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Thread: Top 10 Ballet Music

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    Default Top 10 Ballet Music

    I don't want to seem autistic to you guys, but I do like lists. And from all the 'big' classical music genres, there seem to be only two genres totally missing these kind of ranking lists. These are 'song cycles' and 'ballet music'. I am glad TC recommended lists made one such list of 'song cycles'. But ballet music has not yet one here on TC. I understand why it's not easy to compare this kind of classical music, there are no clear boundaries to the genre and some people may argue that it isn't to be 'judged' without the ballet itself.

    Well, I don't think so!
    The music alone is worth it!

    So I ask you to give what you think are the top 10 ballet music.
    I've made a top 8 myself, which I think is unchangeable (some may discuss the order, but that's not the point of this thread):

    1. The Rite of Spring - Stravinsky
    2. The Nutcracker - Tchaikovsky
    3. Petrouchka - Stravinsky
    4. Swan Lake - Tchaikovsky
    5. The Sleeping Beauty - Tchaikovsky
    6. The Firebird - Stravinsky
    7. Daphnis et Chloé - Ravel
    8. Romeo and Juliet - Prokofiev

    I think these 8 are indisputably the most important. So in fact, I ask you to come up with the next 10 best ballet music. This way we can all learn from each other, learn to know new pieces of classical ballet music instead of always having new people to change the order of these 8.

    Some rules:
    - The piece should be written as a ballet, not used afterwards as ballet music. Also ballet music from an opera doesn't count. This means music such as Mendelssohn's 'midsummer night's dream' and 'dance of the hours' from 'la gioconda' is not allowed.
    - Only the ballet in its entirety counts. That means no suites are allowed, these are only recuctions to make the music more popular. For example 'The Firebird' in my list is the full 50 minutes during ballet, and not the 20 minutes during suite! Another example: 'Appalachian spring' by Copland was originally written as a ballet, but now, the condensed version is played the most. If you want to add this work, it should be in the form of the original ballet.
    - try to be objective (I know that seems strange, it's an opinion). Parameters could be: aesthetic importance, the influence on later compositions, innovation at the time, but also it's popularity. What I mean to say is: Try not to pick your temporary favourite, but try to see big picture. For example: Last week I was completely in love with Schumann's second symphony. last week I'd rather listen to schumann's symphony than Beethoven's 5th. But if I was asked to objectively rank these 2 symphonies, I would have to rank the Beethoven higher then the Schumann, because you can easily argue that it should be placed higher. (There is no way to put this right, because we're talking art, but try to understand!)
    - it's no problem to make your list smaller or bigger. Top 5 is fine, Top 20 is fine, Top 68 is fine.

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    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    So . . .

    I'm sure your top eight is likely ordered as you would rank them . . . and the one thing that grabbed me about your top six (of eight) is that it's all Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. I can most certainly dispute that.

    It's as though these two are the twin gods of ballet music. Granted, these are certainly noteworthy and recognizable works. But it seems akin to making a Top 20 Classical list and stuffing the first 15 with nothing but Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.

    The newest ballet on your list is Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, from 1935. The rest had their premieres before 1914.

    One of the most popular ballets of the Soviet era was by the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian and told the story of the imprisoned Thracian king Spartacus. 1956.

    The world ​premiere of Coppélia by Delibeswith with the Paris Opera was successful in 1871 and remains successful today.

    Don Quixote, composed by Ludwig Minkus, premiered in 1869 in Moscow.

    Giselle, composed by Adolphe Adam, premiered in Paris in 1841. It was considered a great artistic and commercial success. Still is.

    How about La Bayadère (The Temple Dancer)? Also Ludwig Minkus. Premiered in St. Petersburg, 1877. Yeah, Minkus certainly isn't a famous name. So?

    Here's a new one: Peter Pan. 2004. Composed by Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck, he proves that ballet music as an art form isn't dead yet.
    Last edited by pianozach; May-21-2020 at 17:57.

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    I understand what you're saying. I'm sorry, making lists always attracts critism. I must say, I hesitated to add spartacus, because it certainly deserves to be high on the list, but after these 8 works I wasn't that sure any more. About the first 6 being Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky, I understand it can be seen not interesting, but which one would go down the list? These works are all very popular, ment a lot to the future of the ballet genre, were innovative, and each individual work of these 6 is ingenious in a different way.
    Of course the ones you noted are very fine works, I don't want to say that these 8 are the only genius works. That's not true, there are over 50 genius ballet works.

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    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    Lists are problematic, especially when it's a list about something that is inherently subjective like art.

    Yes, make a list of any 10 Best Anythings and it's an invitation to others to point out what you've omitted and what you shouldn't have included.

