by Allan Greene
Opus 4 is going to be big project. It’s going to synthesize several streams of thought that I’ve been carrying around with me for a while, one going back 36 years to when I was a senior at Carleton College. I’ve been intending to do something with these ideas for a few years, since George de la Peña, who was Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet School at the time, suggested I give a talk to the faculty and students on music and dance.
In order to get paid for such a talk, George had me submit a proposal to the school’s executive director. Unfortunately, George and the executive director parted ways before my proposal was ever processed. I had proposed doing five lecture/demonstrations on various topics, including the use both Stravinsky and Balanchine made of French Baroque poetry in Apollo, and the how the Ivanov/Legat choreography of the White Swan Pas de Deux in Swan Lake and Tchaikovsky’s music for it are interlaced to create a masterpiece. Long story short, no money, no revelations.
When the editor of this blog, Catherine, asked me to write about music and dance, and gave me carte blanche to write what was on my mind, the first thing that popped into my head was that long-delayed White Swan project. I had intended originally to recruit two dancers to demonstrate various parts of the dance while I played at the piano and did my Leonard Bernstein routine. In cyberspace, however, my audio-visual aids will be a little different. But it will get to the same place.
The more I thought about how to do this, the more I realized that my project rested on assumptions that, to be charitable, not everybody agrees with nor understands.
Over the years since college, I’ve broadened my knowledge base quite a bit. I studied and practiced architecture from 1983 to 1996. In 1998 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In 2000 a career counselor administered the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory test on me, which sparked a continuing interest in Jungian analysis and work by neuroscientists to reconcile personality and physiognomy. All of these experiences feed into how I can explain myself today in a way that I couldn’t in 1976, when the music faculty gave me blank stares after I delivered my senior thesis lecture on the first movement of Brahms’ Second Piano Sonata.
They blanked out because they were hearing a kind of musical analysis from me that outlined the interplay of various styles and influences in the various sections of Brahms’ sonata. I talked about Lisztian bravura, Italian opera, Viennese salon music in the Gypsy style, and Bach organ preludes, all interacting like characters in a play. The score was very vividly, to me at least, much more than just organized sound. It was a unique kind of drama.
Yes, yes, they told me, but that’s not Music Theory. So, as with my lec-demos for the Joffrey School, it was just dropped.
But I can see now why it was swept under the rug. I didn’t have a way of communicating in language they would understand my own way of understanding the music. (In fairness to the music faculty, they were a bit sceptical of my iconoclastic intentions. As a freshman I asked that I be allowed to test out of the entire sequence of music theory courses, because I had taught myself music theory when I was twelve. They allowed me to skip all but the most advanced, they told me, because they weren’t going to let me get away without taking any of their courses.)
Now, forty years later, I think I can explain how I understand music, appealing to concepts and schools of thought that were already well-established when I was in middle school. I may have to reach out to some very up-to-date brain research to explain why I see music one way and most other people see it another, but I’ll be brief. And I will use this analytical approach to reveal the intense psychological drama played out by Odette and Rothbart in the mythical wilds of Mitteleurope.
A brief outline of what’s to come:
October: The Four Temperaments and a different way of understanding music
November: The White Swan: what’s happening in the music
December: The movement and music play off one another
BIO: Contributor Allan Greene has been a dancers’ musician for nearly forty years. He is a composer, pianist, teacher, conductor, music director, father to Oliver, 9, and Ravi, 6, and husband to Juliana Boehm. He has also been an architect, an editor, a writer and a boiler mechanic. He lives and works in New York City. His ballet class music can be found on www.BalletClassTunes.com