Russian Ballet History

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929

Nikolai Tcherepnin (May 15, 1873 - June 26, 1945)

Nikolai Tcherepnin was born in 1873 to a well-known and wealthy physician of the same name. Nikolai's mother died when he was a baby.  At his father's insistence, Nikolai earned a law degree, though during this time he composed steadily. In 1895 he graduated with his degree in law from the University of Saint Petersburg. In 1898, he earned a degree in composition under Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and a degree in piano under K.K. Fan-Arkh. Nikolai taught at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. During his 13 year tenure, he taught many notable students, including Sergei Prokofiev,

During his time at the Conservatory, he wrote his most famous work, the ballet Le Pavillon d'Armide. Two years later, Tcherepnin conducted the ballet at the premiere performance of Diaghilev's legendary Ballets Russes. He conducted for the entire first season and returned to conduct multiple times over the next five years. He conducted performances with the Ballets Russes in Berlin, Monte Carlo, Paris, Rome, and the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London. He also composed the music for the ballet Narcisse.  In addition to his professorship and his commitments with the Ballet, in 1908, he became conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre. At this post, he directed the Paris premiere of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Golden Cockerel.

Following the Bolshevik takeover of Georgia in 1921, he moved to Paris and lived there for the rest of his life. While in France, he worked with Anna Pavlova and her ballet troupe as composer and conductor (1922–4) and made concert tours around Europe and the United States but abandoned his concert career in 1933 because of a deterioration in his hearing.

Alexander Glazunov (August 10, 1865 - March 21 1936)

Alexander Glazunov was born on August 10, 1865 in St. Petersburg, Russia and dies on March 21, 1936 in Paris, France. Glazunov studied privately with Rimsky-Korsakov from 1879 through 1881 and had his First Symphony performed when he was 16.

He wrote the music for three of Petipa ballets: Raymonda in 1898, the work for which he is best known, Les Ruses d'amour in 1900, and Les Saisons in 1900. George Balanchine used music from Raymonda for his Pas de dix (1955), Raymonda Variations (1961), and Cortège hongrois (1973). Choreographer Ashton, used selections from Glazunov's music for his Birthday Offering in 1956. Gorsky choreographed his 5th Symphony in 1916, one of the world's first symphonic ballets. And more recently, Twyla Tharp used Glazunov's Scènes de ballet for The Little Ballet in 1984.  Anna Pavlova danced Pandéros in the Petipa/Glazunov Raymonda, in Saint Petersburg, in 1910. (photo left)

Glazunov became a member of the circle around the patron Belyayev, who took him to meet Liszt in Weimar in1899. Glazunov was appointed to the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which he directed from 1905 until leaving the Soviet Union in 1928. Glazunov's life in exile, which included an unsuccessful tour of the United States, was difficult but did not suppress his creative energy. He traveled around the world for several years, eventually settling in Paris. Music composed during this period includes the Concerto-Ballata for Cello and Orchestra and the Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Strings, a standard work of the saxophone repertoire.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (March 18, 1844 - June 21, 1908) 

Rimsky-KorsakA teenage man with a full but neatly trimmed moustache, wearing a dark naval uniformov was a Russian composer, and a member of the group of composers known as The Five.  He was born in Tikhvin near St. Petersburg, Russia.  At the age of 12, Nikolai joined the Imperial Russian Navy. He studied at the School for Mathematical and Navigational Sciences in Saint Petersburg and, at 18, took his final examination in April 1862. 

While at school, Rimsky-Korsakov took piano lessons from a man named Ulikh.  Ulikh perceived that Nikolai had serious musical talent, and recommended another teacher, Feodor A. Kanille.  In November 1861, Kanille introduced the 18-year-old Rimsky-Korsakov to Mily Balakirev. Balakirev in turn introduced him to César Cui, and Modest Mussorgsky; all three of these men were already known as composers, despite only being in their 20s.  By the time Rimsky-Korsakov sailed on a two-year-and-eight-month cruise aboard the clipper Almaz in late 1862, he had completed and orchestrated three movements of the symphony. 

