges them with the mimic gesture for ‘j’écoute’. Since Endymion is the only male that Artemis/Diana ever fell in love with, it makes sense that she should dance with him and at the same time be occasionally distracted by the horns that represent her opposing vocation as a huntress ‘chaste and fair’.

All this is lost when the danseur is rechristened Actaeon, a rechristening that also makes nonsense of Diana’s voluptuous surrender to the passion of the adage. Classical ballet often fashions pas de deux of antagonism, but, as in the case of Little Red Riding Hood in The Sleeping Beauty, it has standard resources to convey the revulsion of one or other partner—averted eye lines, or an elongated version of the Sylphide pose with hands held erect in a posture of rejection.

There are, of course, no renunciatiory motifs of in the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux, and, far from ending in the danseur’s transformation and death as the myth dictates, it culminates in a cheerful ‘anything-you-can-do-I-can-do’ coda. All this is proof, if proof were needed, that the pas de deux is ill-named, and that it ought to revert to the title it enjoyed in Le Roi Candaule. Whether or not the satyr comes back is a matter of indifference to me.

3. La Fille de pharaon

(My Stellovsky score repeatedly omits the definite article before ‘pharaon’ in the manner of the AV translation of Exodus, but almost all the books I have consulted list the title as La Fille du pharaon.)

Two pieces of this score have broken loose and found their way into other contexts. Those familiar with a Richard Bonynge LP entitled Pas de deux (1964) will have encountered the Esmeralda pas de deux it ascribes to Drigo. This has always struck me as being somewhat mysterious, for while it dates from Petipa’s mounting of the ballet in 1886 (into which he also inserted a pas de six for the wedding celebrations of Phoebus and Fleur-de-lys), it isn’t as clearly in the style of Drigo as the latter.

Peter March, who wrote the notes on the record sleeve, confidently ascribes the work to Drigo, but I have always thought that it more probably represents a kind of Lanchberification of Pugni music from other sources. The Zigeuner idiom of female variation, for example, strikes me as being quite close in spirit to the Romanesca from Catarina.

Anyhow, my hunch was recently vindicated when I learned that its coda comes from La Fille de pharaon, where it figures as a kind of 2/4 stretta (Allegro vivo) in a 6/8 coda (Allegro)—the end of a long sequence in Act 2 entitled ‘Marche de pharaon’. I contacted Ruth Jaeger, Richard Bonynge’s secretary, to find out more about the music used in his recording, and received this email in reply:

I just wanted to let you know that his score of the Esmeralda Pas de Deux is right here in front of me. Although it says by Cesare Pugni, RB has crossed out the name and written Drigo by hand. It is arranged by Peter March, copyright 1958 by Ballet Music, New York (The Tchaikovsky Foundation New York, distributor).

This afforded confirmation, ex post facto, of my sense that we are dealing composite enterprise. And indeed, even in the pas de six, Drigo used a Pugni melody for the male variation (a set of Esmeralda quadrilles circa 1844 assigns this tune to Phoebus, though it is danced by Gringoire in Petipa’s version). Clearly, as we have already seen from Diana and Actaeon, he had no qualms about recycling and reapplying a Pugni melody that was familiar to Russian audiences.

Nor, apparently, did Pugni, for the apotheosis of La Fille de pharaon re-employs the ‘Danse de la vision’ from Ondine, transposing it up from E flat to E, and slightly modifying the shape and the harmony. This same tune might or might not have been known to St Petersburg from The Naiad and the Fisherman, which most authorities regard as a simple remounting of the ballet that Perrot had staged at Her Majesty’s but which, from a musical point of view at least, was a very different animal.

There are only two numbers in common between the piano score issued at the time of the ballet’s London premiere and my tape of the Bolshoi excerpts from The Naiad and the Fisherman. This doesn’t include the ‘Danse de la vision’, however, so it’s entirely possible that the same melody might therefore have been heard in St Petersburg only a few years before La Fille de pharaon had its premiere.

The other recontextualised item from this ballet is a vigorous 6/8 waltz in A from Act 2 of La Fille de pharaon. (Pierre Lacotte assigns it to Taor, though there is no indication of its function in the score.) It crops up in the Kirov version of the Talisman pas de deux as the variation for the God of the Wind.

Since Drigo was responsible for the latter ballet, I suppose it’s possible that he filched the melody in the same way that he incorporated Pugni material into his Esmeralda gussets, but, on that occasion at least, he was working with a Pugni matrix. I think it more probable, however, that the variation ended up in Le Talisman by the same process of random exchange that saw a variation from Minkus’ Papillon enter La Bayadère.