    However, you COULD make a list of the 10 MOST PERFORMED BALLETS.

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    Senior Member jegreenwood's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pianozach View Post
    So . . .

    I'm sure your top eight is likely ordered as you would rank them . . . and the one thing that grabbed me about your top six (of eight) is that it's all Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. I can most certainly dispute that.

    It's as though these two are the twin gods of ballet music. Granted, these are certainly noteworthy and recognizable works. But it seems akin to making a Top 20 Classical list and stuffing the first 15 with nothing but Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.

    The newest ballet on your list is Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, from 1935. The rest had their premieres before 1914.

    One of the most popular ballets of the Soviet era was by the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian and told the story of the imprisoned Thracian king Spartacus. 1956.

    The world ​premiere of Coppélia by Delibeswith with the Paris Opera was successful in 1871 and remains successful today.

    Don Quixote, composed by Ludwig Minkus, premiered in 1869 in Moscow.

    Giselle, composed by Adolphe Adam, premiered in Paris in 1841. It was considered a great artistic and commercial success. Still is.

    How about La Bayadère (The Temple Dancer)? Also Ludwig Minkus. Premiered in St. Petersburg, 1877. Yeah, Minkus certainly isn't a famous name. So?

    Here's a new one: Peter Pan. 2004. Composed by Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck, he proves that ballet music as an art form isn't dead yet.
    Some others:

    Appalachian Spring - Copland
    The Four Temperaments - Hindemith
    Agon - Stravinsky
    Fancy Free - Bernstein
    Jeux - Debussy
    Cinderella - Prokofiev

    Frankly, as a pure musical work, I'd take "Jeux" over any of the Tchaikovsky ballets. And over "Firebird."

    And what about the dance music from "West Side Story?" Jerome Robbins, the original choreographer, turned that music into a ballet.
    Last edited by jegreenwood; May-22-2020 at 02:17.

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    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jegreenwood View Post
    Some others:



    And what about the dance music from "West Side Story?" Jerome Robbins, the original choreographer, turned that music into a ballet.

    I think the OP stipulated full ballets, and not a ballet number from a larger work, like the ballet in Oklahoma!, or a ballet as part of an opera.

    WSS has some very interesting music and dances. I've music directed it a few times, and played in the pit, once playing string patches on keyboards. Conducted it once, even though I'd sworn I'd never conduct such a complex musical.

    In my estimation WSS is most certainly in the Top Ten theatrical productions.

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    Senior Member jegreenwood's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pianozach View Post
    I think the OP stipulated full ballets, and not a ballet number from a larger work, like the ballet in Oklahoma!, or a ballet as part of an opera.

    WSS has some very interesting music and dances. I've music directed it a few times, and played in the pit, once playing string patches on keyboards. Conducted it once, even though I'd sworn I'd never conduct such a complex musical.

    In my estimation WSS is most certainly in the Top Ten theatrical productions.
    Robbins created a "proper" ballet from the dance music in West Side Story. It's called the West Side Story Suite.

    Edit - I suppose if ballet music from an opera doesn't count, maybe West Side Story doesn't either. However, unlike most (all?) ballet music from an opera, West Side Story started as the vision of a choreographer. And dance is integral to the story in a way that most opera ballets are not.
    Last edited by jegreenwood; May-22-2020 at 13:30.

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    Some others (no order)

    Delibes: Sylvia
    Bartok: Miraculous Mandarin
    Lalo: Namouna
    Stravinsky: Pulcinella

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Daphnis et Chloe is one of the richest, most ravishing, most inventive scores ever written
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere." - G.K. Chesterton

    "Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe." - Douglas Adams

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    Based on the 'TC recommended top 200 orchestral works' list, which also includes ballets, I can create a top 30 recommended ballets, according to the order in which these ballets appear in that list:

    1. The Rite of Spring - Stravinsky
    2. Daphnis et Chloé - Ravel
    3. Petrushka - Stravinsky
    4. The Firebird - Stravinsky
    5. The Nutcracker - Tchaikovsky
    6. Romeo and Juliet - Prokofiev
    7. Swan Lake - Tchaikovsky
    8. Pulcinella - Stravinsky
    9. El Sombrero de Tres Picos - de Falla
    10. The miraculous Mandarin - Bartok
    11. Jeux - Debussy
    12. The Sleeping Beauty - Tchaikovsky
    13. Les Elements - Rebel
    14. La Creation du Monde - Milhaud
    15. El Amor Brujo - de Falla
    16. Cinderella - Prokofiev
    17. The Seasons - Glazunov
    18. Ballet d'Alcidiane - Lully
    19. Bolero - Ravel
    20. Gayane - Khachaturian
    21. Agon - Stravinsky
    22. Giselle - Adam
    23. Coppélia - Delibes
    24. Apollo - Stravinsky
    25. The Wooden Prince - Bartok
    26. Billy the Kid - Copland
    27. Estancia - Ginastera
    28. Bacchus et Ariane - Roussel
    29. Spartacus - Khachaturian
    30. Jeu de Cartes - Stravinsky

    What strikes me about this list is how low Spartacus is ranked. Of course there is also the discussion about Appalachian spring, of which the orchestral version is ranked high (but not added here).

