Dance of the Hours
Dance of the Hours (Italian: Danza delle ore) is a short ballet and is the act 3 finale of the opera La Gioconda composed by Amilcare Ponchielli. It depicts the hours of the day through solo and ensemble dances. The opera was first performed in 1876 and was revised in 1880. Later performed on its own, the Dance of the Hours was at one time one of the best known and most frequently performed ballets. It became even more widely known after its inclusion in the 1940 Disney animated film Fantasia where it is depicted as a comic ballet featuring anthropomorphized ostriches, hippos, elephants, and alligators.
Violinist João Pedro Cunha, Lagos/Portugal, 2005
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The ballet, accompanied by an orchestra, appears at the end of the third act of the opera, in which the character Alvise, who heads the Inquisition, receives his guests in a large and elegant ballroom adjoining the death chamber. The music and choreography represent the hours of dawn, day, twilight, night and morning. Costume changes and lighting effects reinforce the progression. The dance is intended to symbolize the eternal struggle between the forces of light and darkness. Altogether it is about 10 minutes long.
The piece begins with an introduction in G major, with vocal assistance in the form of a recitative which is omitted in the symphonic version. Then follows in sequence: the dance of the hours of dawn, the hours of day, the hours of the night and the morning.
The episode devoted to dawn (in E major) merges with the extensive introduction to the episode dedicated to daytime hours, anticipating the rhythmic structure of four notes, which characterizes the episode. The transition point between the two episodes, where it marks the birth of the day, coincides with the intervention in fortissimo of the chorus ("Prodigio! Incanto!"), which follows a slow chromatic passage, typical of the Ponchielli's style.
After a brief episode in C-sharp minor devoted to the night, based on figuration in staccato, a connected and expressive melody in E minor, played by cellos, introduces the morning. A new pathetic melody in A minor extends to a broad phrase with initial tone in E minor.
A brief diminuendo precedes the attaca of the final coda, a vigorous can-can in the manner of Romualdo Marenco's Ballo Excelsior (1881), introduced by an abrupt change of tempo to allegro vivacissimo.
The Dance of the Hours is one of the most frequently parodied pieces of classical music. An extract was first used by the Disney studios in one of their earliest cartoon series (Silly Symphonies). The ballet was used in full in the Walt Disney animated film Fantasia (1940), albeit with ballet-dancing hippos (complete with tutus), ostriches, alligators and elephants. It was the source of the tune for the song "Like I Do", which was a hit in 1962 for Nancy Sinatra in Italy and Japan, Maureen Evans in the UK and Ireland, and Teresa Brewer in 1963 (as "She'll Never Love You (Like I Do)") in the USA.
Allan Sherman (no relation to Al) had his biggest hit with "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp)" (1963) and its sequel "Return to Camp Granada" (1965), whose melody is "The Dance of the Hours".
The same segment also formed the basis of "Brief uit La Courtine" (1964) from Dutch cabaretier Rijk de Gooyer. The rendition by Spike Jones and His City Slickers in Spike Jones Is Murdering the Classics (1971) included several segments of the melody.
Mel Brooks incorporated a segment of the piece for a scene in the 1981 comedy film History of the World, Part I where Madeline Kahn's oversexed character Empress Nympho sings "Yes No No Yes" while choosing soldiers for her orgy.
Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon created a new rendition of Dance of the Hours for his ballet company, Morphoses. The work was featured in the company's New York debut, in 2006 at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York.
- Dance of the Hours Flutetunes.com, 2010-08-04. Accessed October 2010]
- New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Program notes. January 2010.
- 'Ulysses' Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's 'Ulysses' by Don Gifford, Robert J. Seidman, University of California Press, 2008, ISBN 0-520-25397-3. p. 81
- More Silly Symphonies: Volume Two Ultimate Disney. Accessed October 2010
- Allan, Robin (1999). Walt Disney and Europe. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press US. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-253-21353-2.
- Dance of the Hours Morphoses dance company. World Premiere: September 26, 2006, The Metropolitan Opera, Metropolitan Opera House, New York, New York. Accessed October 2010.