My First Ballet Playlist

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The ballerina glides across the stage, her arms making lovely lines in the air. A beautiful tune comes from the strings of the large orchestra. She is the Sleeping Beauty: she was put into a deep magic sleep by the wicked witch. But she has now been woken by her handsome prince, and he dances joyfully with her, athletic and strong. Another time, she is Princess Odette from Swan Lake, and around her the other dancers – swans in white chiffon – weave patterns in time to the music. And yet another time, she is the Sugar Plum Fairy celebrating the joy of Christmas in The Nutcracker.

This is ballet, the classical dance that, once seen, is never forgotten. Even though today we have film and video games, ballet is still a powerful vision of beauty and excitement. The dancers use the strength of an athlete, the balance of a gymnast and the sensitivity of a violinist to tell stories through their dancing. Here is some of the best music which has propelled dancers for hundreds of years.

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

1. Swan Lake: Act II, Scene 2. Scene

Keyword: Oboe

Swan Lake is a ballet from Russia about a prince called Siegfried. In the forest he finds a mysterious lake where swans are swimming, led by a beautiful but sad swan wearing a crown. This crowned swan is really the Princess Odette who has been kidnapped by an evil sorcerer. In the music, the oboe plays the sad tune of the swan’s magical swimming song.

Performers: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Michael Halász

Taken from Naxos 8.553271

 

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

2. Swan Lake: Act II, Scene 1. Valse

Keyword: 1–2–3

Prince Siegfried has a birthday party and invites everyone to come. His tutor Wolfgang asks the girls and boys from the village to dance a special waltz, which the Prince really enjoys. A waltz is a dance where the rhythm underneath the tune goes 1–2–3, 1–2–3. Can you hear it and count ‘1–2–3’ along with the music?

Performers: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Michael Halász

Taken from Naxos 8.553271

 

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

3. The Firebird: Scene 1. The Firebird’s Dance

Keyword: Fire

A firebird is a brightly coloured magical bird that comes out of the fire. This story is about a brave prince called Ivan: he goes into the magical garden of a giant ogre who has kidnapped 13 princesses and can turn men to stone. Prince Ivan sees a firebird in the garden and chases it. Before he catches it, the bird flaps its wings and does a lively dance for him.

Performers: BRT Philharmonic Orchestra; Alexander Rahbari

Taken from Naxos 8.554060

 

Léo Delibes (1836–1891)

4. Coppélia: Act I. Waltz

Keyword: Hello?

The toymaker Dr Coppélius is very lonely. So he makes a beautiful doll called Coppélia whom he hopes to bring to life by magic. The Doctor puts Coppélia by the window and the townspeople think that she is a real girl! The mayor’s daughter Swanilda sees her and tries to say hello to her, but Coppélia does not reply. Swanilda then dances a waltz to try to get Coppélia to notice her, but Coppélia does not move.

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Mogrelia

Taken from Naxos 8.554062

 

Léo Delibes (1836–1891)

5. Coppélia: Act I. Mazurka

Keyword: Percussion

The doll Coppélia looks so much like a real girl that a boy named Franz falls in love with her; Franz is supposed to be getting married to Swanilda the next day and she is upset that he loves Coppélia. But the wedding guests have begun to arrive, and they celebrate the coming wedding and the harvest festival with a mazurka, which is a Polish folk dance. The dance uses crashing cymbals, tinkling triangles and big bass drums. These loud instruments which are normally struck with special sticks are all percussion instruments. Can you hear them playing?

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Mogrelia

Taken from Naxos 8.554062

 

Léo Delibes (1836–1891)

6. Coppélia: Act III. March of the Clock

Keyword: Happy

Swanilda and Franz forgive each other when they discover that Coppélia is only a doll. The people in the town are very busy getting ready for the wedding. The Duke gives the town a big bell for the town clock and everybody dances to show how happy they are! The music is in a ‘major’ key, which makes it sound happy.

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Mogrelia

Taken from Naxos 8.554062

 

Aaron Copland (1900–1990)

7. Rodeo: Hoe-Down

Keyword: Yee-ha!

A rodeo is a competition for cowboys and cowgirls to show how good they are. They can shout ‘yee-ha!’ One of the cowgirls in this ballet is very lonely and so she goes to the party after the rodeo, wearing a beautiful dress: the cowboys all want to dance with her. They dance a hoe-down, which is an exciting folk dance!

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Stephen Gunzenhauser

Taken from Naxos 8.550282

 

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

8. The Sleeping Beauty: Act II. Panorama

Keyword: Look!

