07 Oct 2010

Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the ballet.

I was doing some reading about Sergei Rachmaninoff and his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and did you know that it was turned into a ballet? Rachmaninoff was in communication with choreographer Michel Fokine, who wanted Rachmaninoff to compose a ballet for him. After some letters written back and forth, Rachmaninoff suggested using Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini as the music, and Paganini himself as the subject. Here’s the initial description from Rachmaninoff:

Consider the Paganini legend-about the sale of his soul to the evil sprit in exchange for perfection in art, and for a woman. All variations on the Dies Irae would be for the evil spirit. The whole middle from the 11th variation to the 18th-these are the love episodes. Paganini himself makes his first appearance at the “Theme” and, defeated, appears for the last time at the 23rd variation-the first 12 bars-after which, to the end, is the triumph of his conquerors.

The Dies Irae is a medieval hymn describing Judgement Day. In this clip, if you jump forward to 4:33 you’ll hear the Dies Irae theme.

Here’s more information about Rachmaninoff’s thoughts of the ballet:

It would be good to show Paganini with a violin-not, of course, a real one, but some devised, fantastic violin. And it also seems to me that at the conclusion of the play the several personages [representing] the evil spirit should be caricatures, absolute caricatures, of Paganini himself. And they should here have violins that are even more fantastically monstrous. You’re not laughing at me? How I wish I could see you, to tell you more fully about all this.