Sunday, December 25, 2011

Israel Philharmonic: Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake —'Waltz'



The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performs from Act I (No. 2, Tempo di valse, Waltz) of P.I. Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake ballet, opus 20, in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 2001, Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting.

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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky worked on the composition in 1875-76, completing it in April 1876. Vladimir Petrovich Begichev, the director of the Russian Imperial Theatres in Moscow, had commissioned the music, offering Tchaikovsky a modest fee of 800 rubles. It made its premiere, with the Bolshoi Ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia, on March 4, 1877, originally billed as The Lake of the Swans. A synopsis of the four-act ballet can be found here.

Swan Lake, a perennial favourite, is essentially a story of love and redemption. But it was not initially well-received. In "The History of Swan Lake," for About.com, Aaron Greene writes:
Like The Nutcracker, Swan Lake was unsuccessful after its first year of performance. Conductors, dancers and audiences alike thought Tchaikovsky's music was too complicated and hard to dance to. The production’s original choreography by German ballet master, Julius Reisinger, was uninspiring and unoriginal. Much is unknown about the original production of Swan Lake – no notes, techniques or instruction concerning the ballet was written down. Only little can be found in letters and memos. It wasn’t until after Tchaikovsky’s death that Swan Lake was revived. Much of the Swan Lake we know of today was a revision by the famous choreographers Petipa and Ivanov.
Tchaikovsky died on November 6, 1893, leaving many versions of the ballet. Within two years after his death, however, most ballet companies came to accept the version, both choreographically and musically of the 1895 revival of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. This was first performed for the Imperial Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on January 15, 1895. For this revival, Riccardo Drigo, chief conductor and composer of the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, also revised Tchaikovsky's score. This continues today, notably with the choreography, with various companies making  modifications to the production, often in keeping with modern sensibilities and regional tastes.