Opus 4, No. 3: The Personality Dynamics of the Music for Tchaikovsky’s White Swan Pas de Deux (Part II)

by Allan Greene


(Read the PART THE FIRST here)

Games Musical Personifications Play

Let’s parse some of the possible stock personality types we’ve met in White Swan score.  We may use the language of Jungian analyst David Kiersey popularized in his books on personality types, Please Understand Me (1984) and Please Understand Me II (1998).

Here a little homework is in order.  We’re entering the Kingdom of Personality Typology, that lovely branch of Jungian psychology that sorts temperaments and predicts behavior based on the interplay among temperaments.

First, if you’ve not done so, take the test, just for fun.  After you’ve scored yourself and determined which of the sixteen personality types you belong to, read the blurb about that type (in the right-hand column of links).  Again, for fun, see how close or how off-the-mark the blurb about your type is to your actual behavior.  Read some or all of the other blurbs.  Incidentally, I always score as an INTP (Architect), which is my former profession.  Curieux, non?

(A quick side note:  The sixteen four-letter acronyms relating to the sixteen personality types originally proposed by Isabel Myers Briggs are composed of a shorthand for the three categories Jung identified as components of personality, and one category added by Myers Briggs.  Each category is either/or, so the number of permutations is sixteen: sixteen personality types.  I am including the acronyms as a reference for readers who either already know about these or who want to find out more about them.)

I have selected personality types for the various sections of the pas d’action.  I couldn’t administer any temperament-sorters or temperament-indicators, so I’ve had to rely on a what you might call a musician’s clinical observation of the various sections.

As I view it, the scheme is pretty simple.  There are four distinct “personalities” in this music,  five if you include the coda.  There’s the harp solo, the “notturno” music, the pulsating woodwinds and the “Peasant Pas” music.  There is no overlap among appearances: the harp solo does not become blended, either polyphonically or texturally, with the notturno; the notturno does not blend, harmonically, rhythmically or thematically, with the pulsating woodwinds, and so forth.  Musically, the interactions between sections are one-to-one: B reacts to A, C reacts to B, D reacts to C, B reacts to D…

We will also have to look at a branch of Jungian typology favored by Russian researchers, Socionics, which focuses on the interaction among personality types.

Introduction: Harp Solo

Counselor (INFJ): My reading of the “personality” of the harp solo is that it is a portrait of Nature as a spiritual, centering influence.  The ripples of surface tension on the lake are, figuratively, beckoning the prince into the swans’ world.  Kiersey: “Counselors have an exceptionally strong desire to contribute to the welfare of others, and find great personal fulfillment interacting with people, nurturing their personal development, guiding them to realize their human potential. interested in helping people with their personal problems…

“Counselors… are highly private… with an unusually rich, complicated inner life…  They have mysterious, intricately woven personalities which sometimes puzzle even them.

“Counselors are concerned with… feelings and are able to act as a barometer of… feelings…

“… Counselors are often seen as the most poetical of all the types, and in fact they use a lot of poetic imagery… Counselors are highly intuitive and can recognize another’s emotions or intentions – good or evil – even before that person is aware of them.”

Section A: Notturno 1:  This melody, with its chromatic swoops and leaps, and its harmonic yearning, is a courting song.  Accompanied by the spare strum of the lute, it awakens the ear gently.  It is Orpheus.

Performer (ESFP) or Composer (ISFP), depending on whether the tenor is outward- or inward-looking, Gene Kelly or George Balanchine.

The “Gene Kelly” Performer (ESFP)  interpretation of the prince:  It seems a little ridiculous to analogize this music to Gene Kelly, but hear me out.  If the prince is a leading his merry band of huntsmen in pursuit of adventure, amusement, and what we reductively refer to these days as male bonding, then capping the day with an evening full of wine, a feast, song and bonhomie.

Kiersey: “Performers have the special ability… to delight those around them with their warmth, their good humor, and with their often extraordinary skills… Whether on the job, with friends, or with their families, Performers are exciting and full of fun, and their great social interest lies in stimulating those around them to take a break from work and worry, to lighten up and enjoy life…

“The Performers’ talent for enjoying life is healthy for the most part, though it also makes them more subject to temptations than the other types. Pleasure seems to be an end in itself for them, and variety is the spice of life. And so Performers are open to trying almost anything that promises them a good time, not always giving enough thought to the consequences…

“In so many ways, Performers view life as an eternal cornucopia from which flows an endless supply of pleasures.”

Don’t say the prince isn’t played that way, because he is, frequently.  So I’m suggesting it as one possible “personality” for the Notturno 1 segment of the music.

