November 2009

Moving Music - Three Examples of How Music Can Make You Move

Sabre Dance from Gayane
by Aram Khachaturian

Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor
by Johannes Brahms

Radetzky March
by Johann Strauss Sr.

Few things are more fun to listen to than music that makes you move! While some may think that this type of music has only recently become popular, it's actually always been popular in one form or another. What I have here are three examples of pieces that have always made me want to get up and dance.

Aram Khachaturian (ah-RAHM KATCH-a-TUR-ian) was born in 1903 in Tiflis, Imperial Russia to a poor Armenian family. He grew up to become a great composer. In 1942, he wrote a very cutting-edge ballet named Gayane (I think it's pronounced GIE-YAHN). It's the story of a young Armenian woman (Gayane), her drunken and traitorous husband, and a Soviet commander who comes to her rescue (and later marries her). The ballet is rarely performed outside of Russia, but there is an extremely well-known piece from it: Sabre Dance. Sabre Dance is heard as a troop of Soviet soldiers brandish their swords and dance acrobatically to prepare for battle. It's most commonly known today as music that plays during an acrobatic act, say, at a circus. It's also very commonly used for plate-spinning and other tricks.

Johannes Brahms (pronounced yo-HAA-nes BRAAms) was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1833. He has written many orchestral pieces. Often when people study Classical music, they're told to start with the "three B's": Bach (Johann Sebastian Bach), Beethoven (Ludwig van Beethoven), and Brahms (Johannes Brahms). Among the pieces he wrote, he composed a collection of Hungarian Dances (21, to be precise). Most of them were meant to be variations on familiar Hungarian folk tunes. The most well-known, number 5, was actually based on an older piece called Bartfai emlek by Kéler Béla. Brahms had mistakenly thought it was a Hungarian folk tune.

Johann Strauss Sr. was born in 1804 in Vienna, Austria. He was most famous for writing many waltzes (dances based in a 3-beat measure). His son, Johann Strauss II, would also grow up to be a well-known composer of waltzes and marches. We'll talk more about him in future months. Johann Sr. wrote a march as a tribute to Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz of the Austrian army. To date, this piece of music is almost always the grand finale of the New Year's Concert in Vienna.

Jon's Introduction to These Pieces:

I don't remember ever not knowing Sabre Dance. I think the first time I realized its name was due to a recording I've talked about in previous months called A Crystal Odyssey. That was definitely not my first introduction, though.

Hungarian Dance No. 5 was introduced to me through a video game. There was an old video game for the Commodore 64 named Spy's Demise. The game really wasn't that entertaining, but the programmer had gone out of his way to keep the background music interesting. He used pieces like Dance of the Tumblers, Trepak from The Nutcracker, and other folk tunes, as well as Hungarian Dance No. 5 (which was the most prominent theme). I was to discover orchestral performances of the piece as part of classical music collection albums I collected in my first year of college and my mission.

The Radetzky March is one that I didn't know until I went on my mission. Early on, I purchased a collection of classical marches (featuring several pieces that we'll cover in later months). Included was the Radetzky March. It's an addicting tune, so when I started collecting CDs, I sought it out.


We're going to listen to each piece, but fear not, they're all fairly short. So everybody stand up, and let the dance or march begin!

Sabre Dance from Gayane by Aram Khachaturian

Do you feel stressed? Jittery?

Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G minor by Johannes Brahms

Did you shout "HEY!" at all the right places?

Radetzky March by Johann Strauss Sr.

Do you find yourself marching?

For those interested, "Sabre Dance" was performed by Erich Kunzel conducting the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; "Hungarian Dance No. 5" was performed by the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Eliot Gardiner; "Radetzky March" was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Georgiadis.

Jon's Interpretation:

Sabre Dance is the quintessential modern classical piece. It's just fun. There are parts of it that are almost down-right funny. For example, you've been all tensed up with the fast-paced percussion and jittery xylophones when, all of the sudden, in the middle of the piece, it quiets down, and you get a delightful little saxophone solo. And then, when it's done, it's back to the loud panic. To date, it makes me smile to listen to. It's dangerous to listen to when you're driving.

Hungarian Dance No. 5 makes me which I could actually do the traditional squatting Russian dance. I have nowhere near the physical prowess to do that, but this piece makes me wish I could. To date, I don't think I can listen to it without shouting "HEY!" at least once.

The Radetzky March is a grand example of just a fun, fun march. There are a lot of great marches out there, and I think we often are overwhelmed with the well-known marches of John Philip Sousa that we don't realize that Johann Strauss and his son of the same name were doing it long before Sousa (and some might argue, did it better). At times on my mission where I was feeling depressed or frustrated, this piece would always cheer me up.

Extra Credit:

For fun, here's a clip from the Simpsons ("The Itchy & Scratchy Movie" Season 4, episode 65). This is a demonstration of how Sabre Dance is very commonly used in TV, movies, cartoons, and more.

Bart stealing Grandpa's Dentures from "The Itchy & Scratchy Movie"

For those who played Spy's Demise, here's the music from it. For those of you who haven't played the game, you may find this annoying after a while. Enjoy!

Spy's Demise Theme Music

For those who may want to following along with the conductor's score of Radetzky March, I found it online.

Conductor's Score for Radetzky March