Nikolai's love of the sea might have influenced him to write two of his best-known orchestral works, the musical tableau Sadko and Scheherazade.  Scheherazade Op. 35, is a symphonic suite composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888. Based on The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.  Scheherazade is considered Rimsky-Korsakov's most popular work.  The music was used in a ballet by Michel Fokine which premiered on June 4, 1910 in Paris at the Opera Garnier.

Some of Rimsky-Korsakov's famed students included Glazunov, Prokofiev and Stravinsky.

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (June 17, 1882 - April 6, 1971)

In 1909, Stravinsky's Feu d'artifice (Fireworks), was performed in St. Petersburg, Russia where it was heard by Serge Diaghilev.  Diaghilev was impressed and commissioned Stravinsky to  then compose a full-length ballet score, The Firebird.  Stravinsky travelled to Paris in 1910 to attend the premiere of The Firebird. Originally written for Anna Pavlova, The Firebird was performed instead by Tamara Karsavina (photo below), as Pavlova declared the music "noise" and refused to dance to it.

Stravinsky moved to Switzerland, where he lived until 1920.  Stravinsky first achieved international fame with the three ballets commissioned and performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911/1947), and The Rite of Spring (1913).

The Rite, whose premiere provoked a riot in the streets of Paris, transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure, and was largely responsible for Stravinsky's enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary, pushing the boundaries of musical design.



Joseph-Maurice Ravel (March 7, 1875 – December 28, 1937)

Ravel was a French composer, perhaps best known for his orchestral work, Bolero.  Ravel was born in Ciboure, France close to the border with Spain, in 1875.

Ravel began work with Diaghliev during 1909 for the ballet Daphnis et Chloe commissioned by Diaghilev with the lead danced by Nijinsky. Daphnis et Chloé took three years to complete, with conflicts constantly arising among the principal artists, including Leon Bakst (sets and costumes), Michel Fokine (libretto), and Ravel (music). In frustration, Diaghilev nearly cancelled the project. The ballet had an unenthusiastic reception and lasted only two performances, only to be revived to acclaim a year later. Stravinsky called Daphnis et Chloé "one of the most beautiful products of all French music". So exhausting was the effort to score the ballet that Ravel's health deteriorated, soon forcing him to rest for several months.

Le Tombeau de Couperin is a modern ballet choreographed by New York City Ballet's co-founder George Balanchine to Maurice Ravel's 1919 music of the same title and orchestrated by the composer 1920. The premiere took place as part of New York City Ballet's Ravel Festival held on May 29, 1975, in the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840 - Nov. 6, 1893)

The Russian composer, Tchaikovsky, was the most significant composer of the 19th century.  He wrote the music for three ballets: Swan Lake, commissioned by the Bolshoi Ballet premiered in Moscow in 1877, The Sleeping Beauty (photo below) in 1890 and The Nutcracker in 1892.  To this day, they remain the most popuar ballet scores of all time.

Tchaikovsky was the son of a well-to-do engineer.  He received a sound education from his French governesses.  Later he attended school in St. Petersburg studying law and government, graduating at 19.  He took a job as a bureau clerk.  He then met the Rubenstein brothers, who in 1862 opened Russia's first conservatory, The Imperial Russian Music Society.  Tchaikovsky was its first composition student.

Much of Tchaikovsky's concert music has been used by choreographers throughout the years.  He was the first Rusian compposer to achieve renoen beyond Russia's borders.  he was instrumenta; in establishing a place for Russian music in the repertories of Western concert hals and musical theaters. 

Ludwig Minkus (March 23,1826 – Dec. 7,1917)

Ludwig Minkus was an Austrian composer of ballet music, a violin virtuoso and a teacher.  Minkus is most noted for the music he composed while serving as Ballet Composer of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres in Russia, where he wrote for the original works and revivals of the renowned Ballet Masters Arthur Saint-Léon and Marius Petipa. Among the composer's most celebrated compositions for these Ballet Masters were La Source (1866; composed jointly with Léo Delibes), Don Quixote in 1869; and La Bayadère in 1877.

