Now, I've loved Stravinsky's music, ever since 10th grade music appreciation class when we learned that Le Sacre Du Printemps caused a riot at its first public performance. But I discovered to my surprise that all these years, I've been listening to the "Orchestral Suite", not the Ballet per se.

When I saw the Nutcracker at the Kremlin, I thought they rushed the Arabian dance and dragged the French. Was I applying the wrong standards, knowing only the Orchestral Suite[*]?

Now, I know I'm never going to find a Live recording with Nijinsky shouting out his 17-beat pattern over shrieking French ladies, but does a change to an Orchestral Suite involve merely an adjustment of the instrumentation, or are there more substantial changes of content? Missing "filler" moments, unmotivated fermatas, gross alterations of tempo?

[*] And a brief part as a soldier at age 10.

  • note that contrary to common musical belief, the music to Le Sacre didn't cause the riot. It was the costumes and coreography that caused this. Most of the time the music couldn't be heard. Commented May 5, 2012 at 15:39
  • also, the music for The Nutcracker Ballet was commisioned after the choreography was complete. Tchaikovsky had to write so many measures at such and such a tempo. I believe he said it was his least favorite of his works. Commented May 5, 2012 at 23:53

2 Answers 2


Essentially your intuition is correct--there must be differences for the publisher to have found it necessary to print a new set of music.

In the cases you mentioned, the music was originally written for the ballet; subsequently the composer went back and made some editorial decisions to allow the piece to stand on its own without a dance company. This may also involve breaking the piece up into multiple movements.

Usually musical content is essentially the same, with changes made to timings and instrumentation, since an orchestra performing on their own is going to have more space for instrumentation and more presence from not sitting in a pit.

One last thing I'll note is that in the case of Stravinsky, his ballets like The Firebird and Rite of Spring exist in MANY different versions. He would actually revise a work to update the copyright so as to prevent it from becoming public domain (most composers don't achieve that much popularity over as much of their lifetime)! Also consider that since these ballets were premiered, the concert suites have become much more popular and widely performed, so popular interpretations are going to inform future performances of either the ballet or the concert suite.

  • Excellent, comprehensive, yet concise answer, NReiling!
    – user1044
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 15:35

It's also worth pointing out that in a ballet performance it's quite common for 'the tail to wag the dog' to a certain extent. When a dancer has outstanding elevation, it's perfectly legitimate to pull the tempo back until he's come down again!

But that's not really an answer to the question. Yes, many ballet scores will engender an 'orchestral suite' in which the main tunes will be presented in a form suitable for concert performance. Just as for a Broadway musical we can (often) buy the Vocal Score as well as a Song Selection.

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