Reviving Ballet in the Nineteenth Century: Music, Narrative, and Dance in Delibes's Coppélia
Lafex, Arthur Edward
University of Kansas
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Léo Delibes (1836-1891) wrote ballet scores that have inspired composers and have entertained generations of ballet lovers. His scores have been cited for their tunefulness, appropriateness for their narrative, and for their danceability. However, Delibes remains an obscure figure in music history, outside the musical canon of the nineteenth century. Likewise, his ballet music, whose harmonic resources are conventional and whose forms are variants of basic structures, has not received much scholarly and theoretical attention. This thesis addresses Delibes's music by examining his ballet score for Coppélia, its support of narrative and also its support of dance. Chapter 1 begins with a historical view of ballet and ballet music up to the time of Delibes. Following a biographical sketch of the composer, a review of aspects of the score for Giselle by his mentor, Adolphe Adam (1803-1856) establishes a background upon which Delibes's ballets can be considered. The thesis then examines Delibes's iconic ballet, Coppélia, for the music's support of narrative and of dance. Chapter 2 begins with an examination of its narrative music, that is, its music for pantomime and narrative episodes, studying Delibes's use of recurring themes and other devices. The study finds the use of rhythmic, melodic, and orchestral resources serves to support characterization. These are used to build themes that are recognizable and memorable to represent characters and events. Other parallels with Giselle are drawn at this time. Continuing on to music for set dances, Chapter 3 begins with an inquiry into literature written by dancers and music theoreticians to discover the links between human motion and music. Three factors emerge: the existence of a predictable regularity of pulse at several levels, the enchainment of musical motives and phrases that reflect and facilitate the dancer's own enchainment of dance steps, and an overarching factor such as melodiousness that the dancer can use to bring out the musicality of the performance. The chapter continues with a review of the dance music in Coppélia, finding in it the same basic structure as other music in the ballet, using themes with a national flavor in many instances. Chapter 4 continues with a sketch of ballet's revival in the period after Delibes and into the twentieth century. The document concludes with a review of three modern performances of Coppélia. Two of these are reconstructions of an earlier version, while the third is a recreation using a different scenario derived from the earlier version. The review demonstrates that the qualities of Delibes's music supporting narrative and dance continue to be effective when used by choreographer in his staging of the ballet.
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