Development Of Ballet Music Cultural Studies Essay


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Choose a significant genre from the Western tradition, and write an essay of 600 - 800 words detailing the origins and development of that genre. You may choose a topic from the list below, or develop your own topic of interest, which must be approved by your teacher.

Suggested topics:

Development of Choral Music

Development of Orchestral Music

Development of Chamber Music

Development of The Symphony

Development of Piano Music

Development of Opera

Development of Ballet Music

Development of Program Music

Classical Music of the early 20th Century

Development of Jazz

Development of Musical Theatre

You should briefly discuss three works which illustrate the range of the topic. Short excerpts from one or all of these works should be presented to the class.

This is a research based essay: You will need to find 5-10 different textbooks or published sources which relate to the topic. Any opinions expressed in your essay must be based on references to these texts, formatted according to the Harvard referencing system. For example, you cannot say "Haydn is considered the father of the string quartet." But you can say "Kamien (2005, p. 213) considers Haydn to be the father of the String Quartet."

Well known facts such as dates and names don't need to be acknowledged. For example, you can say "Joseph Haydn was an Austrian composer who lived from 1732 to 1809." without quoting a source. All the sources must be listed on a "References" page at the end of the essay.

Students will read their essay to the class, including brief recorded musical excerpts, to make a 10-15 minute presentation. The presentations will take place on Wednesday mornings, early in Term 4. Note: Assessment will be based entirely on the written essay, not the presentation.

SACE Stage 1 Music - Music History/Analysis Assessment:

Practical Application

Knowledge and Understanding

Analysis and Reflection


Communication of musical ideas in a comprehensive and highly effective manner.

Highly proficient aural and visual identification of musical elements, stylistic features, and the structure of selected musical works.

In-depth knowledge and well-informed understanding of core concepts, musical notation, and appropriate terminology.

Insightful and well-informed understanding of relevant social, cultural, and historical contexts.

An insightful, focused, and well-informed approach to analysis of, and reflection on, ideas about music.

Perceptive and well-informed reflection on, and recognition of, music in context.


Communication of musical ideas in a capable and effective manner.

Proficient aural and visual identification of musical elements, stylistic features, and the structure of selected musical works.

Detailed knowledge and well-informed understanding of core concepts, musical notation, and appropriate terminology.

Well-informed understanding of relevant social, cultural, and historical contexts.

A well-considered and informed approach to analysis of, and reflection on, ideas about music.

Thoughtful and informed reflection on, and recognition of, music in context.


Communication of musical ideas in a generally competent manner.

Generally competent aural and visual identification of musical elements, stylistic features, and the structure of selected musical works.

Generally relevant knowledge and informed understanding of core concepts, musical notation, and mostly appropriate terminology.

Consideration and some understanding of relevant social, cultural, and historical contexts.

Some consideration in planning and approaching an informed analysis of, and reflection on, ideas about music.

Generally competent and informed reflection on, and recognition of, music in context.


Partial communication of some musical ideas.

Aural and/or visual identification of some musical elements, and/or stylistic features, and/or aspects of the structure of selected musical works.

Awareness and basic understanding of some core concepts, a restricted range of musical notation, and some terminology that may be appropriate.

Some consideration of one or more relevant social, cultural, and historical contexts.

Recognition and use of some elements of analysis that are principally descriptive, with developing skills in reflection on ideas about music.

Awareness and basic consideration of some aspects of ideas about music in context.


Attempted communication of one or more basic musical ideas.

Aural and/or visual identification of one or more musical elements.

Emerging recognition of one or more core concepts, and of a restricted range of musical notation and terminology.

Limited consideration of any relevant social, cultural, or historical contexts.

Attempted description of one or more musical ideas.

Emerging awareness of some aspects of music in context.