The “George Balanchine” Composer (ISFP) interpretation of the prince: I’m a composer, and since my composing activity has always been solitary, I have always assumed that all other composers were just like me.  Then I read Kiersey, whose observations of the “composer” type described a person unrecognizable to me.  Unrecognizable in the sense that it wasn’t remotely me.  I’m constantly holding back and self-editing, preferring to say very little very well.  Kiersey’s composer can’t hold back, the music spills forth, the compulsion to create overwhelms modesty.  Kiersey’s characterization of the composer made me look at all composers with an eye to their work habits.  It got me to see that, indeed, most people who call themselves composers have a compulsion to express themselves, a compulsion which is only a sufficient and not necessary component in my own creative process.  But when you look at the productivity of  Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, Schubert, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, there’s not much self-doubt. As much as Beethoven worked and re-worked scores, the amount of music he penned, and much of it while in a great deal of pain, is stunning.  And even though Tchaikovsky was wracked with misgivings about much of his œuvre, and destroyed or hours of music, the music continued to gush forth, mostly fully-formed and unrestrained.

Tchaikovsky reveals in his letters that he believes deeply that all music tells specific stories, even Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony; and that his own music is at least partly autobiographical.  Thus it is easy for me to see a self-portrait in the notturno.

Kiersey: “Composers are in tune with their senses, and so have a sure grasp of what belongs, and what doesn’t belong, in all kinds of works of art…

“Although Composers often put long, lonely hours into their artistry, they are just as impulsive as the other Artisans. They do not wait to consider their moves; rather, they act in the here and now, with little or no planning or preparation. Composers are seized by the act of artistic composition, as if caught up in a whirlwind. The act is their master, not the reverse. Composers paint or sculpt, they dance or skate, they write melodies or make recipes-or whatever-simply because they must. They climb the mountain because it is there.

“This ability to lose themselves in action accounts for the spectacular individual accomplishments of some Composers, and yet on their social side they show a kindness unmatched by all the other types. Composers are especially sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and they sympathize freely with the sufferer. Some have a remarkable way with young children, almost as if there were a natural bond of sympathy and trust between them. A similar bond may be seen between some Composers and animals, even wild animals. Many Composers have an instinctive longing for the wilds, and nature seems to welcome them.”

Shall we visit the lake, see the water-fowl, anyone?

Introduction’s “relationship” with Notturno 1:  Another variant of Jungian typology, Socionics, addresses the kinds of relationships there are, typically, between type-designated individuals.  It delves into some detail to characterize these relationships.

According to a suspiciously reductive table from www.the16types.info, a Socionics forum, the  ESFP (Performer, Gene Kelly, Notturno) tends to dominate and be judgmental in any relationship with an INFJ (Counselor, Harp Solo).  Accepting this requires a little imagination, but the claim is based in certain strong personality similarities and certain equally strong dissimilarities, enabling the extroverted Performer to hold the introverted Counselor in thrall.

In Swan Lake terms, the prince easily and quickly wrests the situation from the relatively passive natural setting.  He swoops in and grabs the reins.

Back at the Socionics table, we find the ISFP (Composer, Balanchine, Notturno) and the INFP (Counselor, Harp Solo) have what is called an Activity relationship, which means that they bring out the best in each other.  In my opinion, this is another perfectly good way to interpret the prince.

Section B: Pulsating woodwinds 1:  Odette is trying to fight her physical attraction to the prince.

Provider (ESFJ) or Protector (ISFJ): My conception of Odette is as either the provider for or protector of her flock of swans.  How she’s portrayed depends on whether she draws impulse from the world around her or from her inner life.

Again, the music is Pulsating Woodwinds, a little staccato folk fragment and ear-worm, a unique musical moment.  Marrying this musical moment to the story that Tchaikovsky is very clearly telling requires letting go of being literal; in the same way, the beautiful slow melody of the notturno cannot be understood as a musical portrait of the prince without accepting Tchaikovsky brandishing his poetic license.

This is how this Jungian musical analysis sloshes differing layers of understanding back and forth in one flask.  Eventually one reaches an equilibrium where the music, the story and personalities become one.

Provider (ESFJ): Kiersey: “Providers take it upon themselves to insure the health and welfare of those in their care, but they are also the most sociable of all the Guardians…

“Providers are extremely sensitive to the feelings of others, which makes them perhaps the most sympathetic of all the types, but which also leaves them somewhat self-conscious, that is, highly sensitive to what others think of them. Loving and affectionate themselves, they need to be loved in return. In fact, Providers can be crushed by personal criticism, and are happiest when given ample appreciation both for themselves personally and for the tireless service they give to others.”

Socionics:  ESFJ / ESFP relationship: Quasi-Identical.  V.V. Gulenko, A.V. Molodtsev, Introduction to Socionics: “This is a relations of coexistence in complete misunderstanding of each other…  Sometimes there is a sense that you are wasting time. Because nothing in particular unites quasi-identicals, these relations break up easily, without regrets. Rather colorless relations, which are described well by a [Russian] proverb: ‘You have your own wedding, and we have ours.’”

