“An evening of riot and revolution in dance music from the court of Louis XIV to the Ballets Russes.”
Sometimes there’s no point trying to re-word something that’s already written perfectly. Whoever wrote the above quote from the BBC Proms website, good on you, because that describes exactly what Prom 4 was about. The specifically French theme of this Prom is because it was Bastille Day, and also 100 years to the day since the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which famously caused riots (they tend not to riot at the ballet nowadays!).
The Prom began with Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme overture and dances. Lully was very much of his time; I doubt the French court at Versailles rioted over this! I’m not the biggest fan of Baroque (I’m Team Romantics), but this was nice. I find this sort of Baroque music easy to have playing in the background while I’m doing other things (read: Tumblr). I did enjoy these dances, and can easily imagine dancing to it in a bustle, corset and wig.
The second piece was by Jean-Philippe Rameau, the dances from his Les Indes Galantes. Again, this was so very Baroque, despite being 75 years newer than the Lully. I did prefer the Lully, as this was not as danceable. It was, however, very well played by the Les Siècles. Again, very easy to listen to as background music. As this piece went on, I found I enjoyed it more and more. The later dances are much faster and bouncier, and I like the bells! The second last dance was very good.
The waltz and mazurka from Leo Delibes’ Coppélia, which is my second favourite ballet (after The Nutcracker), followed, and I love the music from this ballet. I believe it is terribly underrated, so I’m very happy to hear it in this Prom. However, it does make me laugh the way they speed it up for pure orchestral performances – trying to waltz at that speed would be a bit of a challenge to say the least! And the Mazurka…was that a slightly different orchestration or just me? This is one of my all-time favourite pieces of classical music, as it really takes me back to my childhood.
The final piece for Act I was the ballet excepts from Jules Massenet’s Le Cid. Ah, the French love of Spanish things! You do have to chuckle at the French music that sounds more Spanish than most Spanish music does! This ballet music was very bouncy, fast and fun.
I skipped the interval talk: when I’m listening on a work night, I hardly have time to get through the Prom itself, let alone anything else! If anyone listens to these, and one during the week is particularly good, comment below and I’ll try to catch up on the weekend.
Act II consisted solely of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. To our modern ears, The Rite of Spring hardly sounds so modern we should start rioting over it, but, despite being 100 years old, it is still an amazingly modern sounding piece. If you told someone today who knew nothing about classical music that this was a new composition, you’d have no problem whatsoever convincing them (you’d probably have more of an issue trying to convince them it’s 100 years old!). Les Siècles were on fire in The Rite of Spring, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re listening on iPlayer, the famous part is around the 1:54:00 mark.
Finally, a shout out to the Radio 3 sound engineers. I reckon that all performances from the Royal Albert Hall do sound a little different from anywhere else, but I like that. The quality of these broadcasts are consistently fantastic, so thank-you Radio 3 sound engineers!