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Ballet Music: The Soul of Movement

4 Session Afternoon Course

4 sessions from Wednesday, January 5, 2022, to Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Code: 1K0185
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Swan Lake (Alexander Kenney / Kungliga Operan)

We love the spectacle and the sets, we adore the costumes, we thrill to the brilliance and beauty of the choreography and the performers, and above all we are moved and exalted by the music. While dance is as old as we are, ballet is a much more recent evolution. By tracing ballet’s rapid journey from French courtly dance to an internationally beloved artform, we find its path travels directly through the magnificent scores of composers like Debussy, Stravinsky, Copland, and of course, Tchaikovsky.

In this 4-session course, popular speaker and concert pianist Rachel Franklin uses her unique live piano demonstrations and both historic and contemporary film clips to illustrate how the music from such ballet masterpieces as Giselle, Swan Lake, Daphnis and Chloë, Le Sacre du Printemps, and Appalachian Spring became a treasured part of our cultural landscape.

British-born Franklin has been a featured speaker for organizations including the Library of Congress and NPR, exploring intersections among classical and jazz music, film scores, and the fine arts.

January 5   From the Ballet de la Nuit to Coppélia: Desperately Seeking Composers

Ballet is a unique experience in performance art, but what really takes it to its greatest heights is the musical score. It’s a bald but undeniable fact that the finest ballets are driven by the finest music. But finding composers who understood how to write for dance wasn’t always easy. Franklin follows ballet’s escape from the French court, its long-standing partnership with opera, and the first great scores by Gluck, Beethoven, Adolphe Adam, and Léo Delibes.

January 12   Tchaikovsky Changes Everything

Tchaikovsky declared, “I totally fail to understand how the expression ‘ballet music’ can be something disapproving!” He fought for his dance scores to be taken as seriously as his other works. His exquisite vision of fairytale beauty demanded an entirely new level of choreographic expression, and both dancers and choreographers struggled to match his dramatic sweep. By surveying the history of Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and The Sleeping Beauty, Franklin offers insights into a new tradition of dance music that laid the groundwork for our richest ballet experiences today.

January 19   Diaghilev, the Dream Weaver

He didn’t dance, choreograph, or compose, but nonetheless Serge Diaghilev was a ballet alchemist. From his command post in Paris he gathered extraordinary talents together from across the artistic universe to create new, epochal ballet events that would shape dance up until the present day. Despite stormy relationships with most of them, Diaghilev managed to persuade luminaries such as Ravel, Debussy, Manuel de Falla, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev to compose an unparalleled collection of scores for his legendary Ballets Russes.

January 26  Ballet’s Diaspora

The United States saw some of the finest ballet creations of the 20th century. Aaron Copland created scores of enormous beauty working with the great choreographers Agnes de Mille and Martha Graham, and jazz found its way naturally into masterpieces by Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins. Franklin also looks at how choreographers such as Balanchine, Ashton, and MacMillan used classical music not originally composed for ballet.

4 sessions

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