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La valse, un poème chorégraphique (a choreographic poem), is an orchestral work written by Maurice Ravel from February 1919 until 1920, and premiered in Paris on 12 December 1920. While the work has been described as a tribute to the waltz, it is in fact a less sentimental reflection of post-World War I Europe. The composer George Benjamin, in his analysis of La valse, summarized the ethos of the work as follows: "Whether or not it was intended as a metaphor for the predicament of European civilization in the aftermath of the Great War, its one-movement design plots the birth, decay and destruction of a musical genre: the waltz."[1] In his tribute to Ravel after the composer's death in 1937, Paul Landormy described the work as follows: "....the most unexpected of the compositions of Ravel, revealing to us heretofore unexpected depths of Romanticism, power, vigor, and rapture in this musician whose expression is usually limited to the manifestations of an essentially classical genius".[2] Contents 1 Creation and meaning 2 Description 3 Ballet 4 References 5 Bibliography 6 External links // Creation and meaning The idea of La valse began as Wien (German for "Vienna") as early as 1906, where Ravel intended to orchestrate a piece in tribute to the waltz form and to Johann Strauss II. An earlier influence from another composer was the waltz from Emmanuel Chabrier's opera Le roi malgré lui.[3] In Ravel's own compositional output, a precursor to La valse was his 1911 Valses nobles et sentimentales, which contains a motif that Ravel reused in the later work. After his service in the French Army, Ravel returned to his original idea of the symphonic poem Wien. Ravel described his own attraction to waltz rhythm as follows, to Jean Marnold, whilst writing La valse: "You know my intense attraction to these wonderful rhythms and that I value the joie de vivre expressed in the dance much more deeply than Franckist puritanism."[3] Ravel completely reworked his idea of Wien into what became La valse, which was to have been written under commission from Sergei Diaghilev as a ballet. However, Diaghilev never produced the ballet,[4] and rejected Ravel's work as “not a ballet. It’s a portrait of ballet”. Ravel, hurt by the comment, ended the relationship.[5] Subsequently, it became a popular concert work and when the two men met again during 1925, Ravel refused to shake Diaghilev's hand. Diaghilev challenged Ravel to a duel (friends persuaded Diaghilev to recant). The men never met again.[6] However, the music was used for a 1951 ballet of the same title by George Balanchine, who had made dances for Diaghilev.) Ravel described La valse with the following preface to the score: "Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished. The clouds gradually scatter: one sees at letter A an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo letter B. Set in an imperial court, about 1855." Description The beginning starts quietly (the mist), with the rumbling of the double basses with the celli and harps subsequently joining. Silently and gradually, instruments play fragmented melodies, gradually building into a subdued tune on bassoons and violas. Eventually, the harps signal the beginning culmination of instruments into the graceful melody. Led by the violins, the orchestra erupts into the work's principal waltz theme. A series of waltzes follows, each with its own character, alternating loud and soft sequences. The variations by oboe, violins and flutes, mild, slightly timid but nevertheless sweet and elegant. The eruption of the heavy brass and timpani begins the next ebullient and pompous melody. The tune is sung by the violins as cymbals crash and the brass blare unashamedly. Afterwards, the violas lead a tender tune, accompanied by luxuriant humming in the cellos and clarinets. It disappears and once again returns to the sweet variations and extravagant brass. Enter a rather restless episode with dramatic violins, accompanied with precocious (yet seemingly wayward) woodwinds. Castanets and pizzicato add to the character of a rather erratic piece. It ends meekly and clumsily in the bassoons. The piece relapses into previous melodies, before a poignant and sweet tune begins in the violins. Glissando is a characteristic feature. The gentle violins are accompanied by ornate, chromatic swayings in the cellos and glissando in the harps. The tune is once again repeated by the woodwinds. As it ends, it begins to unleash some kind of climax, when it is suddenly cut off by a sweet flute. The flute plays a rather playful, repetitious melody, accompanied by the glockenspiel and triangle. In between, the violins seem to yearn, whilst the harps play and (bizarrely) the horns trill. Once more, as it nears its conclusion, it tries to build up into a climax, but descends once more into the 'mist' of the beginning. So begins the piece's second half. Every melody from the first section is re-introduced, although differently, in the second section. Ravel has altered each waltz theme piece with unexpected modulations and instrumentation (for example, where flutes would normally play, they are replaced by trumpets). As the Waltz begins to whirl and whirl unstoppably, Ravel intends us to see what is truly happening in this waltz rather symbolically. Once more, Ravel breaks the momentum. A macabre sequence begins, gradually building into a disconcerting repetition. The orchestra reaches a danse macabre coda, and the work ends with the final measure as the only one in the score not in waltz-time. The orchestration is for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 french horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, tam-tam, guiro, glockenspiel, strings, and 2 harps. Ravel prepared a separate piano transcription of this work. Ballet Main article: List of casts of La valse New York City Ballet co-founder and founding choreographer George Balanchine made a ballet to La valse in 1951. References ^ Benjamin, George (July 1994), "Last Dance". The Musical Times, 135 (1817): 432-435. ^ Landormy, Paul (translated by Willis Wager) (1939). "Maurice Ravel". The Musical Quarterly, XXV (4): 430–441. doi:10.1093/mq/XXV.4.430. http://mq.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/citation/XXV/4/430. Retrieved 2007-08-05.  ^ a b Delage, Roger (translated by Frayda Lindemann) (1975). "Ravel and Chabrier". The Musical Quarterly, 61 (4): 546–552. http://mq.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/LXI/4/546. Retrieved 2007-08-05.  ^ Calvocoressi, M.V. (January 1941). "Ravel's Letters to Calvocoressi With Notes and Comments". The Musical Quarterly, XXVII (1): 1–19. doi:10.1093/mq/XXVII.1.1. http://mq.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/XXVII/1/1. Retrieved 2008-02-22.  ^ Orenstein,Arbie. Ravel: Man and Musician, Dover, New York, 1991, p. 78, ISBN 0-486-26633-8 ^ Schonberg, Harold C. (1981). The Lives of the Great Composers (revised ed.). New York, London: W.W. Norton. p. 486. ISBN 0393013022. OCLC 6278261.  Bibliography Orensten, Arbie; Ravel: Man and Musician (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968) External links Program notes from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Regarding La valse and his Valses Nobles et Sentimentales in context to World War I Recording of La valse in transcription for two pianos by Neal and Nancy O'Doan, in MP3 format v • d • e Ballet General information History of ballet · Ballet timeline · Glossary of ballet · List of ballets · Ballet music · Ballet company · Ballet Portal Ballet by genre Classical ballet · Contemporary ballet · Neoclassical ballet · Character dance Ballet by region British ballet · French ballet · Italian ballet · Russian ballet (dancers) Ballet technique Balanchine method · Bournonville method · Cecchetti method · Pointe · RAD method · Vaganova method Ballet apparel Ballet shoes · Pointe shoes · Tutu Ballet schools Moscow State Academy of Choreography · Royal Ballet School · La Scala Theatre Ballet School · School of American Ballet · Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet Ballet companies American Ballet Theatre · Australian Ballet · Ballet de l'Opéra National de Paris · Bolshoi Ballet · Mariinsky Ballet · New York City Ballet · The Royal Ballet · La Scala Theatre Ballet · Stuttgart Ballet