At the moment that Section A joins Section B, this may very well be the state of the relationship.

ESFJ / ISFP relationship: Mirror.  Wikisocion: “Mirror is an intertype relation of intellectual stimulation and mutual correction. The pair shares common interests, but differ slightly in thought process and methodology…

“Perhaps more than any other relation, Mirrors can stimulate each other’s creativity and work in tandem on the same project, but this interaction is primarily intellectual (i.e. work-related) and does not result in a feeling of closeness or needing the other on a more instinctive level.”

It’s hard to imagine anything involving Tchaikovsky’s music that is “primarily intellectual”.  But it’s not that difficult to play these roles as two intellectually distant personalities at this point in the drama.  All etiquette, no passion… all form, no substance.

Protector (ISFJ): Kiersey: “[Protectors’] primary interest is in the safety and security of those they care about – their family, their circle of friends…  Protectors have an extraordinary sense of loyalty and responsibility in their makeup, and seem fulfilled in the degree they can shield others from the dirt and dangers of the world…  Protectors believe deeply in the stability of social ranking conferred by birth, titles, offices, and credentials. And they cherish family history and enjoy caring for family property, from houses to heirlooms.

“They are not as outgoing and talkative as the Provider[s]… [ESFJs], and their shyness is often misjudged as stiffness, even coldness, when in truth Protectors are warm-hearted and sympathetic, giving happily of themselves…”

Peasant Pas 1 (Personality D):  This is a Baroque violin solo stretched out in time and pulse, as if a country fiddler were sight-reading the Bach Chaconne. (Here’s Maxim Vengerov nailing it.) Tchaikovsky transforms a moment of high drama in Undina into a moment that verges on comic parody in Swan Lake.  Did he deliberately juxtapose the Russian nationalism (folk-derived) popular in his circles with the moment of maximum drama in the choreography?  Was this meant to be a political statement?  Since there’s such a disconnect between the music and the story line here, what would the true Personality D be?  Parody would entail exaggeration, which would be at cross-purposes with the drama, so I would keep this section sober.  The music is Sancho Panza to the drama’s Don Quixote.

Peasant Pas 1 is the Swan Queen’s moment.  She is in crisis, her world rent apart by the sudden appearance of this prince.  How does the Protector (ISFJ) behave under these stresses?  Eve Delunas, another Jungian therapist, in her book Survival Games Personalities Play (1994, SunInk Publications), hypothesizes that the four major personality categories (remember Galen, the First Century physician, who described Melancholy, Phlegmatic, Sanguine and Choleric?) play each a particular game and assume each a particular role when in crisis.

Dr. Delunas writes that “[Protectors and Providers] play Complain when their ability to be accountable, unselfish and to belong is at risk.  To play this game, they present themselves as decommissioned by complaining loudly of being sick, tired, worried and/or sorry.  As they immobilize others with fears, pains, worries, fatigue or sorrow, [they] manage to entangle others who feel obligated to take care of them.”   That’s a pretty damn good description of what plays out between the Swan Queen and the prince.

Pulsating Woodwinds 2 (Personality B):  Here is Odette in further conflict with herself over the prince.  Expressively and according to the musical structure, however, this is Odette confronting herself (Personality B versus Personality D).

Socionics: R.K. Sedih, Informational Psychoanalysis: “This interaction leads to an interesting effect. The mask that every person fits for living in society is almost transparent for your identical. This effect has both positive and negative sides.”

Is this the foreshadowing of Odette/Odile?  Could the seed of that schizophrenia be in Odette’s struggles to escape her instincts?  Interesting.

Peasant Pas 2 (Personality D): This is the second attempt at achieving escape velocity from the prince’s magnetism.  Personality D versus Personality B presumably plays out the same as Personality B versus Personality D.  The music is meanwhile adumbrated and increasingly tense.

This personality is in crisis.  Sick, tired, worried and/or sorry?

Pulsating Woodwinds 3 (Personality B):  Last attempt at escape.  How does the ISFJ or ESFJ deal with this?

Cello Cadenza (Personality A1) and Notturno Duet (Personality A1+2): The Queen surrenders.  The Prince takes control.  Two spirits enlace.  The music tugs, tightens and knots them together.

No matter how many times I’ve played this, whether in rehearsal or performance, I can never get enough.  I’ve rehearsed it for hours with ballet stars and with students (using the Alexander Siloti piano transcription).  I’ve performed it with a violin soloist and in my own violin, cello and piano transcription.  It only gets better with repetition.

In a future post I’ll explore what inspiration means.  Suffice to say that this music is one of Tchaikovsky’s inspired moments.

Now, dealing with the personality of the duet is problematic.  Is the counter-melody in the violin a new personality superimposed on the notturno personality A, or is it an elaboration of it?

