ClassicsOnline Home » DAVIS, C: Aladdin
Some time in the mid-1990s came the dream phone call – Robert Cohan, American choreographer and founder of The London Contemporary Dance Company, asking if I would be interested in composing a score for a full length ballet on the subject of Aladdin, for what is the traditional Nutcracker slot, Autumn and Winter. Would I? – You bet! … I enjoyed revisiting the score five years after the first successful season by Scottish Ballet in 2000 and sincerely applaud the magnificent performance by the new and exciting Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. (Carl Davis, 2006)
By Christopher Latham
Listening to Carl Davis’ Aladdin, I find it hard to believe it has not already been adde4d to the repertoire lists of the world’s great ballet companies. It is one of the great traditional ballet scores since Spartacus and it is blessed with a great story from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights that is both familiar and archetypal. The score is filmic in the best sense of the word, and blessed with a memorable heroic theme, as well as other notable leitmotifs, which swirl around, reappearing in various guises as the story moves towards its climax. This is the entire ballet score and not an orchestral suite of the highlights…Overall the writing flows in an unusually assured and fluent manner and the orchestration recreates the golden sound of the MGM film soundtracks. Davis, a fine conductor as well as composer, directs the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra who sound wonderful. The sheen of the strings and winds at the climaxes is entirely satisfying and the brass really create a sense of warmth and breadth. For those who love an epic score with sweep, grandeur and the high points in all the right places—this is a great find. Likely to become a classic.
Carl Davis (b. 1936)
Aladdin – The Complete Ballet
Commissioned by Scottish Ballet, who gave the première at The Edinburgh Festival Theatre on 20 December 2000
Some time in the mid-1990s came the dream phone-call – Robert Cohan, American choreographer and founder of the London Contemporary Dance Company asking if I would be interested in composing a score for a full length ballet on the subject of Aladdin, for what is the traditional Nutcracker slot, Autumn and Winter. The commission was from Scottish Ballet, then traditionally managed by the distinguished Russian ballerina, Galina Samsova.
Would I? – You bet! The story was familiar to audiences from pantomime. But the source, Sheherezade: 1001 Nights, revealed deeper levels; a Persian story set in China with an important interlude in Morocco. Lots of magic – the lamp, the ring, a flying carpet, split-second set and costume changes.
Every aspect of the story suggested a dance. The strong characters, the roguish but ambitious Aladdin, the powercrazed and sinister Magician and the dreamy Princess who will reveal great courage. On the one hand there are extended pure dance sequences: the cave of jewels is a set of virtually independent solos, the Court entertainment and several soli and pas de deux and the Princess. The Chinese and Near-Eastern elements can be suggested by, on the one hand, melodies based on the Chinese pentatonic scale and on the other, the drone and modes of the Indian Raga. And what a thrill it is to bring on stage the traditional Chinese symbols for good luck, happiness and prosperity – The Lion Dance and The Dragon.
I enjoyed revisiting the score five years after the first successful season by Scottish Ballet in 2000 and sincerely applaud the magnificent performance by the new and exciting Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.
I would like to personally thank Abdul Hamid Abu Bakar, Chief Executive Officer and the Management Team of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra for their support and generosity in bringing my Aladdin to life again.
Special thanks also to Faber Music and Threefold Music.
Carl Davis, 2006
There are three musical 'locations' indicated in the original story:
1. PERSIA: The musical idiom of the story-teller, particularly where the Magic Lamp and Genie are in focus. My Lamp Theme has a background built on the bass drone heard in Middle Eastern music.
2. CHINA: The principal setting for the story and the nationality of the principal characters. Obviously, I drew on the pentatonic scale heard first when the Princess makes her actual appearance in Act I.
3. MOROCCO: Where the Magician comes from, who needs Aladdin's help in obtaining the lamp. Specifically, I use North African drumming and the chromatic descending scale.
Then, there is all the rest needed to tell the story, which ranges from a Handelian chaconne for the gold and silver sequences in the Cave of Jewels, to braying horns and ethnic drumming for the Lion Dance which follows the Wedding Ceremony in Act II.