Like the ballerinas of the time, though presumably on a more modest scale, Russian danseurs carried over successful self-tailored variations from one ballet to another. And, since almost all these variations as we know them now were Chabukianised out of recognition during the Soviet era (the mind boggles at the sedate Pavel Gerdt’s doing the sort of things that are currently done in them), it’s likely that such substitutions were made many decades after the event.

4 La Fille mal gardée


In his account of the composite score he wove from the Bordeaux score and those by Hérold and Hertel, John Lanchbery described the music for the mime scene and pas de deux in the final act as "an enchanting melody strongly reminiscent of an early nineteenth-century Italian opera". 2

When I discovered that it comes from Rossini’s Elisabetta, regina d’inghilterra, I got in touch with David Vaughan to make sure that the connection hadn’t already been remarked. He wrote back to say that he and Dale Harris had in fact done so many years back, but had failed to publish their finding.

Because he had only limited room for manoeuvre when working on the second edition of Frederick Ashton and His Ballets, he wasn’t able to include that and another discovery that he had made with regard to the ‘Tambourine’ variations in La Fille mal gardée, viz., that they derive from the second movement (Andante con variazioni) of Ignaz Pleyel’s Serenade No 1 in F major for 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 horns, and 2 bassoons. Thus do I piggyback this valuable information to the world at large.

Since this Pleyel serenade is an instrumental work, the quotation does not on the face of it seem to be an air parlant or carillon, a device that contrafacted the (absent) words of a song or opera aria on to the mimed action of a ballet to tag and explain it. But then again, it’s not unusual for the theme and variations format to base itself on well-known pre-existent melodies, as for example in Mozart’s on an air by Gluck, and Beethoven’s on airs of Paisiello and Mozart in turn.

So if readers of this article ever encounter the Pleyel score in question, it would be worth looking at the second movement to see if the source of the theme is disclosed there, and then to find a point of connection between it and the plot of Fille.

There can be no question, on the other hand, that the Elisabetta tune is indeed an air parlant. It doesn’t help us with the 1960 Fille because neither Ashton nor Lanchbery was aware of the source and therefore of the words, and they associated it instead with Lise’s marital daydreams. But it does throw light on Aumer’s version of the Dauberville ballet, since the melody derives from the queen’s final aria—

Bell’alme generose,
a questo sen venite.
Vivete, omai gioite;
siate felici ognor.
(Noble, kindly souls,
Let me embrace you.
Live and rejoice in eternal happiness.) 3

—and therefore leaves no doubt that it accompanied a reconciliation scene between Mère Simone, Lise and Colas. For just as Elizabeth I pardons Leicester for marrying Matilde, and at the same time renounces her own designs upon him, so does an avaricious and powerful mother forgive the errant lovers and abandon her get-rich scheme for the sake of their love.

This in turn throws new light on the irruption of the song ‘La gentille et jeune Lisette’ upon the melody. Lanchbery is clearly wrong to suggest that at "the end of this number in the Hérold score there is a sudden loud key change, ideal for Colas springing out from behind the sheafs of corn". 4 What it does signify is that Lise, now affectionately diminutised to ‘Lisette’, is no longer a fractious and disobedient daughter, but, having attained her heart’s desire, brim full of gentillesse.

And the change of tonality is crucial in this regard. You can enter the key of the flattened sixth degree in a tonic scale without any preparation, as Hérold enters it here. This has the effect of freshness and connectedness in perfect equilibrium, and can be heard also in the Rose Adagio, where Aurora does her attitudes en promenade to a great swinging motion between these two keys (in this case E flat and C flat) and at the end of the coda to the Fairy pas de six, where Tchaikovsky thrillingly runs them together (in that instance, D and B flat). What we instinctively read into Hérold’s modulation from G to E flat, therefore, is that Lise has turned over a new leaf.

Lanchbery also seems to have missed the full implication of the quote at the start of the score when he comments that

the opening chorus from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia (‘Piano, pianissimo’) [was] chosen no doubt to illustrate an entrance on tip-toe so that Lise’s mother will not be awakened. 5

More to the point is the commentary the tune offers on the narrative as a whole. In the opera, Almaviva is about to serenade his beloved Rosina, held virtual prisoner by her ward. His musical courtship is only the first of the many overtures from which the opera derives its subtitle—ossia la precauzione inutile. It is worth recalling in this regard that, for most of its history in Russia, the Hertel/Paul Taglioni/Ivanov Fille mal gardée was known as Vain Precautions. The air parlant from Barbiere accordingly throws into prominence the parallels between the tyrannical and selfish Dr Bartolo and Mère Simone.