Stage 1 Music - Individual Study: Development of Ballet Music

To begin with, ballet music was "not highly regarded as a compositional form of music" [4], until composers such as Russian born Pyotr Tchaikovsky began composing for it. Even then Tchaikovsky believed the composition of ballet music was disparaging to his nature and reputation. This was mainly because when ballet music was first written, it was done so by lower status composers and it was considered quite unimportant compared to the dance choreography of a ballet. The creation of the first "opera-ballets" (sections of the story were told in dance, in sync with music), most notably those written by Jean Baptise Lully. In the nineteenth century there was a dramatic change in the types of shoes ballet dancers used which resulted in a more "free-flowing style of music" [5] being used. This was precisely when ballet music started to become appreciated and considered as "serious musical composition" [4]. Three of Tchaikovsky's most well-known ballet pieces, 'Swan Lake', 'The Sleeping Beauty' and 'Nutcracker' were imperative in this development of the classification of ballet music written by a major symphonic composer in the 19th century.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a Russian born composer who lived from 1840-1893. Following his creation of 'Swan Lake', the composers for ballet were no longer writing straightforward, easily danceable pieces. Ballet music was beginning to gain increasing importance, becoming almost as meaningful as the dance itself. Marius Petipa was a Russian choreographer of dance who worked with Tchaikovsky on two of his famous ballets, 'The Sleeping Beauty' and 'Nutcracker'. Marius Petipal was detrimental in the creation of these masterpieces that boasted both complex dance routines and music. These major works of Tchaikovsky were considered classical music, "where the ballet music in its classical genre is its illustration in the art of dance." [4] Other forms of ballet music in contrast to the classical genre were composed in the period of "Modernism". In 1924 "Ballet Mechanique," was first used as a genre in the field of ballet music. It was considered ground-breaking because of its use of jazz music to represent dancing moving objects on film, has been very remarkable.

Up until the start of the late 19th century, "scores for ballets were almost always written by composers known as "specialists": composers who were highly skilled at scoring the light, decorative, melodious, and rhythmically clear music that was at that time in trend for ballet." [7] It was through the study of these "specialists", which enabled him to write for 'Swan Lake'. Before the commencement of his composition for the ballet, Tchaikovsky had a somewhat negative opinion associated with ballet music until he studied it in depth and was enchanted by the contagious melodies their scores beheld. He would later write to his friend, the composer Sergei Taneyev, "I listened to the Delibes ballet 'Sylvia'...what charm, what elegance, what wealth of melody, rhythm, and harmony. I was ashamed, for if I had known of this music then, I would not have written 'Swan Lake." [7]

'Swan Lake', was composed by Tchaikovsky in one full year, which was significantly quickly. It is likely his newfound excitement for ballet music, resulted in this madly rushed composition for 'Swan Lake'. By April, 1876, the scores for 'Swan Lake' were completed and the first performance of the entire ballet occurred on Friday, 4th March, 1877. (Play SL)

In 1888, Tchaikovsky was approached by the, "Director of the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg, Ivan Vsevolozhsky" [8] to adapt the novella 'Undine' but later it was decided that 'La Belle au bois dormant' (The Beauty sleeping in the wood) would be the story. It is reasonable to say that 'Sleeping Beauty', was Tchaikovsky's first successful ballet composition. However, it was no more popular than 'Swan Lake' because the dance routines and storyline were seen as too lavish, even though the music was incredible. Within three years, the ballet had become increasingly popular and has been performed at least fifty more times on a global stage. 'The Sleeping Beauty' presented Tchaikovsky with a form that differed significantly from typical ballet of the time; it was unusually free of dramatic tension. As the first act of 'Sleeping Beauty', was set during the reign of Louis XIV, it offered an opportunity to Tchaikovsky to express his fondness for music of the classical period. (Play TSB)

The News criterion website said "It is received wisdom that 'Nutcracker' betrays a lower level of melodic invention than 'The Sleeping Beauty'." [10] Although there is less focus on the melody in this ballet, this may have been a conscious decision by Tchaikovsky to distance himself from the previous 'Romantic Ballets'. Tchaikovsky worked in conjunction with Marius Petipa using material from an adaption of the E.T.A Hoffman's story 'The Nutcracker and The Mouse King'. In his story, there is a flashback story, entitled 'The Tale of the Hard Nut'. There is a greater focus on articulation; apparent from the initial notes in the overture with their staccato and eight and sixteenth rests. The intense response to 'The Nutcracker' went beyond a sheer response to the ballet itself. As Yuri Slonimsky points out, "Never before had the press devoted so much attention to a ballet production and especially to its music. Never before had it. . . theorised about the roads of development of the ballet theatre and its music." Tchaikovsky's score, he continues, and therefore the entire production, sounded like "a challenge to the prejudices and whims of the habitués of the ballet of the Imperial Theatres." [10]

(Play TNC)

Word Count: 921

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