[CD 1 / Track 1] No. 1: The Power of the Lamp
The theme of the lamp is heard first on horn and then trumpet. The lamp is suspended – the symbol of all earthly power. The Magician reaches for it but it eludes him.
Scene 1 – A Market in China
[1/2] No. 2: The Fruits of the Earth
The market comes to life. There are three principal sellers: Lamps, Carpets and Water. The three themes recur at various points in the ballet.
[1/3] No. 3: The Lord of Misrule
Aladdin and his friends invade the market and cause chaos.
[1/4] No. 4a: The Lost Uncle
Aladdin is accosted by the Magician who claims to be his uncle.
[1/5] No. 4b: Temptation Dance
The false uncle tempts Aladdin with visions of wealth, power and countless women, but first he must follow him into the desert. The lamp theme ends the sequence.
Scene II – The Journey
[1/6] No. 5a: The Spirits of the Wind
To swirling flutes and strings Aladdin and his uncle cross the desert.
[1/7] No. 5b: The Spell
With ominous chords, The Magician shows Aladdin the entrance to the cave.
Scene III – Outside the Cave
[1/8] No. 6: Fear of Entombment
Aladdin is terrified of what might lie ahead and resists.
[1/9] No. 7: Incentive – The Beautiful Princess
The Magician conjures up a vision of the Princess of China – the Love Theme is heard for the first time, played on the oboe. Aladdin is immediately smitten and dives into the cave. There is a cadence which will signal all future magic.
Scene IV – The Cave
[1/10] No. 8: The Cave of Riches
The cave is full of treasure. I chose to create a divertissement of jewels in order of their value. The sequence starts with mystical chords which, as the score develops, will signify wealth.
[1/11] No. 9a: Onyx and Pearls - Toccata
The corps de ballet are in black and white costumes corresponding to the white and black keys of a piano.
[1/12] No. 9b: Transition I
Mystical chords introduce the precious metals.
[1/13] No. 10a: Gold and Silver – The Pillars of Mammon
The foundations of our society – gold and silver – require solemnity. I chose a Saraband starting with a brass choir (more gold) and culminating with a tutti for the entire orchestra.
[1/14] No. 10b: Transition II
A further development of the toccata as the next jewel takes her place.
[1/15] No. 11a: Sapphires – Born of the Sea
I imagine something like Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus' emerging from the sea: the music is in the metre of a barcarolle and has a pleasing atmosphere.
[1/16] No. 11b: Transition III
More of the toccata as we prepare for the next jewel.
[1/17] No. 12: Rubies – for Passion
This was intended as a passionate pas de deux with a sweeping romantic theme rising to a rather wild climax.
[1/18] No. 13a: Emerald – for Envy
This variation follows directly on from Rubies as if the Emerald was green with envy and making an almost vicious attack on the Ruby couple.
[1/19] No. 13b: Transition IV
The corps de ballet are now calming things down with a clock-like beat, preparing the ground for the most precious jewel of all …
[1/20] No. 14: Diamonds
Introduced by a harp solo, we imitate a grand waltz in the Russian style. This builds into a triumphant solo for Aladdin, developing the music that the Magician used to tempt him. All the jewel company return to surrender their wealth to Aladdin.
[1/21] No. 15: The Pathway to Power
The cave chords are heard as the jewels direct Aladdin to the lamp which develops into a struggle between Aladdin and The Magician for possession.
[1/22] No. 16: The Struggle for Possession
Aladdin will not surrender the lamp to the Magician and he retreats back into the darkness of the cave.
[1/23] No. 17: Towards the Light
Aladdin makes three attempts to escape, but finally despairs until he remembers that he has a magic ring – he rubs it and disappears.
Scene V – The Market
[1/24] No. 18a: Where is Aladdin?
Aladdin's mother despairs of seeing her son again, but as suddenly as he vanished, he re-appears.