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    ^^^
    It is striking (even more so since Gayane is ranked above Spartacus).
    There are a few omissions that I find curious.

    • Ravel: Ma mère l'Oye (Mother Goose)
    • Glazunov: Raymonda
    • Dukas: La peri
    • Alfven: The Mountain King
    • Ginastera: Panambi
    Last edited by Orfeo; May-26-2020 at 22:06.
    David A. Hollingsworth (dholling)

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    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jegreenwood View Post
    Robbins created a "proper" ballet from the dance music in West Side Story. It's called the West Side Story Suite.

    Edit - I suppose if ballet music from an opera doesn't count, maybe West Side Story doesn't either. However, unlike most (all?) ballet music from an opera, West Side Story started as the vision of a choreographer. And dance is integral to the story in a way that most opera ballets are not.
    One could say that West Side Story is a unique work. There is really nothing else like it that reaches the same level of perfection. Well, I can think of a couple of Sondheim 'musicals' that come close in terms of artistry, but he didn't imitate the way WSS was formatted, or laid out, or arranged, or orchestrated.

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    I checked out those works you listed, and yes, I had 'Ma mère l'Oye' overlooked. It's supposed to be in 21st place after Gayane.
    Those others cannot be found in this list, but they can be found in another list of TC: 'the Talk Classical community's favorite and most highly recommended works'

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    Quote Originally Posted by pianozach View Post
    One could say that West Side Story is a unique work. There is really nothing else like it that reaches the same level of perfection. Well, I can think of a couple of Sondheim 'musicals' that come close in terms of artistry, but he didn't imitate the way WSS was formatted, or laid out, or arranged, or orchestrated.
    Interesting to consider that 1957 produced both Stravinsky's twelve tone "Agon" and Bernstein's "Cool" dance music, which is a twelve tone, jazz-influenced fugue.

    By the way, I am not completely enamored of WSS. The music and choreography remain unsurpassed for Broadway, but Laurents' book and even some of Sondheim's lyrics are weak. Thus (IMO) it is the balletic aspects of WSS that make it a masterpiece.

    And I hear they stole the plot.
    Last edited by jegreenwood; May-27-2020 at 16:24.

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    Based on 'the Talk Classical community's favorite and most highly recommended works' I can create a top 40 recommended ballets. 'Appalachian spring' is included, because the difference between the ballet version and the popular version is small enough.

    1. The Rite of Spring - Stravinsky
    2. Romeo and Juliet - Prokofiev
    3. Daphnis et Chloé - Ravel
    4. Petrushka - Stravinsky
    5. Appalachian Spring - Copland
    6. The Firebird - Stravinsky
    7. The Nutcracker - Tchaikovsky
    8. Ma Mère l'Oye - Ravel
    9. Jeux - Debussy
    10. The Seasons - Glazunov
    11. The Miraculous Mandarin - Bartok
    12. Swan Lake - Tchaikovsky
    13. La Creation du Monde - Milhaud
    14. Ballet Mécanique - Antheil
    15. Pulcinella - Stravinsky
    16. Les Elements - Rebel
    17. The Sleeping Beauty - Tchaikovsky
    18. La Boîte à joujoux - Debussy
    19. El Amor Brujo - de Falla
    20. Gayane - Khachaturian
    21. Boléro - Ravel
    22. El Sombrero de Tres Picos - de Falla
    23. Les Noces - Stravinsky
    24. Agon - Stravinsky
    25. Spartacus - Khachaturian
    26. Cinderella - Prokofiev
    27. Estancia - Ginastera
    28. Giselle - Adam
    29. Rodeo - Copland
    30. Le boeuf sur le toit - Milhaud
    31. Carmen Suite - Shchedrin
    32. Jeu de Cartes - Stravinsky
    33. The Wooden Prince - Bartok
    34. Billy the Kid - Copland
    35. Job: A Masque for Dancing - Vaughan Willams
    36. Belkis, Queen of Sheba - Respighi
    37. Le Baiser de la Fée - Stravinsky
    38. Le Festin de l'Araignée - Roussel
    39. Sylvia - Delibes
    40. Orpheus - Stravinsky

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