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Classical 101

St. Francis of Assisi... and The Ballet de Monte Carlo?

St. Francis of Assisi, as depicted by Bartolomeo Della Gatta.

On today's date in 1938, the ballet Nobilissima Visione was premiered in London by the Ballet de Monte Carlo.  German composer Paul Hindemith had visited the church of Santa Croce in Florence a couple of years earlier and was deeply impressed by the frescoes of Giotto depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi.  After meeting the choreographer Leonide Massine, Hindemith suggested they collaborate on a ballet inspired by St. Francis.

It's ironic that just as the world was about to plunge into its most destructive war yet, this work emerged about a figure whose life was an expression of peace, humility and compassion toward all.  The 50-minute ballet, or "dance legend" as it was also called, is in six scenes and depicts episodes in the life of St. Francis.

Much more often heard these days, though, is the three-movement orchestral suite of music from the ballet that incorporates episodes from the complete score: the introduction depicts Francis meditating after he has renounced all worldly goods, and the following rondo expresses the mystical wedding between Francis and Lady Poverty.  A march and a fugue are followed by a pastorale, and a grand passacaglia concludes the suite.

Thursday evening on Symphony @ 7, join me for these noble visions in Nobilissima Visione by Paul Hindemith.  In the first half of the hour I'll have some more well-known "visions" from Russian artist Victor Hartman as expressed in Modest Mussorgsky's musical tribute to his friend in  Pictures at an Exhibition in the Ravel orchestration.

Symphony @ 7 airs every  Thursday evening at 7 for great works from the symphonic repertoire on Classical 101.