Saturday, October 20, 2012

Copland - Grohg - Ballet In One Act

Aaron Copland spent a few years studying in Paris in the early 1920's with renown teacher Nadia Boulanger,  a female teacher of higher music instruction. Not only was it rare for a female to be a teacher of advanced music, but Copland found that she had an encyclopedic knowledge of music from Bach to Stravinsky. She was also a fine composer in her own right and one of the very few (if not the first) females to conduct major orchestras. Copland thrived under her tutelage, and extended his studies with her to three years instead of the one year he originally planned.

Nosferatu
Grohg, Ballet In One Act is a product of his early compositions in Paris and the first work that he orchestrated.  Boulanger suggested Copland write a ballet because of the popularity of Stravinsky's ballets commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev for his  Ballet Russe.  Copland took as his inspiration the German silent movie Nosferatu, a vampire film based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. Copland asked the writer-director Harold Clurman to write a scenario for the ballet. Clurman's scenario deals with a sorcerer that brings corpses to life to dance for his pleasure.

Copland went on to temper his early dissonant writing in his later popular ballets Billy The Kid, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring, but Grohg has dissonance and elements of American jazz, keeping with Copland's earlier style.  As Copland was not commissioned to write the work, the only performance it got was a four-handed piano version privately played by Copland and Boulanger. The score was revised in 1932, but remained unperformed until the 1932 revision was found in the Library of Congress. The work was first performed in 1992.

The work is played without pause but is divided into six sections:

1) Introduction, Cortège and Entrance of Grohg - A slow introduction, followed by the bearers of coffins. Copland brings the dance of the coffin bearers to a climax as Grohg the Sorcerer enters and the dancers pay homage to the sorcerer.

2) Dance Of The Adolescent -  Grohg revives the corpse of an adolescent who becomes terrified by Grohg. The adolescent is struck down by the sorcerer.

3) Dance Of The Opium Eater - Grohg next revives the corpse of an opium addict. The addict dances to a jazzy tune, and Grohg has pity on the addict and removes the magic that brought him back to life.

4) Dance Of The Streetwalker - The corpse of a streetwalker is revived and she does a dance that impassions Grohg. He tries to embrace her, there is a struggle.

5) Grohg Imagines The Corpses Are Mocking Him -  Grohg begins to hallucinate and imagines the corpses are mocking him. He joins in the dance of the corpses. Chaos ensues, and Grohg hoists the Streetwalker over his head and throws her into the crowd.

6) Illumination And Disappearance of Grohg - The stage turns dark save for a light focused on Grohg's head, and he slowly disappears to music that echos back to the beginning.

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