[1/25] No. 18b: Return of the Prodigal
Aladdin describes his adventures: first, the journey, then the cave, followed by the jewels and then a rather tarnished lamp. His mother then decides to give the lamp a good rubbing.
[1/26] No. 19: The Slave of the Lamp
Suddenly, a Genie appears to a massive 'Statement of the Lamp' theme. The humble house acquires an extreme makeover and Aladdin and his mother are dressed in luxurious clothes
[1/27] No. 20: Bathhouse March
A fanfare is heard – signalling the daily procession of the Princess from the Palace to the Imperial Bath-house. Aladdin recognises her as the girl in the Magician's vision (the oboe theme once more). The procession continues, and Aladdin is determined to make her his own. For the first time, a deliberate Chinese style theme is heard, using the pentatonic scale.
Scene I – The Royal Bath-House
[2/1] No. 21: Cleansing Water
The Love Theme opens Act II in a broad version, leading directly to flowing water music, heard first in the Water Sellers' sequences at the start of the First Act. The music is flirtatious with important flute solos.
[2/2] No. 22a: Make Me Beautiful
The Princess has bathed and is now being dressed. The music is very sustained and oriental in mode. The mood is languorous.
[2/3] No. 22b: Exit and Scarf Dance
Aladdin has magicked himself into the Bathhouse chamber. After the Princess and her entourage have left, he picks up a scarf that the Princess has dropped and steeps himself in its perfume – all this to a sensuously scored version of the dressing music.
Scene II – Aladdin's Home
[2/4] No. 23: Buy Me a Bride
Aladdin returns home and pleads with his mother to ask for the hand of the Princess from the Emperor. She is terrified, but Aladdin throws some of the jewels into her hands and she leaves for the Palace.
Scene III – The Sultan's Audience Chamber
[2/5] No. 24a: Audience Chamber
The chords of the Jewel Cave lead into a fanfare of the regal sort. To our horror, the Grand Vizier, reveals himself as the Magician of Act I.
[2/6] No. 24b: Reverse Bigamist
Some cases are being heard in court. The first is of a woman with too many husbands! The music is meant to be savage and oriental.
[2/7] No. 24c: Judgement I
A judgement theme is heard – obviously – guilty! Next case! (Gong)
[2/8] No. 24d: Thief
A wild tarantella. The thief tricks the court and vanishes.
[2/9] No. 24e: Judgement II
Again, the judgement motif – the sentence and a gong! Next case!
[2/10] No. 25: My Son is Worthy
Aladdin's mother appears and pleads for the hand of the Princess (the Love Theme now on cello). The Court mocks her, but she shows them the jewels and everything changes. The Emperor agrees – the Princess is summoned and Aladdin, splendidly costumed, appears.
[2/11] No. 26: Aladdin and the Princess
Aladdin is left alone with the Princess and they dance an extended pas de deux. With Aladdin's magic powers, she immediately falls in love with him.
[2/12] No. 27a: Judgement III
The Emperor agrees to the wedding and a short statement of both the Princess's music and their Love Theme, leads to …
[2/13] No. 27b: Aladdin's Solo
Aladdin is overjoyed and expresses his feelings in an energetic dance.
[2/14] No. 27c: The Entertainment
Aladdin magically produces a circus for the entertainment of The Court.
[2/15] No. 28a: Fanfare:- Aladdin and the Princess
To a re-working of the Court fanfare, the Princess and Aladdin re-appear in their wedding clothes.
[2/16] No. 28b: Fortune Teller
As is the tradition, a Fortune Teller comes to predict the outcome of the marriage. To gypsy-like strains (violin solo) she reads her sacred bones and predicts that the Princess and Aladdin will be happy but terrible trials await them. She points accusingly to the Great Vizier. He stops her … gong … and orders the wedding to continue.
[2/17] No. 28c: Wedding Ceremony
To a simple melody, using the pentatonic scale, the wedding takes place.
