NPR Online


Dance and Music
with Terry Teachout

Time magazine music and dance critic Terry Teachout says music may have derived from dance rather than the other way around. Dance is a natural outgrowth of the rhythmic movement of human beings, but we know music and dance have been partners since long before the recorded history of both art forms. On this edition of Milestones of the Millennium, Teachout leads as we waltz through the known history of the partnership between dance and music.

The connection between music and dance was well documented by the 15th century, especially in a social context. In 1588, French Renaissance composer Thoinot Arbeau compiled a comprehensive manual of dances from the 15th and 16th centuries. Titled the Orchesography, it was complete with choreographic descriptions, guidance on the proper decorum for dance, and 44 dance tunes. Arbeau’s dance manual also gives not-so-subtle tips for identifying a good partner, and says dancing “reveal[s] whether lovers are in good health and sound of limb.” We listen to a modern interpretation of one of Arbeau's melodies, as Musica Dolce plays the Basse-Danse in an arrangement by Peter Warlock.

William Byrd’s “Monsieur’s Almaigne” provides another example of professionally composed dance music after the Renaissance. The “allemande” was a Baroque equivalent of a line dance, and the term is still used today for a square-dance step. As 18th century composers increasingly drew inspiration from dance rhythms, “dance suites” not actually intended for dancing became more common. We hear an example of such stylized interpretation of dance in the “Allemande” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s English Suite No. 1, as performed by pianist Glenn Gould.

Ballet emerged out of opera during the 18th century. Many composers saw the great potential of dance as a vehicle for expression and a means to advance the plot. We hear Christoph Willibald Gluck's "Dance of the Furies" from his 1774 production of the opera-ballet "Orpheus and Euridice." In the original performance, furies appeared as a dance chorus whose movements exhibit rage at being confined to the underworld.

As the Waltz predominated at social gatherings throughout much of Europe, Polish composer Frederic Chopin looked to traditional folk dances called “mazurkas” for inspiration. Teachout says Chopin’s Mazurkas were not really meant for dance but reflect the rhythm and spirit of his native Polish folk dance traditions. Polish pianist Ignaz Friedman's recreates the folksy rhythmic style originally intended by Chopin as he performs Mazurka in B-Flat, Op. 7, No. 1.

The full length ballet evolved in the 19th century and was perfected by Russian composers. Though not the first to compose a ballet, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky set the standard by which the form has since been measured with works like "The Nutcracker". Despite downtime due to revolution and two world wars, Russian composers continued to dominate this form through the first half of the 20th century. We hear more examples, including movements from Igor Stravinsky’s riotous “Rite of Spring” and Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Both are performed by the Kirov Orchestra of St. Petersburg with Valery Gergiev conducting.

Beginning in the 1930's, the exodus of European dancers, choreographers and composers to the US resulted in the emergence of America as to center of dance in the latter part of the 20th century. Calling Aaron Copland “America’s Stravinsky”, Teachout introduces Copland’s “Buckaroo Holiday” from the ballet “Rodeo”. We also hear compositions for dance by Leonard Bernstein and Philip Glass.

Listen to Terry Teachout and Performance Today host Martin Goldsmith discuss the dance, music's partner, on the latest installment of the Milestones of the Millenium series. Note: music parts have been edited from the commentary due to internet rights issues. (This stereo audio segment requires the free RealPlayer 5.0 or higher. You can also listen with a 14.4 connection)



back to PT Home Page

This page and all contents are Copyright © 1999 by National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.