In The Sleeping Beauty, the Lilac Fairy sails in a boat with the good Prince Désiré down a river. They look over the whole kingdom, with its farms, forests, mountains and a castle. An evil witch has put everyone in the kingdom into a magical sleep for 100 years, including the beautiful Princess Aurora who can only be woken up with a kiss. Can you imagine what sort of things the Prince would be able to see from the boat? Listen to the music and have a guess!

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ondrej Lenárd

Taken from Naxos 8.553271

 

Darius Milhaud (1892–1974)

9. The Ox on the Roof (extract)

Keyword: Fun

A lot of people are having fun drinking in a bar. Then a policeman arrives and tells everybody to go home, and they leave one by one. But after they have gone, the barman gives the policeman the bill for all their drinks! Can you hear all the different characters in the music?

Performers: Orchestre National de Lille; Jean-Claude Casadesus

Taken from Naxos 8.557287

 

Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936)

10. The Seasons: Winter: Ice

Keyword: Cold

Glazunov is trying to make us think about winter. Can you hear that there are two instruments playing the tune? One is a viola (a stringed instrument a bit like a violin) and the other is a clarinet (a wind instrument that you blow into).

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ondrej Lenárd

Taken from Naxos 8.550079

 

Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936)

11. The Seasons: Summer: Waltz of the Cornflowers and the Poppies

Keyword: Sun

The cornflowers and the poppies dance together enjoying the summer sun. However, they become tired. Towards the end, they suddenly stop dancing and then move more slowly to sit down and rest. Can you hear when the music stops?

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ondrej Lenárd

Taken from Naxos 8.550079

 

Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936)

12. The Seasons: Autumn: Bacchanale

Keyword: Autumn

Winter, spring, summer, a bird and the western wind all come together for a very fast dance to celebrate autumn under the falling leaves. After the beginning, we hear some of the characters dancing on their own. Can you hear them? First comes winter, then spring, then the bird and the western wind together. Then everyone dances the autumn dance again!

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ondrej Lenárd

Taken from Naxos 8.550079

 

Sergey Prokofiev (1891–1953)

13. Cinderella Suite No. 1: VI. Cinderella goes to the ball

Keyword: Magic

A handsome Prince arranges a ball but poor Cinderella has been left at home. Luckily, her Fairy Godmother arrives: she uses magic to turn Cinderella’s rags into a beautiful dress and sends her off to the ball with a pair of glass slippers. The first half of this music is when she is hurrying to the ball. In the second half she is dreaming of what the ball will be like.

Performers: Ukrainian State Symphony Orchestra; Theodore Kuchar

Taken from Naxos 8.550968-69

 

Sergey Prokofiev (1891–1953)

14. Cinderella Suite No. 1: VII. Cinderella’s Waltz

Keyword: Dance

Cinderella arrives at the ball and all the guests wonder who she is. The Prince sees her and wants to dance with her. They dance a waltz (which is when you feel the music goes 1–2–3). The music sounds very serious but it is not angry or sad – it is the composer, Prokofiev, trying to show us that the Prince and Cinderella have very deep feelings for each other.

Performers: Ukrainian State Symphony Orchestra; Theodore Kuchar

Taken from Naxos 8.550968-69

 

Franz Schubert (1797–1828)

15. Rosamunde, D. 797: Ballet Music No. 2 (extract)

Keyword: Mystery

Rosamunde was a play which had two short ballets in it, one at the beginning and one at the end. Sadly the play has been lost so we do not know exactly what happens in the story – it is a mystery! A review of the play has survived and this tells us that it is about the Princess Rosamunde and her beloved Prince Alfonso. They have adventures that feature disguises, hunting, shipwrecks, shepherds, poison and pirates! We just have to imagine what is happening when we listen to the music…

Performers: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Michael Halász

Taken from Naxos 8.550145

 

Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978)

16. Gayane Suite No. 2: VI. Sabre Dance

Keyword: Sword

Gayane is a village girl who has an evil husband. Soldiers come to take him away but he escapes and tries to hurt Gayane. She is rescued by the leader of the soldiers, who falls in love with her! A year later they get married. To celebrate, the villagers dance a lively ‘Sabre Dance’. A sabre is a curved sword and the men dance whilst waving them around their heads.

Performers: St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra; André Anichanov

Taken from Naxos 8.550800

 

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

17. The Nutcracker: Act II, Tableau I. March

Keyword: March

It is Christmas Eve and the children of the Silberhaus family and their friends are celebrating. The children are very excited and Mr Silberhaus orders a march to be played as they are given their presents. Can you feel how strong and regular the beat of the music is?

