Ravel: So you think you can dance?
Most of Classical music grew out of dance music, specifically dance suites from the Renaissance and Baroque. You don't need to know the dances to dance along in your head; besides, most of the famous pieces from the Classical period (Mozart/Beethoven) are too far removed to be danceable.
More recent music is based on more recent dances. For instance, the waltz. It may seem like an old dance, but it's only about 200 years old. Only. [It's still relatively young compared to the 400-year-old Minuet.]
The waltz emerged in 19th-century Vienna and spread like Smallpox to the rest of Europe. Nearly 100 years later, it was a solid part of the collective consciousness. Enough so that it was ripe for imitation and parody.
Enter Maurice Ravel. Most people know his Bolero
and perhaps a few other orchestra pieces but this weekend you have a chance to see something a little less cliché: La Valse. It may not be meant for dancing, but that doesn't mean you can't imagine yourself in some Viennese ballroom in fancy dress. In the same way that Mozart and Beethoven turned their dance music into something more abstract, Ravel's Valse deconstructs the forms and conventions of a waltz to turn an entertainment piece into a work of art. And yet, it almost makes you feel like you're dancing, ending with an orgiastic apotheosis. Here's Leonard Bernstein conducting it.
You can see this on Friday night (and then ONLY) at Symphony Center, performed by Ravel's countrymen, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
. The rest of the program includes other fantastic examples of the composer's use of the range of orchestral colors and textures.