Le beau Danube

Johann Strauss II

Le beau Danube

About this work

Le beau Danube ballet (originally known as Le Beau Danube bleu) is a Strauss pastiche assembled in 1924 by choreographer Leonide Massine and arranger/conductor Roger Desormière. Premiered in 1924 as a two-act work at the Theatre de la Cigale as part of Les Soirees de Paris, Le beau Danube was conceived by Massine along the same lines that he later followed with the Jacques Offenbach adaptation Gaîté Parisienne. It stands at the center of the choreographer's "symphonic ballets," efforts to transform the orchestral music of Offenbach, Johannes Brahms, and Hector Berlioz, among others, into dance material. Le beau Danube is a jaunty, lighthearted comedic piece in the setting of 1860s Vienna that tells the story of a Hussar whose engagement to the daughter of a titled family is endangered by the arrival on the scene of his ex-lover, a dancer from the streets. Massine owned the rights to the work and in 1933 revised it as a single-act ballet at the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo. It also achieved significant popularity in the United States from the late '30s until the early '60s. In the repertory of the Ballet Russe, the only work more popular was the Gaîté Parisienne. As devised by Massine and arranged by Desormiere, Le beau Danube is a 30-minute adaptation and montage of lesser-known (and often otherwise unrepresented) compositions by Johann Strauss I, Josef Strauss, and Johann Strauss II interspersed with such familiar material as the Die Fledermaus Waltz and, of course, The Blue Danube Waltz. Strangely enough, it is the recognizable material that is "distracting" to the modern listener, the rest -- representing the most genial and unfamiliar side of frothy Viennese polkas, quadrilles, and waltzes -- sweeps listeners along in a graceful, lyrical arc, from its jaunty introduction to its breathless finish. Even in the formal Strauss canon, there are hardly any popular pieces of this length (30 minutes) that are more genial or that carry the listener through more of the light symphonic permutations of the Strauss family's work with more grace.

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