The Full Works Concert - Wednesday 24 July: A Night at the Ballet

Adolphe Adam – composer of the ballet music for Giselle – was born on this day in 1803. Jane Jones marks the anniversary with some ballet favourites.

Adolphe Adam, born on this day in 1803, is best-known for his ballet music for Giselle, premiered in Paris when the composer was 38. The ballet tells the story of Giselle, a lovely peasant girl who has a passion for dancing. When she finds out the man she loves is engaged to someone else she dies of a broken heart. Then, in the ballet's second act, Giselle finds herself among the Wilis - spirits of women jilted by their lovers and who died before their weddings. They haunt the forest at night to seek revenge on any man they encounter, forcing their victims to dance until they die of exhaustion. The role of Giselle is naturally one of the most technically demanding in ballet, requiring outstanding grace and lyricism, as well as great dramatic skill. In the first act the ballerina has to convey the innocence and love of a country girl and the heartbreak of being betrayed. In the second act the ghostly Giselle must seem otherworldly but ultimately forgiving. Tonight a suite from Giselle is played by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by the Eugene Ormandy.

Today Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker is probably the world's favourite ballet, but its original production was not a success. It only really took off once the 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky extracted from the stage work became a big hit in its own right. The complete Nutcracker is now performed by most major ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season. The score has become one of Tchaikovsky's most famous, in particular those pieces that are featured in the suite.

Ravel's one acter Daphnis et Chloé was described by the composer as a choreographic symphony. It's Ravel's longest work and contains some of his best music, with extraordinarily lush harmonies. Even during the composer's lifetime, commentators described Daphnis as his masterpiece for orchestra. Ravel extracted music from the ballet to make two orchestral suites. The second of them, which we'll hear tonight, includes much of the last part of the ballet and concludes with the "Danse generale".

The concert ends with the thrilling Sabre Dance from the final act of Aram Khachaturian's ballet Gayaneh. It's performed tonight by the violinist Sarah Chang.


Adolphe Adam: Giselle - Suite
Eugene Ormandy conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra 

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker – Highlights
Erich Kunzel conducts the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and the Cincinnati Children's Choir

Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe – Suite no.2
Bernard Haitink conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Aram Khachaturian: Gayaneh, 'Sabre Dance'
Violin: Sarah Chang
Piano: Sarah Rivers