Polovtsian Dances

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The Polovtsian Dances, or Polovetsian Dances (Russian: Половецкие пляски, Polovetskie plyaski from the Russian name of 'Polovtsy' - the name given to the Cumans by the people of Rus') form an exotic scene in Alexander Borodin's long opera Prince Igor.

The work remained unfinished when the composer died in 1887, although he had worked on it for more than a decade. A performing version was prepared by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov, appearing in 1890. Several other versions, or "completions," of the opera have been made. The dances are performed with chorus and last between 11 and 14 minutes. They occur in Act I or Act II, depending on which version of the opera is being used. Their music is popular and sometimes given in concert. At such performances the choral parts are often omitted. The opera also has a "Polovtsian March," which opens Act III, and an overture at the start. When the dances are given in concert, a suite may be formed: Overture, Polovtsian Dances and March from "Prince Igor."

Ballets Russes performances

As part of his first "Saison Russe" at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Sergei Diaghilev presented Polovtsian Scenes and Dances, consisting of Act II of Prince Igor, with full orchestra and singers. The premiere took place on 18 May 1909. The choreography was by Michel Fokine and the sets and costumes were designed by Nicholas Roerich. In later seasons, without singers, the work was given as The Polovtsian Dances. For the 1923 season, it was partly re-choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska.[1]

Dances[edit]

The first dance, which uses no chorus and is sometimes omitted in concerts, is No. 8, entitled "Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens" ["Пляска половецких девушек"]: presto, 6/8, F major; it is placed directly after the "Chorus of the Polovtsian Maidens," which opens the act and is followed by "Konchakovna's Cavatina". The dances proper appear at the end of the Act as an uninterrupted single number in several contrasting sections listed as follows (basic themes are indicated with letters in brackets and notated in the accompanying illustration)

  • No. 17, "Polovtsian Dance with Chorus" ["Половецкая пляска с хором"]
    • [a] Introduction: Andantino, 4/4, A Major
    • [b] Gliding Dance of the Maidens [Пляска девушек плавная]: Andantino, 4/4, A Major
    • [c + a] Wild Dance of the Men [Пляска мужчин дикая]: Allegro vivo, 4/4, F Major
    • [d] General Dance [Общая пляска]: Allegro, 3/4, D Major
    • [e] Dance of the Boys [Пляска мальчиков] and 2nd Dance of the Men [Пляска мужчин]: Presto, 6/8, D Minor
    • [b’ + e’] Gliding Dance of the Maidens (reprise, soon combined with the faster dancing of the boys): Moderato alla breve, 2/2, A Major
    • [e’’] Dance of the Boys and 2nd Dance of the Men (reprise): Presto, 6/8, D Minor
    • [c’ + a’’] General Dance: Allegro con spirito, 4/4, A Major

BorPolDancesThemes.png

As an orchestral showpiece by an important nineteenth-century Russian composer, notable instrumental solos include the clarinet (in No. 8 and the Men's Dance [c]) and the oboe and English horn (in the Women's Dance [b]).

Translation[edit]

The text of the first stanza of this particular section in the opera is given below.

Cyrillic English Translation

Улетай на крыльях ветра
ты в край родной, родная песня наша,
туда, где мы тебя свободно пели,
где было так привольно нам с тобою.
Там, под знойным небом
негой воздух полон,
там под говор моря дремлют горы в облаках.
Там так ярко солнце светит,
Родные горы светом заливая,
В долинах пышно розы расцветают,
И соловьи поют в лесах зелёных;
И сладкий виноград растёт.
Там тебе привольней, песня…
Ты туда и улетай!

Fly away on wings of wind
To native lands, our native song,
To there, where we sang you freely,
Where we were so carefree with you.
There, under the hot sky,
With bliss the air is full,
There, to the murmur of the sea, mountains doze in the clouds.
There, the sun shines so brightly,
Bathing [our] native mountains in light.
In the meadows, roses bloom luxuriously,
And nightingales sing in the green forests;
And sweet grape grows.
There is more freedom for you there, song…
And so, fly away!

References in popular culture[edit]

Some Polovtsian Dances performed by Daniel Bautista (fragment).

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Most of the themes from No. 17 were incorporated into the 1953 musical Kismet, best known of which is the women's dance ("Gliding Dance of the Maidens"), adapted for the song "Stranger in Paradise". Thirteen years earlier, in 1940, Artie Shaw recorded "My Fantasy" (credited to composers Paul Whiteman, Jack Meskill, and Leo Edwards), which has a tune virtually identical to this dance. Paul Whiteman adapted the music from the Polovtsian Dances theme from Prince Igor (1890). The Paul Whiteman Orchestra recorded "My Fantasy" in 1939.

A hip-hop song version of the music was produced by Warren G and Sissel Kyrkjebø for the album The Rhapsody, simply entitled "Prince Igor". The single was released in 1997, along with the album.

The theme was also used in the Massive Attack song "Karmacoma", from the album Protection in 1994.

The heavy metal song Lonely Winds of War by Masterplan also uses the melody in the chorus.

More recent adaptations of the music include the following: 2014 Opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympic games in Sochi.

  • In the 1970s there was a television commercial for a classical music compilation set that tried to hook viewers by arguing that many of their favorite tunes were actually classical pieces. The narrator (British actor John Williams) speaks at one point, with "Stranger in Paradise" playing in the background, and says, "You may think of this as 'Stranger in Paradise,' but did you know it was from the Polovtsian Dance Number 2 by Borodin?"
  • The "Gliding Dance of the Maidens" section is played, to suggest loneliness and despair, during the pilot episode of the cartoon series "Ren and Stimpy" when Ren and Stimpy are jailed at the dog pound.
  • The "Gliding Dance of the Maidens" was performed at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

See also[edit]

  • Cumans - the Cumans were called Polovtsy by the Rus'

References[edit]

  1. ^ Garofala, Lynn. Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. (New York, NY: DaCapo Press, 1998). p. 384.
  • Borodin, A. Le Prince Igor. Partition pour chant et piano. Edition M.P. Belaieff. (Russian, French, and German text.)

External links[edit]