5. Giselle

When I came by my DVD of the Kirov Giselle, I found that the danseuse in the ‘Peasant’ pas de deux replaced the standard Petipa variation (to Burgmüller’s tambourin in G) with one set to unknown music from the 1880s/1890s. I accordingly wrote to Natalya Metelitsa of the Theatre Museum in St Petersburg, and asked her please to consult Oleg Vinogradov about the matter.

Being the kind and conscientious person she is, she did, and reported that the insertion had been made by Agrippina Vaganova in her 1932 production of the ballet, and that the Kirov conductor’s score lists it as having been danced by Varvara Nikitina. With those data in hand (i.e. a ballet that had been choreographed before 1893, when Nikitina retired, and then revived after 1897, when Vaganova joined the Maryinsky), and confident that the music wasn’t by Pugni, Minkus or Drigo, whom I can identify with comparative ease, I went through Lynn Garafola’s list of Petipa ballets, and concluded that the dance in question might have come from Ivanov’s Tulip of Haarlem.

However, Mr Greskovic came to my rescue once again, and, pointing out that there is no evidence of Nikitina’s ever having danced that ballet, advanced an altogether more plausible candidate. It appears that she created the role of Oreada in Cupid’s Prank, an Anacreontic one-act ballet that Lev Ivanov mounted in 1890, and that, when it was revived seven years later, her role was assigned to Vaganova.

There is therefore a prima facie likelihood that the mystery variation was choreographed by Ivanov to music by Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Friedman. I should add that I find a hint of corroborative evidence in the text itself, which begins with three attitudes derrière on alternate legs, the first with a demi-bras turned forward, and the second with a demi-bras turned back, both port de bras suggesting the parabola of Cupid’s bow, and the second also resembling Odette’s wilder sagittiform attitude after she has executed the sissonnes and forward bourrée of her variation.

One additional point about Giselle’s music before I leave it. Most of us will be familiar with the fact that Escudier praised Adam for the absence of airs parlants from his score, excepting "a song by Loïse Puget and three bars from the Huntsmen’s Chorus in Euryanthe". 6 Well, I have been through the score of Euryanthe, and can find only a fleeting point of connection between it and the hunt music in Act 1—and at a level so banal as to be meaningless (like connecting Beethoven’s First and Schubert’s Ninth Symphony on the strength of shared C major chords).

However, the Puget song has still to be uncovered, and I am hoping that, with the burgeoning emphasis on women’s studies, somebody somewhere is at work on Puget’s melodies and chansons. If this is the case, perhaps the score of Giselle will be lurking in the back of her mind all the while.

6. La jolie fille de Gand

When the recording of La jolie fille de Gand was released, I listened to it attentively, but not attentively enough, it seems, for John-Michael Sherrick had to draw my attention to the fact that Grisi’s pas seul in the ballroom scene had the same tune as, though differently orchestrated from, the ballerina’s solo in the Vivandière pas de six.

Since Parisian audiences would surely have remembered Grisi’s success in this ballet, it’s a measure of Pugni’s bald-faced readiness to borrow that he should have recycled it so publicly. Or perhaps there is an air parlant connection that we have yet to determine.

Certainly La jolie fille contains a (possibly unique) instance of self-quoting carillon, for at one point Adam refers to a passage from his Postillon de Lonjumeau, but the effect is so subtle and the parallel so strained that it was probably lost on most of the audience. It comes from the first duet between Chapelou and Madeleine, which carries two different texts, given its symmetrical design.

The first relates to the percipience of the soothsayer (=percipience of Cesarius in the ballet) and the second the shepherd’s suggestion that Madeleine could probably catch a baron (analogue to the Marquis in La jolie fille, with Benedict as Chapelou). While we are on the subject of the Vivandière pas de six, I would like to lodge a protest at the careless way in which books and CDs refer to the score as being exclusively by Pugni.

Over and above the borrowing from La jolie fille, there are also several numbers by J. B. Nadaud, a function of the ballet’s complicated provenance. By the same token, I am annoyed that, despite Knud Jürgensen’s article on the topic, the Flower Festival in Genzano pas de deux is still described as being solely by Helsted, without any acknowledgement of Strebinger’s crucial contribution. I have twice contacted South African broadcasting stations in this regard, but the error persists because the record companies perpetuate it.