[2/18] No. 28d: Lion Dance - No. 28e: Magician into Lampseller
Again, as in the ancient Chinese tradition, a lion dance is performed – against heavy percussion the horns roar. At the end of the dance, The Magician disguises himself as a Lamp Seller and the Lamp Theme is reprised in a sinister style.
Scene IV – Outside the Palace Walls
[2/19] No. 29: Dawn and Lovers Parting
Very serene music is heard to herald the dawn. A horn call is heard: Aladdin is going hunting with his mates! The Princess is disturbed, but Aladdin consoles her by leaving her the lamp.
[2/20] No. 30: Old Lamps for New
The Market Theme in a sustained form is heard on woodwind instruments and the Magician, in his lampseller's disguise comes offering a shiny new lamp in place of the rather tarnished one. The Princess gives in to temptation.
Scene V – The Audience-Chamber
[2/21] No. 31: Kidnap
The Princess has vanished – The Lamp Theme is heard in a despairing cry. Aladdin and his mother appear in rags and are seized by the Imperial Guards.
Scene I – A Dungeon
[2/22] No. 32a: The Upper Hand
A violent statement of the Lamp Theme introduces Aladdin in captivity.
[2/23] No. 32b: Aladdin in Chains
A long despairing solo in 5/4 time. Aladdin is chained to the wall. He reveals his rising despair, until he finally has an idea.
[2/24] No. 32c: The Ring
He remembers the ring and contrives to rub it – he vanishes immediately.
Scene II – A Room in the Magician's Palace, Morocco
[2/25] No. 33a: Morocco
More of the Lamp Theme in its minor key version. We are now in Morocco and the Princess is a prisoner of the Magician and HE HAS THE LAMP!
[2/26] No. 33b: The Princess Pleads
The Princess is in despair and becomes increasingly more desperate in her solo, which leads directly to the reappearance of the Magician.
[2/27] No. 34a: The Taunting
The Magician appears with the lamp seeking to dominate her. But she resists him. The music alternates between the Temptation Theme from Act I and the Lamp music in a minor key.
[2/28] No. 34b: Where is he?
Yearning music from the Second Act's pas de deux is represented and Aladdin magically re-appears.
[2/29] No. 35: Reunited
They dance a rapturous dance of liberation.
[2/30] No. 36: The Poison Plot
To chords reminiscent of the cave music, Aladdin and the Princess make a devious plan.
[2/31] No. 37: The Struggle
To ominous timpani beats, the Magician is induced to drink poison. The three struggle for possession of the lamp and finally, Aladdin overcomes his adversary.
[2/32] No. 38: Repossession of The Lamp
More joyous music follows and Aladdin prepared to return to China. He has a special vehicle!
[2/33] No. 39: The Magic Carpet Ride
The main theme of the Act II's pas de deux rings out as the pair are transported by magic carpet back to their homeland.
[2/34] No. 40: All Reunited
All the denisons of the market come out to greet Aladdin and the Princess. The happy music dissolves into a lyric presentation of the Lamp Theme.
[2/35] No. 41: Happiness Duet
Without interruption, this melts into the Lamp Theme – now a serene pas de deux.
[2/36] No. 42: Freedom and Dragon Dance
The Lamp Theme rings out and the Genie is released. This leads directly into the Dragon Dance – another vital tradition in Chinese life. Again, the pentatonic scale as the Dragon circles the happy couple.
2 Flutes (II = Piccolo & Alto flute) • 2 Oboes (II = Cor Anglais) • 2 Clarinets in B flat (I = Bass Clarinet)
2 Bassoons (II = Contrabassoon)
4 Horns in F • 2 Trumpets in B flat • 3 Trombones • Tuba • Timpani
Percussion: Xylophone, Vibraphone, Glockenspiel, Tubular bells, Crotales, 2 Suspended cymbals,
Crash cymbals (2 pairs), Sizzle cymbal, Finger cymbals, Triangle, Woodblocks, Tambourine, Maracas, Whip,
Sistrum, Anvil, Clay drum, Bongos, High and low Tom toms, Tam-tam, Side drum, Bass drum
Piano (= Organ & Celesta)