Notes 60.1 (2003) 180-182
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Stravinsky and Balanchine: A Journey of Invention. By Charles M. Joseph. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. [xvii, 440 p. ISBN 0-300-08712-8. $40.] Music examples, illustrations, index.
"I will not digress upon the choreography," a prominent musicologist once said of a ballet by Igor Stravinsky at a national convention of the American Musicological Society. Measured against this recent comment, Charles Joseph's latest book, Stravinsky and Balanchine: A Journey of Invention, is a significant contribution to the growing literature on the choreographic contexts of musical compositions.
The core of Joseph's book is a thorough and close analysis of Stravinsky's scores for his "Greek" ballets: Apollon musagète (1928, known as Apollo), Orpheus (1948), and Agon (1957), as well as George Balanchine's Stravinsky Violin Concerto (1972). Layered upon the compositional history and analysis of these scores is a descriptive analysis of each attendant choreography. Additional chapters trace the careers and relationship of Stravinsky and Balanchine, prior to and following their central collaborations.
Because the book's scope is multidisciplinary, it can enlighten very different facets of its topic, depending on the reader's disciplinary background and knowledge of [End Page 180] either dance or music. For example, an academic musician would be at home with Joseph's extensive metrical and temporal analyses that elucidate Stravinsky's compositional process. Dance critic Elizabeth Kendall, for whom Joseph's physical descriptions presumably trigger internal visual snapshots of Balanchine's vocabulary, ecstatically wrote in her review, "Suddenly all one's favorite moments in the Stravinsky-Balanchine oeuvre make sense" (New York Times, 2 August 2002, Book Review section). Similarly, those in dance, if not intimidated by the thick musical detail, will appreciate the analyses of sonic structures to which Balanchine responded kinesthetically. On the whole, however, Balanchine receives less critical attention than Stravinsky.
Choreographic composition shares with many ethnomusicological topics a primarily unnotated tradition that relies on a rote kinesthetic transmission, preserved through generations of culture bearers. Thus, interdisciplinary analysis of choreographic structure and compositional process requires methodological tools beyond musicology and Western music theory. Dance theory and criticism, itself methodologically interdisciplinary, has proliferated over the past decade. Joseph's decision, therefore, not to include even a selected bibliography, because of the "daunting" secondary literature on Stravinsky and Balanchine (p. 357), prevents the reader from adequately contextualizing his analysis within this intellectual history. For example, in a footnote Joseph acknowledges Stephanie Jordan's Moving Music: Dialogues with Music in Twentieth-Century Ballet (London: Dance Books, 2000), with its eighty-two-page chapter on Balanchine, as including an "insightful discussion" of Agon (p. 405). Other possible methodological influences in the interdisciplinary study of Western art music and dance—Paul Hodgins, Stephanie Jordan, Elizabeth Sawyer, Humphrey Searle, Marian Smith, and Katherine Teck, to name some—are not mentioned. Similarly, Joseph does not reveal the potential debt of his choreographic analysis to Isabel Brown, his "personal ballet teacher and good friend," beyond that he had the "pleasure of team-teaching a Stravinsky and Balanchine course for more than a decade" (p. xvi).
The "Journey of Invention" that Joseph traces is disproportionately Stravinsky's. His compositional process is painstakingly reconstructed in conjuction with structural analyses of the scores. For example, in the chapter "From Delos to Paris: The Voyage of Apollo," Joseph traces the history of Apollon musagète from its original commission by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for her chamber music festival. Joseph misses the opportunity to further contextualize Apollo among other Coolidge commissions, including the Aaron Copland-Martha Graham collaboration on Appalachian Spring which dealt with identical orchestral and choreographic constraints imposed by the notoriously cramped auditorium of the Library of Congress. In "The Evolution of Apollo: Poetry, Musical Architecture, and Choreographic Equilibrium," Joseph also details the postpremiere history of Apollo, in which Balanchine continued to tinker with choreographic elements, from small changes to highlight a specific dancer's talents, to excising entire musical sections. Joseph misses the opportunity to analyze these matters as crucial components of Balanchine's creative process.
Contextualization of Balanchine within other musico-choreographic relationships...