Performers: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Michael Halász

Taken from Naxos 8.553271

 

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

18. The Nutcracker: Act II, Tableau III. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

Keyword: Fairy

Clara Silberhaus is invited by a Prince to travel to ‘The Land of the Sweets’. They meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, who dances for them in her castle made of sugar. Can you hear a high, sweet, tinkly sound like little bells? This sound is specially for the Sugar Plum Fairy and the instrument that makes it is called a celesta. It looks like a very small piano and when Tchaikovsky wrote The Nutcracker this instrument had only just been invented!

Performers: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Michael Halász

Taken from Naxos 8.553271

 

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

19. The Nutcracker: Act II, Tableau III. Russian Dance

Keyword: Fast!

In her sugar castle, the Sugar Plum Fairy has sweets from around the world for Clara and the Prince to taste. People from the different countries come and dance for her. The Russian dance is very exciting and the dancers run and jump about very fast!

Performers: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Michael Halász

Taken from Naxos 8.553271

 

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

20. The Nutcracker: Act II, Tableau III. Waltz of the Flowers

Keyword: Harp

A string of flowers dance a waltz (the dance where you can feel 1–2–3!) for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her guests. At the beginning of the dance there is a long solo on a harp, which is a large instrument with many strings. Often a harpist (a person who plays the harp) has to play many notes very fast all at once. Listen to the busy fingers of the harpist in this music!

Performers: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Michael Halász

Taken from Naxos 8.553271

 

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

21. Petrushka: Tableau I. Russian Dance

Keyword: Puppets

A crowd has gathered in the main square of St Petersburg in Russia to celebrate ‘Maslenitsa’ – which we might call pancake day! A showman uses magic to bring his three puppets to life: a clown called Petrushka, a Moor and a ballerina. They step away from the strings that controlled them and dance a Russian dance: everybody is amazed!

Performers: Philharmonia Orchestra; Robert Craft

Taken from Naxos 8.557500

 

Léo Delibes (1836–1891)

22. Sylvia: Act II. Pizzicati

Keyword: Pluck

‘Pizzicati’ means that the strings of the string instruments are being plucked. Plucking the strings makes the sound shorter than when they are played with a bow. Can you hear the short, plucked notes from the violin here? These are for the tune that the main character Sylvia is dancing to.

Performers: Razumovsky Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Mogrelia

Taken from Naxos 8.554062

 

Sergey Prokofiev (1891–1953)

23. Romeo and Juliet: Masks, Op. 64bis No. 5

Keyword: Masks

The Montagues and the Capulets are two great families who have been enemies for so long they do not know what they are fighting about anymore! Romeo Montague wants to go to a ball being held in the house of the Capulets but he is not allowed in. Romeo and his friends put on masks to disguise themselves and sneak into the house to this funny and mysterious music. (It is at this ball that Romeo meets Juliet and they fall in love…)

Performers: Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, Košice; Andrew Mogrelia

Taken from Naxos 8.553273

 

Sergey Prokofiev (1891–1953)

24. Romeo and Juliet: Montagues and Capulets, Op. 64ter No. 1 (extract)

Keyword: Trouble

At the Capulets’ family ball, the knights of the Capulet family dance to show that they are proud and strong enough to defeat their enemies the Montagues. The music is showing that this fight between the Montagues and the Capulets is very bad and so it sounds dark and unhappy, and feels very heavy. Ever since Prokofiev composed this piece, it has been used on the radio, in films and on TV to go with frightening events and the coming of trouble.

Performers: Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, Košice; Andrew Mogrelia

Taken from Naxos 8.553273

 

Dmitry Shostakovich (1906–1975)

25. The Golden Age Suite: III. Polka

Keyword: Funny

A football team goes to a world championship which everybody hopes will end all wars and troubles. The politicians try to make a speech about peace but use a dance called a polka to do it! A polka is a fast and bouncy dance and it makes them look very silly. Can you imagine them dancing in their suits, ties and hats? They look very funny!

Performers: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra; Christopher Lyndon-Gee

Taken from Naxos 8.553126

 

Adolphe Adam (1803–1856)

26. Giselle: Act I. Galop général

Keyword: Brass

Giselle, a beautiful peasant girl, falls in love with a villager called Loys. But Loys is really a duke in disguise! The whole village dances to celebrate the harvesting of the grapes used to make wine, led by the joyful couple Giselle and Loys. This piece uses lots of instruments from the brass family, including trumpets, horns and cornets, which play the tune, and trombones and tubas, which play the low notes.

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ondrej Lenárd

Taken from Naxos 8.554062

 

Note writer: Charlotte Richardson

Music selection and ‘My First’ series editor: Genevieve Helsby