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Adolphe Adam 1850 Charles Vogt Gallica

The Music

Rodney Stenning-Edgecombe explores Adam's writing for Giselle in a close reading of the score. He identifies relationships within the composition that are in his words antimeric.

This term describes mirror structures in the melodies and at a macro level across the score, unsurprisingly it resonates with how the ballet as a whole moves through a story of doubling and mirror worlds. Leaving close readings aside, for audiences there are also immediate pleasures with bangers like the Waltz in Act 1 and the Pas des premières Wilis in Act

Mirrors and bangers

Giselle's story about young love, dancing, grief and abandon is told vividly through Adolphe Adam's evocative music in a score whose true originality made an impact at it's premiére

8 days, 1 week, 2 months

Adam, famous for the ability to turn out musical compositions speedily, claimed that when he got the libretto he composed the music for Giselle in eight days.

Théophile Gautier in his memoirs, perhaps alluding to the power of the libretto he co-authored, suggests that the score was written in less than a week.

Scholar Marian Smith tells us that the reality was more like two months developed in a collaborative practice between choreographers, dancers and Adam.

A tongue and groove fit

Smith, who has written extensively on the Romantic ballet and it's relationship to Opera, describes the collaboration producing a storytelling form of performance known then as ballet pantomime. Unlike the more abstract readings of Giselle today, in 1842 an emphasis on drama and storytelling was embedded in what Smith describes as 'a tongue and groove fit' (Marian Smith, 'Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle', p175) that married gesture and mime to the musical score.

Dramaturgically this resulted in a richness of expression and indeed logic that goes to the heart of the emotional landscape of the ballet that lies, in her words, 'beneath the surface' of the score (Marian Smith, Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle', p175). Smith's research on Giselle is fascinating and can be further explored in her writing and her collaborative projects with reconstructor Doug Fullington.

A palimpsest

What we hear today as the score for Giselle, might be thought of, like the choreography, in terms of a palimpsest. The actions of movement and erasure in thinking of a musical score as a palimpsest is memorably materialised in artist Idris Khan's practice including his work with the Bach Cello suites. Maestro Peter Berg comments that along with insertions to the Giselle score by composers including Drigo, Minkus and Bergmuller that over time there have been at least half a dozen arrangers or composers who have re-orchestrated the piece.

Adaptations of the ballet often feature more radical re-readings of the score such as Philip Miller's layering of the score with African voices and percussion and our own work with veteran British sound artist Philip Jeck.

1 Smith, Marian (2000) Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle 2 Maestro Peter Bay (2019-5-07) Maestro Peter Bay on the story behind the music of Giselle 3 Stenning- Edgecombe, Rodney (2015) The Score of Giselle