7. Konservatoriet

Helsted provides a hinge to my next note, which concerns the melody (rather like Rossini’s ‘Non piu mesta’) that follows the adage in the abbreviated Konservatoriet. Knud Jürgensen doesn’t give a source for this in his definitive compilation on Bournonville ballets, but it figures in Hummel’s earlier Serenade for Viola and Orchestra, and Joel Sachs, a world authority on Hummel, has told me that quodlibets of this kind quite often have the names of the melodies written above the stave. So if anybody reading this is able to access a copy of the score (I’m not), you might well be able to clinch the identification.

8. Paquita grand pas

(Kirov version arranged by Vinogradov)

Robert Greskovic was also instrumental in identifying two of the variations that figure in the grand pas as configured by Vinogradov and available on an Arthaus DVD. His books include a Russian publication of the Paquita variations as they were configured at an earlier point of Kirov history. Working from my DVD and my piano (I don’t have perfect pitch, and, to complicate matters, my instrument is half a tone above concert), I established key and time signatures as best I could, while, at the same time, Mr Greskovic transcribed the time signatures and counted sharps and flats of the music in his book and sent me his findings.

Two variations seemed to overlap, and, when the requested photocopies of the scores reached me from New York (like Ms Metelitsa, Mr Greskovic is infinitely kind), I was able to confirm that the dance assigned to the prima ballerina in the Vinogradov edition (the last of them) was written by Drigo in 1892 for Silfida, Petipa’s adaptation of the Schneitzhöffer/Taglioni ballet. It is a gavotte in E flat major, scored primarily for the harp.

The other shared variation, which comes first in the newer Kirov template, is a waltz in E major wrongly associated through the performances of Alla Sizova with The Little Hump-backed Horse (which is not to say that it didn’t lodge in that ballet at some point of its migrations).

However, Petipa intended it for Anna Johannson when she danced The Naiad and the Fisherman in 1892. The music is by Minkus, but since he was back in Vienna by that time, it’s unlikely, barring an Austrian ambassade from the ballerina, to have been composed ad hoc, but transposed from an existing ballet.

One can gather from Petipa’s diary entry about Olga Preobrajenskaya that a ballerina in search of a new variation made an appointment with the choreographer, music in hand, and, in his drawing room or other suitable space, had the steps marked, and manually and verbally described while he read the text. On other occasions, as when Sobeshchanskaya visited him after the Swan Lake fiasco of 1877 and returned to Moscow with a Minkus pas de deux, he seems to have had his own music to hand.

This was, after all the practice in an age when the virtuosa reigned supreme both on the ballet and the lyric stage, and such ready-to-go variations paralleled the arie di baule that sopranos trundled around in their trunks. Mathilde Kchessinskaya had one by Kladetz in her luggage when she made her debut at the Paris Opéra.

9. Pas de quatre

In the course of discussing Perrot’s Pas de quatre in the Ballet Talk forum with Mel Johnson, I learned that the Taglioni variation quotes the Kettingbrücke-Walzer of the elder Strauss, and at once suspected an air parlant complimenting Taglioni on her powers of suspension. While he thought this unlikely, Major Johnson did concede that the bridge was known as one of the wonders of the modern world, and suggested that this might have been the import behind the quotation. In any event, we know that Pugni was a very canny man, and always currying favour with his ballerinas by dedicating compositions to them.

10. The Sleeping Beauty

Playing my Sleeping Beauty score on countless occasions, I had always assumed that the pas berrichon got its name from the character it depicts. Mr Sherrick alerted me to my error (Perrault calls him Le petit Poucet), and, once I had learned that ‘berrichon’ was an adjectival derivative from ‘Berry’, I visited a website that he recommended to me.

There I discovered that the pas berrichon is in fact a 3/4 bourrée (the bourrée en rond)—a rhythmic phenomenon quite as odd as Auber’s 3/4 marches. However, I immediately consulted Scholes (who doesn’t list any pas berrichon), and he confirmed that the bourrée is indeed a 2/4 dance, and that the bourrée of the Auvergne has nothing in common with it.

Tchaikovsky’s pas berrichon, on the other hand, is in 2/4, and begins on the second beat of the bar as true bourrées should. So clearly he wrote his dance under the false impression that the bourrée berrichonne was a continuation of the classical form. He also made a similar mistake with the farandole in Act II, casting it as a mazurka instead of the statutory duple time that we find, for example, in Bizet’s farandole from the L’Arlesienne music.

And so, with a pull of the drawstring, I close the ragbag!