The Kennedy Center

Invitation to the Dance, Opus 65

About the Work

Karl Maria von Weber Composer: Carl Maria von Weber
© Richard Freed

Untitled Document

Weber composed his Aufforderung zum Tanz ("Invitation to the Dance"), a rondo brillant in D-flat for piano solo, in 1819; it was published in Berlin two years later, at the time of the premiere of Der Freischütz that city. Berlioz orchestrated the piece 20 years later for use as ballet music in a production of that opera in Paris, which had its first performance at the Opéra on June 7, 1841, Pantaléon Battu conducting. The National Symphony Orchestra's first performance of this piece, on February 14, 1932, and two subsequent ones in 1936 and 1941, were conducted by Hans Kindler, who favored a later orchestral setting by Felix Weingartner. The Berlioz version was not performed by the NSO until August 25, 1972, when Arthur Fiedler conducted it at Wolf Trap; it was presented most recently on November 28, 1999, under Anthony Aibel.

Berlioz's scoring is for 2 flutes and piccolo,2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, 2 harps, and strings. Approximate duration, 9 minutes.

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In his Memoirs, Berlioz wrote of his exciting discovery of the music of Weber, and of his dismay over the liberties taken with the work by Castil-Blaze, the director of Paris's Odèon Theatre, for the work's production there in 1824, under the title Robin de bois. Not only was the action transferred from Germany to Yorkshire, the plot drastically altered, and that most German of German operas sung in French, but one significant character was eliminated, others were renamed, individual numbers were transferred from one role to another, and music by other composers was interspersed with Weber's own. In 1824, however, Berlioz was delighted to be told by Léon Pillet, the director of the Opéra, that Der Freischütz would be given a proper production by that august institution, without a note of Weber's changed or eliminated. Because the Opéra required that every word on its stage be sung, not spoken, and that a ballet be included, Berlioz agreed to compose recitatives to replace the spoken dialogue, and to provide the dance numbers as well. Pillet suggested that he simply use the Ball Scene from his own Symphonie fantastique and the dance music from his Roméo et Juliette, but Berlioz insisted that only Weber's music be used: he borrowed some pieces from the operas Oberon and Preciosa , and he made his brilliant orchestral transcription of the piano piece Invitation to the Dance. Eventually the Oberon and Preciosa numbers were dropped and then, as Berlioz noted, "cuts appeared in the Invitation to the Dance, although it had been a great success as an orchestral piece."

Weber's keyboard piece was turned into an effective symphonic poem by Berlioz. In the voice of the solo cello, a gentleman asks a lady to dance; she accepts and they enjoy an extended waltz; when the dance is over, he bows to her with his thanks. That scenario was not followed in the Paris production of Der Freischütz (much to Berlioz's irritation), and it was not followed when the piece was used as the music for the independent ballet Le Spectre de la rose. That brief work, choreographed by Michel Fokine for Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina, who introduced it in Diaghilev's Monte Carlo season of 1911, is based on a poem of the same name by Théophile Gautier--a poem which Berlioz himself set to an altogether difference piece of wholly original music as part of his song-cycle Les Nuits d'été one year before the presentation of Der Freischütz at the Opéra.

Berlioz was not the only one to orchestrate this piece. As noted above, the National Symphony Orchestra's founding conductor, Hans Kindler, favored a later orchestration by the famous conductor Felix Weingartner (a champion of Berlioz as well as of Beethoven); there are still later orchestral settings by another celebrated conductor, Leopold Stokowski, and the 20 th -century English composer Maurice Johnstone.