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8.557065-66 - MINKUS: Don Quixote
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Léon (Ludwig) Minkus (1826-1917)

Léon (Ludwig) Minkus (1826-1917)

Don Quixote


Léon Minkus was born Alois Ludwig Minkus in 1826 in Vienna, where he is presumed to have studied. A violinist, conductor and composer, he was said to be of Hungarian origin, although by ancestry of Russian or Polish derivation. His first excursion into the world of ballet was in a collaboration in 1846 for Paris with Edouard Delvedez, Paquita, staged at the Opéra with Carlotta Grisi and Lucien Petipa. The latter’s brother Marius Petipa took the work to St Petersburg for his début there in 1847, commissioning a Pas de trois and a Grand pas from Minkus, two pieces that survive in modern Russian repertoire.


By the early 1850s Minkus had moved to Russia. From 1853 to 1856 he directed the orchestra of Prince Yusupov, appeared as a soloist and taught the violin. In 1861 he became a solo violinist at the Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow, serving as conductor of the orchestra for ten years from 1862 and for much of this time as ballet composer to the theatre. From 1866 he taught the violin at the Moscow Conservatory and served as inspector to the orchestras of the imperial theatres. In 1872 he moved to St Petersburg as ballet composer to the imperial theatres, a position he held until his retirement in 1891. He finally returned to Vienna, where he died in 1917.


During his long career in Russia and continuing collaboration there with Marius Petipa, Minkus also took part in the composition of ballets for Paris. His La fiammetta of 1864, with the French ballet-master of the St Petersburg imperial theatres, Arthur Saint-Léon, was also staged at the Paris Opéra and two years later he shared with Delibes the composition of music for Saint-Léon’s La source, also staged in Paris. Le poisson d’or in 1867 and Le lys in 1869, for St Petersburg and Paris respectively, were also collaborations with Saint-Léon. 1869 brought work with Marius Petipa and the ballet Don Quixote in a three-act version. This was adapted for St Petersburg in 1871 as a five-act ballet. Later collaboration with Petipa brought some fifteen works for St Petersburg and for Moscow, including La Bayadère, a continuing element in Russian ballet repertoire.


Originally a ballet with a prologue and three acts, Don Quixote was mounted at the Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow. The great novel by Miguel Cervantes had inspired earlier ballets, including in 1740 a version by the Vienna court ballet-master Franz Anton Christoph Hilverding, a further Vienna version in 1768 by Jean-Georges Noverre, a Don Quichotte for Paris in 1801 by the ballet-master Louis-Jacques Milon, a version by Charles-Louis Didelot for St Petersburg in 1808, and a ballet by the English dancer James Harvey D’Egville for the King’s Theatre in London in 1809. Other choreographers associated with Don Quixote include the great Danish choreographer August Bournonville and Paul Taglioni. The tradition was continued, among others, by Balanchine, whose Don Quixote, with music by Nicolas Nabokov, was first staged in 1965. It goes without saying that the popularity of the novel has also been reflected in opera and in a wide variety of compositions, from Boismortier to Ravel, and from Telemann to Richard Strauss, and beyond.


The form of the original novel, in which Don Quixote, deluded by his reading of tales of chivalry, sets out to right the perceived wrongs of the world, with misadventure after misadventure, has made it inevitable that any stage treatment has had to be selective in its choice of episodes. For his ballet Marius Petipa chose, like Mendelssohn, to centre his scenario on Camacho’s wedding, in the second part of the novel, using Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza to provide a unifying theme. Musically the opening of the Introduction [1] introduces a motif associated with Don Quixote, continuing with a lively section and a gentle romance.


The Prologue [2]-[5] is set in Don Quixote’s study, where, after reading stories of knight errantry, he resolves to become a knight himself. His entrance is marked by the return of the opening motif of the Introduction. He dreams of his imagined lady, Dulcinea del Toboso, but is interrupted by the villager Sancho Panza, making his escape after stealing a chicken. Don Quixote enrols him as his squire, prepares his armour, and sets out on his adventures.


The first act opens in a square in Barcelona. Quiteria (Kitri), the daughter of the inn-keeper Lorenzo, is seeking her lover, the barber Basilio, although she has been promised by her parents to a rich man, Camacho [6]-[7]. She finds Basilio and together they dance a moreno [8]-[9]. They are interrupted by her father, who insists on her marriage to Camacho, a proposal she rejects [10]. Camacho makes his appearance [11]. People dance in the square, with a Seguidilla [12], an Espada with a street-dancer and toreador [13]-[14] and a mock bull-fight in a scene with toreadors [15]-[16], a dance for the street dancer [17] and a Coda [18]. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza appear and are offered entertainment in Lorenzo’s inn [19], while some of the girls start to make fun of Sancho Panza [20], with their friends [21]. Don Quixote imagines that Quiteria is his beloved Dulcinea and offers to dance a Minuet [22], in which Camacho has reluctantly to join. Basilio is seen with his friends [23], followed by a variation for Quiteria [24] and a Coda [25], during which the lovers make their escape.


The second act opens in a windmill, where Quiteria and Basilio have taken refuge [26]-[27]. They find themselves surrounded by gypsies, with a series of dances, Giga [28], Carmencita [29], a Gypsy solo (CD2) [1], a Spanish Dance [2], and a Sailor’s Dance [3]. In a Scene and Coda [4]-[5] the gypsies turn on Lorenzo and Camacho, who have arrived and seem to offer more fruitful prey. There are two Gypsy Dances [6]-[7]. Quiteria and Basilio persuade the gypsies to arouse the anger of Don Quixote, who has now arrived, and for this they set up a puppet theatre, enacting with marionettes the predicament of the lovers. Don Quixote reacts by destroying the theatre-booth and now catches sight of a windmill that he imagines to be a giant 8. Attacking it, he is knocked down and is terrified by the gypsies, who have taken on various monster disguises. While Quiteria and Basilio escape, Don Quixote dreams that he is in a magic garden [9]-[10]. The Queen of the Dryads seems to lead him to his Dulcinea, with whom he identifies Quiteria. He vows his love [12]-[15], but the vision fades [16]-[17].


In the third act Basilio and Quiteria celebrate with friends in a tavern [18]. Lorenzo, Camacho, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza enter, with Lorenzo still insisting that his daughter marry Camacho. Basilio pretends to kill himself, and Don Quixote persuades Lorenzo to give the couple a final blessing [19], but Basilio immediately jumps up again, thoroughly alive [20], to the annoyance of Camacho, who turns on Don Quixote. The ballet continues with a series of variations, including the additional variation for Quiteria introduced at a later performance by the prima ballerina Mathilda Kschessinska [28], as the lovers celebrate, and a final Spanish dance, while Don Quixote and his squire go in search of new adventures [29]-[30].


Keith Anderson

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