Allegro Brilliante

  • Choreographer: George Balanchine
  • Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
  • Costumes: Janet Marie Groom
  • Lighting: Cindy Limauro
  • World Premiere: New York City Ballet, March 1, 1956
  • PBT Performance Date: January 1998, April 2007

Program Notes

Program Notes (from PBT playbill, 2007. Reprinted wiht permission of New York City Ballet)

Allegro Brillante is characterized by what Maria Tallchief (the ballerina on whom the bravura leading role was created) calls “an expansive Russian romanticism.” The music’s vigorous pace makes the steps appear even more difficult, but the ballet relies on strong dancing, precise timing, and breadth of gesture. Balanchine said: “It contains everything I know about the classical ballet in 13 minutes.”

Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto was originally written as a symphony. But as it was nearing completion, the composer, dissatisfied with it, converted the first movement into a concert piece for piano and orchestra. Later on, he altered the andante and finale of the symphony in similar fashion. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) studied at the Conservatory in St. Petersburg, where Balanchine later studied piano in addition to his studies in dance. Tchaikovsky is one of the most popular and influential of all romantic composers. His work is expressive, melodic, grand in scale, with rich orchestrations. His output was prodigious and included chamber works, symphonies, concerti for various instruments, operas and works for the piano. His creations for the ballet, composed in close partnership with Marius Petipa, include Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty.

Allegro Brillante
By George Balanchine from his New Complete Stories of the Great Ballets (Doubleday, 1968)

Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto is played so often that many forget his other compositions for piano and orchestra.  If my ballet to his second piano concerto, Ballet Imperial, has made that work better known, I am delightdd.  The music of his unfinished third piano concerto, Opus 75 in E Flat, has also seemed to me most appropriate for dancing.  This was in fact the last music Tchaikovskyt composed; he died less than a month after finishing the orchestration of the first movement, Allegro Brilliante, on October 15, 1893.  The composer had originally projected this music for use in an symphony, but after dismissing that idea, he rewrote the first movement for piano and orchestra and discarded the rest.  As its making suggests, the coroe is brisk and declarative but it is also deeply contemplative, I think.

The ballet is arranged for two principals and an ensemble.  I had no narrative idea for the work, only wishing to have the dancers complement the music as best I could.  The leading dancer of the work follows the piano in the cadenza, but her cavalier also has his important part, as do the supporting dancers, in conveying what I hope is the spirit of the work.