Ballet as we know it began in Renaissance Italy. The word ballet comes from ballo or balli from Domenico da Piacenza’s On the Art of Dancing and Conducting Dances. The ballets described in his book were for elaborate banquets with mythological symbolism. By the 1500s in northern Italy, formal entertainments had expanded into extravaganzas called spectaculi (spectacles). These included dance along with mock combats and horseback riding exhibitions.
The next major change in the world of ballet took place in France in the court of Louis XIV. His court composer, Jean Baptiste Lully, wrote operas which included extensive ballets. These works are called opera-ballets and they began a tradition of French operas using dance. Whenever a foreign composer put on an opera in Paris, they needed ballets and even Verdi and Wagner wrote ballets for their Paris productions. When Wagner put on Tannhauser in Paris, he included the Venusberg music for the ballet.
Some of the best opera-ballets of Lully are based on plays by Moliere.
Le Bougeois Gentilhomme – L’ Orchestre du Roi Soleil
Des Divertissements de Versailles – Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
Ballet Music for the Sun King – Aradia Baroque Ensemble, Kevin Mallon
Comedies-Ballets – Les musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski
After Lully, we have the composer Jean Philippe Rameau, a contemporary of J.S. Bach.
Rameau: Ballet Suites – European Union Baroque Orchestra, Roy Goodman.
Les Indes Galantes – La chapelle Royale, Philippe Herreweghe
The next major composer of ballet music is the German Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714-1787). Gluck’s only ballet is Don Juan Semiramis, and is his attempt to transform ballet from mere entertainment to something deeper.
Don Juan Semiramis – Tafelmusik, Bruno Weil
Mozart wrote a bit of ballet music, mostly associated with opera.
Les Petits Riens – Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Raymond Leppard
Idomeneo – (full opera), Charles Mackerras
Beethoven wrote a ballet called The Creatures of Prometheus which is well worth listening to as it contains some of his finest music in his early style.
The Creatures of Prometheus – Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Nikolaus Harnoncourt
We now get into the well-known classics of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with composers such as Adolphe Adam, Giselle, Leo Delibes, Coppelia, Sylvia and La Source, and, of course, Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.
Giselle – (complete), Royal Opera House Orchestra, Richard Bonynge,
Giselle – (excerpts), London Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas
Coppelia, Sylvia, La Source – ( 4 CD set), Richard Bonynge
Sylvia & Coppelia [Highlights] – Paris National Opera Theater, Jean-Baptiste Mari
Sylvia (complete)/ Saint-Saens: Henry VIII – Razumovsky Sinfonia, Andrew Mogrelia
We now move on to what are probably the most popular (and among the greatest) ballets—those of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Swan Lake (complete) – Philadelphia Orchestra, Wolfgang Sawallisch
Swan Lake (complete) – Russian State Symphony, Dimitry Yablonsky
Swan Lake (complete) – Mariinsky Theater Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
Swan Lake (highlights) – Boston Pops, Arthur Fiedler
Sleeping Beauty – Concertgebouw Orchestra, Antal Dorati
Sleeping Beauty – Lodnon Symphony, Andre Previn
Sleeping Beauty – Russian National Orchestra, Mikhail Pletnev Sleeping Beauty
Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty – SuitesSleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Nutcracker – London Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn
Nutcracker – Mariinsky Theater Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
Nutcracker – Concertgebouw Orchestra, Antal Dorati
Nutcracker – Berlin Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov
Nutcracker – Vienna Philharmonic, James Levine
Before we go on to the twentieth century, we should mention a popular score that was put together by Manuel Rosenthal using popular melodies from the works of Jacques Offenbach, Gaite’ Parisienne.
Offenbach: Gaite Parisienne; Rossini-Respighi: La Boutique Fantasque – Boston Pops, Arthur Fiedler
Offenbach: Gaîte parisienne; Gounod: Faust – Montreal Symphony, Charles Dutoit
Now, let’s pass on to the 20th century, and the first composer who stands out is, of course, Stravinsky.
Le sacre du printemps (Rite Of Spring); Le roi des étoiles; Petrouchka – Charles Dutoit, Michael Tilson Thomas, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Londres, Tamas Vasary
Rite of Spring – Igor Stravinsky, Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Firebird – I. Stravinsky, Columbia Symphony Orchestra
The Firebird (Complete Original Version); Petrushka (Revised 1947 Version) – Robert Craft, Philharmonia Orchestra of London
Firebird – Antal Dorati, Harold Lawrence, London Symphony Orchestra
Stravinsky: Ballets; Stage Works; Orchestral Works – Various conductors and orchestras
Stravinsky: Later Ballets – Robert Craft, Various Orchestras
Stravinsky: Pulcinella; The Fairy’s Kiss – Robert Craft, London Symphony Orchestra
Stravinsky: Three Greek Ballets (Apollo, Agon, Orpheus) – Robert Craft, London Symphony Orchestra
Romeo and Juliet – Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Romeo and Juliet – Valery Gergiev Mariinsky Theater Orchestra
Cinderella Suite – Leonard Slatkin, St. Louis Symphony
Cinderella – Vladimir Ashkenazy, Cleveland Orchestra
Rodeo and Billy the Kid – Leonard Bernstein, Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Rodeo and Billy the Kid – Michael Tilson Thomas , San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Copland Conducts Copland – Aaron Copland, London Symphony Orchestra
Appalachian Spring – Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Appalachian Spring – Leonard Bernstein, Various Orchestras
Orchestral Works includes Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune – Various Artists
We have to mention the music of John Cage, an American original and a collaborator with Merce Cunningham, one of the most famous dancers and choreographers of the 20th and early 21st centuries.
The Seasons – Dennis Russell Davies, American Composers Orchestra
Glassworks–In the Upper Room – Michael Riesman, Philip Glass Ensemble
Three Ballets including Slaughter on Tenth Avenue – John Mauceri, Alessandro Scarlatti Orchestra of Naples
Rhapsody in Blue / Concerto in F / An American in Paris / Variations on "I Got Rhythm" – Arthur Fielder, Boston Pops
The Ultimate Collection – Various Artists
Collections of Classical Music for Ballet
25 Classical Dance Favorites – Various Artists
Antal Dorati Conducts – Antal Dorati, Various Orchestras
Les Ballets Russes, Vol. 1 – Sylvain Cambreling, SWR Baden-Baden and Freiburg Symphony Orchestra (
The ultimate Ballet Collection – Various Artists
Essential Ballet – Various Artists
My Ballerina Album – Various Artists
Famous Ballet Music – Various Artists
Ballet Favorites – Various Artists
Music for Ballet Class
Music for Ballet Class – Various Artists
Between the Barres – Various Artists
Favorite Classics of Ballet for ballet Class – Various Artists
Pas de Tot – Steven V Mitchell
A Covent Garden Class – Steven V Mitchell
Ballet Class Music from New York City: Music from Company Class, Vol. 1 – Arranger/Composer Douglas Schultz, pianist Douglas Schultz
A Ballet Class with Music By Gershwin – Kimbo
Michael Roberts Original Music for the Ballet Class Volume 7 – Michael Roberts
Music for the Beginners’ Ballet Class (Vol. 1) – Kimbo
http://www.julia.kirov.com/ – website
http://www.dancemelody.com/index.php – website
http://www.josuonline.com/ – website
http://cdbaby.com/found?artist=&soundlike=&style=dance+class&album= – website
http://www.rlongballetmusic.com/ – website