program notes by composition > F > Four Dances from "West Side Story"

Four Dances from West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein / arr. ian Polster

Four Dances from West Side Story The Broadway musical West Side Story came into being in 1957 as a collaboration between composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins, writer Arthur Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. The story is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but set in the 1950s on Manhattan’s West Side. It tells the tragic tale of Tony and Maria, whose rival gangs doom their young love. The 1961 film won 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture.

This selection contains four dances. “Scherzo” is a light-hearted, carefree movement that comes from the Dream ballet, in which Tony imagines a world of peace and harmony to which he can take Maria. “Mambo” comes from the gym scene where the Jets and the Sharks meet and dance while trying to suppress their mutual hostility. It segues into “Cha-Cha” as Tony and Maria notice each other for the first time and dance together, transfixed.

The anxiety-ridden “Fugue” is based on material from the song “Cool,” in which the Jets are convincing each other to bottle up their overwhelming emotions. The fugue’s subject is a 12-tone row, lending a worrisome and tense feeling to the movement. Each new statement of the theme adds more layers until the texture explodes into a percussion-heavy statement of the main theme from “Cool”.

Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) was a famous American pianist, composer, author, educator and conductor. His compositions include operas, ballets, masses, jazz, concertos, musicals, movie music and symphonies. His fame derived from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, from his conducting of concerts with most of the world's leading orchestras, and from his many compositions, including West Side Story.

Last updated on May 7, 2018 by Palatine Concert Band