Schuhplatter To Stockhausen - Concert Dance Music

First appeared in a WASBE Newsletter - revised Singapore 2004

Come Dancing

I hope that familiarity with the Internet and Web Sites will help us to exchange news and views and I wonder whether we should look at different genres and build up repertoire lists of works which might alternate or replace tried and tested masterpieces. For my 60th birthday, I received a present from the composer Adam Gorb of a set of Yiddish Dances, at about Grade 4, though with a taxing Eb clarinet part; they breathe the authentic spirit of the Klezmer band, they are brilliant and funny in that bitter-sweet central European way. Sitting in Crete that summer thinking about repertoire, I sketched out a few works of the same genre which could all be slotted into a programme, beginning with the precursor of them all, Robert Russell Bennett's Suite of Old American Dances

Some Standard Dance Repertoire

Year Work Composer Publisher Duration
1950 Suite of Old American Dances Robert Russell Bennett Chappell 5
1970 Gazebo Dances John Corigliano Schirmer 6
1972 Armenian Dances Alfred Reed Sam Fox 5
1978 Armenian Dances Alfred Reed Barnhouse 5
1936 Greek Dances Nikos Skalkottas Margun 6
1977 Armenian Dances Loris Chobanian Shawnee 5
1996 Olympic Dances John Harbison Schirmer 6
1999 Divertimento for Band Ira Hearshen   6

From United Kingdom

Year Work Composer Publisher Duration
1951 Tiresias Constant Lamber Maecenas 5
1959 Scottish Dance Suite Thea Musgrave Chester 4/5
1975 Welsh Airs and Dances Alun Hoddinott Wick 4/5
1977 John Gay Suite Buxton Orr Novello 4/5
1986 Illyrian Dances Guy Woolfenden Ariel 4
1992 Dance Suite Joseph Horovitz Molenaar 4
1996 Bridgewater Breeze Adam Gorb Maecenas 3
1998 Yiddish Dances Adam Gorb Maecenas 4
1998 Vaudeville Suite Patrick Stanford RTS Music 4
1995 Dance Movements Philip Sparke Studio 6
1996 Dance Suite Dominic Muldowney Ariel 5
1998 New World Dances Martin Ellerby Studio 5
2000 Danseries Kenneth Hesketh Faber 4
2002 Suite of English Dances Ernest Tomlinson Novello 4
2003 Blasket Dances Matthew Taylor Maecenas 4
2003 Diaghilev Dances Kenneth Hesketh Faber 5
2003 Winter Dances Fergal Carroll Maecenas 4
2003 Dances from Crete Adam Gorb Maecenas 4/5

When I originally wrote this article I recommended seven sets of dances from the UK worth putting alongside the standard works, any of which can substitute for yet another performance of arrangements of Malcolm Arnold dances. Since then, my little British repertoire list has more than doubled in length, and I am happy to endorse any of these pieces to add to any programme, whether professional, conservatoire or amateur.

First there is the incredible score by Constant Lambert for the Sadlers Wells Ballet at Covent Garden in 1951, Tiresias, a wonderful hard-hitting mix of jazz and Russian neoclassic influences. From fifty minutes of music, Maecenas have fashioned a suite of about 14 minutes, with a scoring for orchestral wind, brass and percussion with celli and basses. The two early works by Hoddinott and Musgrave are a little tough, written I suspect for professional concert bands, on the lines of the arrangements of the Malcolm Arnold Dances, but not as obviously popular in their appeal. The late Buxton Orr wrote John Gay Suite for the Canford Summer School, and they still remain one of my favorites, with excellent tunes from The Beggar's Opera dished up with skill, popular with players and audiences and a teasing first movement for both conductor and band.

Gorb's Bridgewater Breeze are cute little easy tunes, each a winner, the Yiddish Dances is a minor masterpiece. In my view both Stanford and Muldowney need to re-think the first movement of their works, but the other movements are very attractive, Guy Woolfenden's three Illyrian Dances still charm me, and Philip Sparke's Dance Movements is a brilliant tour de force which won the Sudler Competition in 1998, and is one of his best pieces. Like nearly all of the works mentioned, it is not easy, and like Ellerby's New World Dances it splendidly captures the panache and brashness of America.

In Danseries Kenneth Hesketh revisits the dance tunes of Playford's Dancing Master, again very attractive tunes beautifully if a little heavily scored; this is the source for Ernest Tomlinson'sSuite of English Dances, one of the great masterpieces of contemporary light music, originally a staple fare for any light orchestral concert, now re-scored for wind band. Blasket Dances is based on tunes from the West Coast of Ireland, again attractively scored, though I find the final dance a little too clever and complex, Malcolm Arnold here only over the top. In the ravishingDiaghilev Dances Hesketh turns to the great impressionist masterpieces of Ravel and Stravinsky for his inspiration. This is a ballet score, would work wonderfully with dancers, and has all of the fluidity of metre and pulse of those early 20th century scores. The young Irish composer Fergal Carroll has a distinctive voice and scores with a welcome freshness; his Winter Dances are good fun, with something of the energy of the Irish folk dancing. Dances from Crete has everything I want from a "pops" piece, good tunes, wit and humour, energy, pathos, theatre, a worthy successor to Yiddish Dances, but you will still need an excellent Eb clarinettist - and some cheap plates to smash.