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Ballet Music Through The Ages

Right from the beginning, ballet and music have been uniquely intertwined. Without music ballet is nothing more than the empty motions of a ritual. Without the movement and rhythm of dance, music looses all vitality. And so, ballet as a doorway to human expression hinges on both music and dance. Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), the Italian-born French composer who founded the national French opera was not just a court composer to Louis XIV, but also a choreographer who produced court ballets for Molière's plays. This probably explains why his productions never lacked an accompaniment.

However, theatre productions of the eighteenth century turned composers away from ballet and toward the music of ballroom dancing. This phase sustained its self straight through the nineteenth century with the exception of pieces by Russian classical composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) which include the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. In the twentieth century however, ballet came back to the spotlight. Once again considered a respectable art form, choreographers looked to the works of classical composers such as Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, Chopin, Brahms, and Handel to perform the art of ballet dancing too. Many agree that ballet owes its very existence to the likes of those who are both composers and choreographers.

Because being musicians in nature, they naturally pay close attention to ballet following the rhythmic structure of its accompaniment precisely. One who does not understand music can easily create ballet that looks good that in of itself, yet at the mercy of a great classical piece the novice falls short of expressing the true nature of the piece. Instead, they turn the production into a form of movement that is devoid of both art and beauty. The experts instead know when it is appropriate to go against the grain of the accompaniment to heighten those dramatic periods which capture their audience’s attention and leaves them breathless. As we dawn a new era of music and dance, it’s undeniable that ballet will continue to change. However, just as music and dance have always been the best of friends, ballet will continue to find its new identity in the constantly changing music of today.


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