Dance, Dance, Wherever You May Be

Since medieval times music for dancing has attracted the talents of many of the greatest composers. Simon Trezise charts dance music’s development to the present.

When Wagner so astutely defined Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony as ‘the apotheosis of the dance’, he was doing more than simply recognising the unique quality of movement in one work; he was drawing attention to the vital contribution dance has made to Western art music from the earliest days. From ancient antiquity Europe has periodically engaged in bouts of dance mania, even to the extent of upsetting civil authorities (who have to be in control!); in between these outbursts, dance has been used in social functions, entertainments, and theatres (or their early forebears) to amuse and edify the populace. The love affair with dance has left an indelible imprint on art music.

In medieval times, choreographed entertainments were regularly toured around the castles of Europe, often depicting some chivalric or other epic tale. The language of these dances was complex and the music composed or improvised for them well developed. The variety and sophistication of the dances and the way several of them could be strung together developed rapidly in the Renaissance; by the end of the sixteenth century we are fortunate enough to have many surviving specimens of Italian intermedio, French ballet de cour and the English masque. These were often lavish spectacles designed, as in the Florentine intermedio of 1589, for a prestigious event (e.g. a royal marriage). Many of their themes derive from classical antiquity – so we find goddesses dancing with gods, shepherds with shepherdesses, and so on.

Continue reading ‘Dance, Dance, Wherever You May Be’

Music Monday: June roundup

With the brand new Lacuna Coil album (awe-some) and Tarja EP (meh, let’s hope the full-length album will be better) out this month, and a friend tipping me off to the existence of Showtime, Storytime (woefully under-advertised live DVD of Nightwish’s set at Wacken Open Air Festival 2013 – yes, recorded in a single take, and the only chance for any of us who can’t attend concerts to hear Floor Jansen in old material), the results are no surprise. Metal girls rule!

1. Lacuna Coil (175)
2. After Forever (146)
3. Within Temptation (143)

Mother of the Modernists

The mother of folk singer Peggy Seeger used to be known for one short but extraordinary quartet. But now composer Ruth Crawford Seeger – who died young in 1953 – is being recognised as something of a pioneer.

We’ve all talked about ‘one-work composers’ – meaning usually those who’ve actually written dozens of pieces but only one of them ever gets played. Dukas (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice but what else?) is still in that category for most people; so are Dohnányi and Pachelbel. But the oddest case of a one-work composer is surely Ruth Crawford Seeger, who for a long time seemed literally to have written only one work. But a very remarkable one: the piece in question is a short string quartet (about 12 minutes), written in 1931. Lots of people who are interested in twentieth-century music know it – it’s been recorded several times – and it’s often been described as a masterpiece. I had no doubt that it was from the moment I first heard it, but I could find no recordings of anything else by her, and very little information about the composer herself, save that she was born in 1901 and died in 1953. A shortish life, then, but since she lived for 22 years after writing that quartet surely she must have written something else?

Continue reading ‘Mother of the Modernists’

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Midsummer!

Storytime: The Day the Crayons Quit

crayons-quitYear: 2013
Author: Drew Daywalt
Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers

One day in class, Duncan went to take out his crayons and found a stack of letters with his name on them.

Hey Duncan,
It’s me, RED Crayon. We NEED to talk. You make me work harder than any of your other crayons. All year long I wear myself out colouring FIRE ENGINES, apples, strawberries and EVERYTHING ELSE that’s RED. I even work on holidays! I have to colour all the Santas at Christmas and ALL the hearts on Valentine’s day! I NEED A REST!
Your overworked friend,
RED Crayon

Buy to find out more!

Month at a Glance

July 2016
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