Les sylphides

Frédéric Chopin

Les sylphides


About this work

This ballet was fashioned from orchestrated versions of a number of the Chopin's most popular piano works. Mikhail Fokine was the driving force behind the project, which evolved from a single number, Moonlight Vision, in 1907, growing to a larger work called Danse sur la musique de Chopin the following year, and finally expanding in 1909 to Chopiniana, the completed ballet's initial title. Three months after its St. Petersburg premiere it was retitled Les Sylphides and introduced to Parisian audiences by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. It was one of the first plotless ballets ever presented in Europe and was a great success. Fokine used a number of celebrated orchestrators in fashioning Les Sylphides, including Taneyev, Lyadov, Glazunov, Tcherepnin and Stravinsky. Later versions of the work featured arrangements by Roy Douglas, and the team of Leroy Anderson and Peter Bodge.

Les Sylphides is a short ballet, consisting of just eight dance movements, set in a moonlit park where the sylphides (winged spirits) dance with a poet. The first section is entitled "Prelude," an arrangement of Chopin's lovely Op. 28, No. 7 Prelude. The music sounds more ethereal and even slower in its orchestral guise than in Chopin's piano version. The ensuing Nocturne is from Chopin's Op. 32, No. 2, and it maintains the delicate, airy mood from the preceding prelude. The Op. 70, No. 1 Waltz is used for the next section. Chopin's music here turns a bit saccharine, clearly resisting transformation from its more natural keyboard version. Two mazurkas follow, bringing festive cheer in the first (Op. 33, No. 2) and a playful intimate mood in the second (Op. 67, No. 3). The Prelude returns to introduce the next section, which is comprised mainly of Chopin's Op. 69, No. 1, Waltz, one of his more intimate waltz creations. While it adapts well to the orchestral setting, its mood is lightened and its expressive soul somewhat attenuated.

The Prelude makes another reappearance at the beginning of the penultimate section, which uses the elegant Op. 64, No. 2, Waltz. Here, the orchestral rendition imparts color and is nearly as effectively as the keyboard version. The last movement, "Grand Waltz" (the only number titled slightly differently than its chief musical source), is drawn on Chopin's Op. 18 Grande valse brilliante. This is a lively and colorful closing number, the orchestra catching much of the merriment and charm of the Chopin original.