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Episodes at New York City Ballet

09/16/11 David H. Koch Theater, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza (Columbus Ave. at 63rd St.) Map
212-721-6500
nycballet.com Ages: All Ages
The Four Temperaments at New York City Ballet
09/16/11 David H. Koch Theater, 20 Lincoln Center Plaza (Columbus Ave. at 63rd St.) Map
212-721-6500
nycballet.com Ages: All Ages

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Episodes grew out of Balanchine's enthusiasm for Webern's music, to which he had been introduced by Stravinsky. Balanchine wrote that Webern's orchestral music... fills the air like molecules; it is written for atmosphere. The first time I heard it... the music seemed to me like Mozart and Stravinsky, music that can be danced to because it leaves the mind free to "see" the dancing. In listening to composers like Beethoven and Brahms, every listener has his own ideas, paints his own picture of what the music represents.... How can I, a choreographer, try to squeeze a dancing body into a picture that already exists in someone's mind? It simply won't work. But it will with Webern. Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein invited Martha Graham to choreograph a joint work with Balanchine using all of Webern's orchestral pieces. The result was no true collaboration but a work comprised of two separate sections. Graham's contribution, Episodes I, was danced by her company plus four dancers from New York City Ballet. Episodes II, created by Balanchine, was danced by New York City Ballet and Paul Taylor, who was then a dancer in Graham's company. After 1960, Graham's section and the solo variation were no longer performed at New York City Ballet. Anton von Webern (1883-1945), an Austrian, was part of the neoclassical movement in music. He was a musical scholar who adopted and extended Schoenberg's 12-tone method of composing music, which meant basing a composition on a "series" made up from the 12 notes of the chromatic scale arranged so that no note was repeated within the series. Webern became more and more rigorous in his attempt to compress or simplify his own style.

Balanchine choreographed The Four Temperaments for the opening program of Ballet Society, the forerunner of New York City Ballet. It is one of his earliest experimental works, fusing classical steps with a lean and angular style. The ballet is inspired by the medieval belief that human beings are made up of four different humors that determine a person's temperament. Each temperament was associated with one of the four classical elements (earth, air, water, and fire), which in turn were the basis of the four humors (black bile, blood, phlegm, and bile) that composed the body. In a healthy body, the humors were in balance. But if one became predominant it determined an individual's temperament. Thus a person dominated by black bile was melancholic (gloomily pensive), by blood was sanguinic (headstrong and passionate), by phlegm was phlegmatic (unemotional and passive), and by bile was choleric (bad-tempered and angry). The titles of the ballet's four movements — "Melancholic," "Sanguinic," "Phlegmatic," and "Choleric" — reflect these principles.

Hindemith's music was commissioned by Balanchine, an accomplished pianist who wanted a short work he could play at home with friends during his evening musicales. It was completed in 1940 and had its first public performance at a 1944 concert with Lukas Foss as the pianist.

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), a key representative of the neo-classical school, is considered one of the greatest German composers of this century. He fled the Nazis (who banned his music) and was a professor of music at Yale from 1940-1953. A conductor, violinist, violist, pianist and theorist, he wrote several books on musical theory.

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