To me, it  is clearly a new personality, which we could then subject to the same Socionics (or whatever other personality-versus-personality analysis we choose) as we have between prior sections.

I’m calling the two personalities A1 (cello) and  A2 (violin).  Musically, the two solos are stylistically similar and melodically complementary.  They are yet another allusion to the Baroque.  This time, its DNA comes from the Baroque trio sonata.

A trio sonata as understood by Bach and Handel is really a duet with accompaniment.  In many cases, the ensemble would be violin, cello and cembalo (any available keyboard).  The violin has its thematic material, the cello has similar or contrasting thematic material, and the cembalo has a set bass line and set harmonies which would be realized as improvisations.  Aesthetically, it’s a three-threaded braid with two much more prominent threads.

Understanding the Baroque trio sonata makes understanding what Tchaikovsky was doing here clear.  The musical braid was even a metaphor for how the Swan Queen and the prince had come together.

Nottturno Duet (Personality A1+2): Remember the two personality types suggested for Notturno 1?

Performer (ESFP) or Composer (ISFP),depending on whether the tenor is outward- or inward-looking, Gene Kelly or George Balanchine.

Socionics has a category for this kind of relationship: Extinguishment.  This is what happens when Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby sing a duet (as they finally, unconvicingly, did in Cole Porter’s High Society).  Eugene Gorenko, Vladimir Tolstikov, Nature of Self:  “Partners have all functions in common, except their direction is opposite. It would seem that they should have a lot in common, but in practice it turns out that what one see from the outside, while the other sees from the inside. This leads to misunderstanding of each other. Partners do not find each other interesting, dialogue is not too fascinating. Peaceful communication is possible if there are no other people in presence, but as soon as someone else comes into picture, the attention of one partner (usually the extrovert one) switches on to the third person.”  [As an occasional cembalo player, I appreciate the attention in trio-sonata dynamics.]

This suggests that the way to approach interpreting the duet is to highlight the rivalry between the two solos, to play up their emotional tension.  This makes sense.

Coda (Personality E): Two Performer (ESFP)s, although I’m inclined to stop at this point, since neither the drama nor the story is developed in this pro-forma end-cap.


So here we have another way to interpret the story told by the Pas D’Action, through an interpretation of Jungian personality dynamics.  We can use our poetic imaginations and artistic skills to retell the story inside the music by telling the story of so many “personalities”, strutting onto the stage one after the next.  The personalities tell the music’s story yet depend on the communicative skills of the musician to shape their voices.

I’m not claiming that everyone should or even can take this approach.  The approach makes sense to me because I happen to possess a rich creative mental world.  This is a world out of which I am able to draw the many strands, feelings and experiences of my life and analogize them into the characters I find in the music.

In a way, such analysis is the social scientist’s version of what the ancient storytellers did to make their heroes both universal and real.  Tchaikovsky the storyteller would have been drawn to the archetypes embodied in the prince and the Swan Queen, as he had been with those of Undine and Huldebrand.  He would have relied on his observation of human behavior and his intuition as to its trajectory in this particular situation.  The prince, on a hunting expedition, comes across a bird so beautiful, so alluring, that he finds himself falling in love with it.  As a hunter, he is impelled to capture it.  The bird, of course, is really a woman who has been put under a spell, which is enough to deal with.  But she needs to kiss the prince to regain her human form.  Being a bird, she behaves like a wild creature, not a civilized person.  That wildness is part of all of us, and all our learned civility is a thin cloak that strains to keep the animal inside us from shredding our civilization.

As an interpreter of Tchaikovsky’s score, I see it as my job to elucidate these tensions and their resolutions for my audience, which happens to include the dancers, the folks in the seats and my fellow musicians.  The more deftly I can relate the musical material to the story’s emotional fever chart, whether it’s the water imagery of the harp solo, the crooning of the solo violin, the nervous flight of the pulsating winds or the double love arias between the cello and violin, the better I serve my audience.

In my own mind, I imagine there is a necessary relationship between a personal encyclopedia of cultural references, including a particular provisional understanding of human behavior and an amateur’s grasp of neurobiology, and what’s going on in the Swan Lake score.

But then again, I would.  I’m just the type.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Tags: , ,

Catherine L. Tully is the owner/editor at 4dancers.org. To learn more about Catherine and the other contributors at 4dancers, see the "Contributor" tab at the top of the page. To reach Catherine, send an e-mail to info (at) 4dancers (dot) org

2 Comments Leave yours

  1. Hola! I’ve been following your website for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you
    a shout out from Kingwood Texas! Just wanted to tell you keep up the fantastic work!

  2. Thanks for the comment — and thanks for reading! :)

Leave a Reply

dance class music
Blog Book
Behind Barres

Let’s Connect!

Visit Us On PinterestVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookCheck Our Feed