During his career, Minkus wrote a substantial amount of supplemental material for insertion into already existing ballets. Among these pieces, Minkus is most noted for the Grand Pas classique, Pas de trois and Mazurka des enfants written for Marius Petipa's 1881 revival of the ballet Paquita.

Today, Minkus's ballet music is some of the most popular and performed in all of ballet, and is a most integral part of the traditional classical ballet repertory.


Riccardo Drigo  (June 30, 1846 – October 1, 1930)

Riccardo Drigo was an Italian composer of ballet music and Italian Opera, a theatrical conductor, and a pianist. Drigo is most noted for his long career as Director of Music of the renowned Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia, for which he composed music for the original works and revivals of the choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.

Riccardo Eugenio Drigo was born in Padua, Italy. Drigo attended the prestigious Venice Conservatory. Drigo graduated from the conservatory in 1864, and was hired as a rehearsal pianist at the Garibaldi Theatre in Padua.

In the spring of 1902, Drigo and a group of dancers from the Imperial Ballet were invited by Raoul Gunsbourg, director of the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, to produce a ballet in Monaco. Drigo composed the music for the ballet-divertissement titled La Côte d'Azur (The French Riviera), set to a libretto by Prince Albert I. The ballet premiered at the Salle Garnier on 30 March 1902, and featured the Prima ballerina Olga Preobrajenska.

Drigo's final original full-length ballet score was also Marius Petipa's final work — the fantastical La Romance d'un Bouton de rose et d'un Papillon. In 1919, Drigo was repatriated to his native Italy. For his farewell gala at the former Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, the Ballet Master Fyodor Lopukhov mounted a new version of La Romance de la rose et le papillon which Lopukhov staged under the title Le Conte du bouton (The Tale of the Rosebud).

Among Drigo's original scores for the ballet, he is most noted for Le Talisman (Petipa, 1889); La Flûte magique (Ivanov, 1893); Le Réveil de Flore (Petipa, 1894); and Les Millions d’Arlequin (a.k.a. Harlequinade) (Petipa, 1900). Drigo's score for Les Millions d’Arlequin spawned a popular repertory piece, the Serenade, which the composer later adapted into the song Notturno d'Amour for Beniamino Gigli. Drigo's work on Tchaikovsky's score for Swan Lake—prepared for the important revival of Petipa and Ivanov—is certainly his most well-known adaptation of existing music.

Riccardo Drigo died on October 1,1930 at the age of 74, in his birthplace, Padua. There is now a street in Padua which is named Via Riccardo Drigo in his honour.

Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev (April 23,1891- March 5,1953)

Prokofiev was born in Ukraine.  He composed his first opera by the age of nine.  Later he applied, and was accepted into the St. Petersburg Conservatory. 

He continued at the Conservatory, studying piano conducting under Nikolai Tcherepnin. He journeyed to London where he made contact with Diaghilev who commissioned Prokofiev's first ballet, Ala and Lolli. Diaghilev rejected the work when Prokofiev brought it to him in Italy in 1915. Diaghilev gave him another chance and commissioned Prokofiev to compose the ballet Chout. The ballet premiered in Paris on May 17, 1921 and was a huge success.

In 1928-1929, Prokofiev composed what was to be the last ballet for Diaghilev, The Prodigal Son, which was staged on May 21, 1929 in Paris with Serge Lifar in the title role. Diaghilev died only months later.

In 1930, Prokofiev began his first non-Diaghilev ballet On the Dnieper, Op. 51, a work commissioned by Serge Lifar who had been appointed maitre de ballet at the Paris Opera.

Another ballet commission came from the Kirov Theatre, it was the ballet Romeo and Juliet. Today, Romeo and Juliet is one of Prokofiev's best-known works. However, the ballet's original happy ending caused the premiere to be postponed for several years.

In 1943 Prokofiev composed the ballet Cinderella (Op. 87), one of his most melodious and celebrated composition.



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