Leonard Bernstein: On the Town – Three Dance Episodes


This suite of three dances is taken from the 1944 Broadway music, On the Town, which Leonard Bernstein wrote the music for. The story follows the adventures of three sailors who have 24 hours in New York. The show was made into a Technicolour film in 1949, which starred big names like Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, and Ann Miller. A lot of the shows music is based on dance, as Bernstein was inspired by ballet at the time, therefore this three-movement work is based on some of the famous dance scenes from the show. 


The Music
Episode I – Dance of the Great Lover

The opening episode reflects a dream scene from On the Town, where romantic sailor Gabey falls asleep on the subway and dreams about sweeping Miss Turnstiles off her feet. Bernstein’s bright music is bombastic in places, but emotional in others. There’s always a distinct sound to Bernstein’s style, so with the added jazz twist, this scene is perky, cheeky and full of twists and turns!


Episode II – Pas de Deux

Based on the tune Lonely Town, the reflective second episode shows sailor Gabey watching a tender, yet sinister scene in Central Park. There is a touch of melancholy in this music, with Bernstein experimenting with the woodwind in particular. The balance of the orchestra throughout is effective, with call and response gestures dominating. Throughout there is an unrelenting bass line that intensifies as the music goes on. The glorious climax shimmers with muted brass and rich strings. 


Episode III – Times Square Ballet

Described by the composer as “a more panoramic sequence in which all the sailors congregate in Times Square for their night of fun”, the final episode is full of energy and buzz. The opening solo clarinet harks to similar themes from An American in Paris and more from the golden era of musical theatre. The famous ‘New York New York’ theme can be heard throughout this movement, linking the show strongly to this suite. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy… Leonard Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story 


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