It’s a Circus at the HPO!

In just a week, Hamilton Place is going to be transformed into a circus! Your HPO will be accompanied by acrobats and dancers performing to some the most celebrated pieces in classical music.

There’s lots of lush, playful, melodic and tuneful music on the bill that night, so we thought we’d share a little bit about the stories behind these fabulous pieces of music.  You’d be surprised with what you know from popular culture!

Antonin Dvořák – Carnival Overture, Opus 92 (1891)
Of this playful overture Dvorak wrote: “The lonely, contemplative wanderer reaches the city at nightfall, where a carnival is in full swing. On every side is heard the clangor of instruments, mingled with shouts of joy and the unrestrained hilarity of people giving vent to their feelings in their songs and dances.” Composer pronunciation guide: DVORzhahk

Camille SaintSaëns – Danse Macabre Op 40 (1874)
Based on text by French poet Henri Cazalis, Dance Macabre illustrates the haunting and superstitious nature of Halloween. The piece opens with twelve harp strokes that illustrates the twelve strokes of midnight as skeletons of the dead are called forth to dance on their graves. Listen for the xylophone as it imitates the sounds of their rattling bones. Composer pronunciation guide: sahnSAWn

Johannes Brahms –Symphony No.3 In F Major, Op.90 3rd Movement (1883)
The third movement of this romantic symphony acts as a peaceful interlude between the energetic and emotional opening and closing movements. This slow and haunting dance inspired Brahms’ friend Clara Schumann to say of the piece, “What harmonious mood pervades the whole! All the movements seem to be of one piece, one beat of the heart, each one a jewel.” This movement, as with the all the others, is most striking in its characteristic soft ending.

Leonard Bernstein –Candide Overture (1956)
As an opening to his high‐spirited operetta, Bernstein’s Candide Overture quickly became the most frequently performed orchestral piece by a 20th century American composer. This tuneful piece features bits from the operettas popular songs and the rollicking melody leads to a brash and climactic ending.

Georges Bizet –Les Toreadors from Carmen (1882)
Taken from the well‐known opera Carmen, this piece can frequently be heard in commercials and television shows. Les Toreadors, with its exciting rhythms and orchestration, is thrilling to listen to as it evokes the Spanish feel that Bizet set in the opera. Composer pronunciation guide: beeZAY

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky –Waltz from Sleeping Beauty Suite (1889)
Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Suite is an orchestral arrangement of the ballet that premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1890. The public’s cool opinion of the piece left Tchaikovsky heartbroken, and it wasn’t until a year later that audiences became receptive to his work. The familiar Waltz can be heard in the classic Disney film of the same name.

Emmanuel Chabrier – España (1883)
Based on the folk music that inspired him after a visit to Spain, España is the best known piece by this French Romantic composer. Listen for the flamenco rhythms and melodies that evoke a sultry Spanish summer night.

Richard Wagner – Ride Of The Valkyries from Die Walkure (1856)
Together with the Bridal Chorus from his opera Lohengrin, Ride of the Valkyries from the opera Die Walkure is Wagner’s most famous piece of music and arguably the most well known in popular culture, having been featured in the animated short What’s Opera, Doc? and Oliver Stone’s Apocalypse Now. In Norse mythology, a “valkyrie” is a female figure who decides which soldiers live and die in battle. Listen to how the stirring strings and woodwinds accompany the brass instruments as they evoke the ominous march into battle. Composer pronunciation guide: VAHGner

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake (1895)
The 1895 ballet Swan Lake told the story of a young prince who falls in love with an enchanted swan maiden who reveals herself to be a princess and daughter of an evil sorcerer. The famous Dance of the Cygnets was choreographed to imitate the way young swans huddle and move together for protection.

Mikhail Glinka – Overture from Ruslan and Ludmila (1842)
This sparkling overture, based on themes of the Russian opera Ruslan and Ludmila, depicts the heroic, magical and fantastical nature of the opera itself. Of his composition, Glinka recalled a wedding he recently attended at Russian court and later wrote, “I was up in the balcony, and the clattering of knives, forks and plates made such an impression on me that I had the idea to imitate them in the prelude to Ruslan. I later did so, with fair success.”

Nikolai RimskyKorsakov – Dance of the Clowns from The Snow Maiden (1882)
Taken from his opera The Snow Maiden, Dance of the Clowns takes place in the third act of the opera as characters are dancing and singing in the forest in celebration of the spring. This fast‐paced and buoyant piece is a well‐known and fantastic showpiece for any orchestra audience.

Aram Khachaturian – Sabre Dance from Gayane (1942)
Sabre Dance, from the ballet Gayane, uses Armenian folk tunes and a fast, pulsating rhythm to establish the joy and energy of a wedding celebration between the ballet’s two characters. This piece is Khachaturian’s most famous and has been used in numerous films and television shows.

Bedřich Smetana – Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride (1866)
With his comic opera The Bartered Bride, Czech composer Bedřich Smetana tried to establish a truly Czech operatic genre. Dance of the Comedians takes place in the third act and introduces the strolling characters of a travelling circus. It is based on the skočná, a fast Slavic folk‐tune usually written in 2/4 metre. Composer pronunciation guide: BEDzheekh SMEHtana

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Waltz from Swan Lake (1895)
This beautiful and opulent waltz takes place in the first act of Swan Lake as the Prince’s birthday festivities begin and ladies and gentlemen arrive in the Royal Court. Swan Lake features the romantic, innocent and lush music that makes it one of the most frequently performed ballets in the world.


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