Friday, June 10, 2011

Montage #9 - Invitation to the Dance

(Commentaire français:

This week’s music montage is dedicated to “dance”. In classical music, we find dances in several forms – as pieces that exemplify specific dance styles (waltzes are a good example of that),  as dance suites (such as, say, the Bach partitas), as national or folk dances and – of course – as dance numbers within larger stage works.

This montage is no longer available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address

pcast009 Playlist

Our montage gets its name from my first selection: a vintage recording by Artur Schnabel of Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance”. The piece of music depicts the ritual of a man asking a partner to dance with him, then they partake in a dizzying waltz, and finally the suitor accompanies his partner back and thanks her for the opportunity. Hector Berlioz orchestrated this work, emphasizing the characters using the cello and flute. However, I find the original piano version is just as satisfying.

As an excerpt from a dance suite, I chose one of Edvard Grieg's Symphonic Dances - following the same formula that Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky have also used. The music has a familiar sound to it, although I don't think this set is as oft-performed as the Rachmaninoff set.

I first heard Debussy's Dances for Chromatic Harp on a vintage vinyl recording by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. The version I chose, a more recent rendition by Pierre Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra, has just the right balance of restraint and energy. To my ear, Boulez is best at delivering "cold" music (his Rite of Spring with the New York Philharmonic is a must hear), but I think his Debussy renditions (and some of his Ravel) make worthwhile listening.

On the folk dance side of things, I chose examples by Claude Champagne, Johannes Brahms and Antonin Dvořák. The Dvorak and Brahms dances were both originally conceived for piano four-hands, and later orchestrated - in the case of Brahms' set, some were even orchestrated by Dvořák!). My first set of these dances were acquired on a cassette recording (under the London/Decca short-lived "VIVA" series of re-issues) featuring Fritz Reiner and the Vienna Philharmonic. In fact, I chose that version for my Dvorak selection. 

There's a bit of mutual admiration between Brahms and Dvorak, and it's clear that the Slavonic dances are a bit of a tip of the hat to the Hungarian dances.... And, according to some, these dances influenced Scott Joplin and his ragtime contemporaries. Joplin has had a renaissance ever since his music was used in the George Roy Hill film "The Sting" in 1973. Marvin Hamlisch won an Academy Award that year for his adaptation of Joplin's music, and the soundtrack recording has many memorable renditions of Joplin "standards", including the Rag Time Dance, which was featured in the end credits and that I used in this montage.

Dance sequences from major stage works complete the montage, with examples from de Falla (The miller's dance from The Three-Cornered Hat in a guitar transcription), Borodin (Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, with chorus - any other version doesn't have the same effect IMHO) , Gluick (The Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Euridice), Gliere (The Sailors dance from the Red Poppy) and and Richard Strauss (Salome's Dance of the Seven Veils).

My apologies if your favourite dance didn't make the montage this week.... I think you will love this music too.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post! I shall make this my listening for this evening. :)

    I absolutely love Grieg's Symphonic Dances, and, given their structure, I like to think of them as forming a Second Symphony, seeing as a lot of people think his only actual symphony is not one of his best works (though still enjoyable). I'm also a big fan of his huge collection of original and non-original Norwegian folk songs and dances.

    Naturally, I also adore the four-hand piano dances of Brahms and Dvorak (I much prefer the piano duet versions to the orchestral ones). My favourite of the whole bunch is the final one of Dvorak's in the second set - I think it's one of the most beautiful melodies in all music, in fact.

    My favourite actual dance form is the tarantella (as you may have seen on TC ;) ) - I haven't actually found all that many on a semi-grand scale (as opposed to the abundance of folk pieces), but the best I have ever heard is undoubtedly the final movement of Schubert's Piano Sonata D. 958.