What is Dalcroze Eurhythmics?
Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865 – 1950) was a composer, improviser and revolutionary educationalist whose ideas have influenced the development of music, dance and drama. Dalcroze was born in Vienna but worked mostly in Geneva, Switzerland, where he developed Dalcroze Eurhythmics in the early years of the 20th century. His theories and practice became very popular with the leading musicians, actors and dancers of his day and the method is used in music conservatories, dance institutions and drama colleges in countries all over the world. In the UK Dalcroze lessons are taught alongside instrumental lessons and ensembles at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama String & Brass Training Programme, Trinity Laban, Royal Northern College of Music, Royal College of Music, Royal Scottish Conservatoire and the Birmingham Conservatoire.
Dalcroze Eurhythmics uses movement as a tool for gaining a deep understanding of the elements of music. It places practice before theory and encourages experience and discovery. It improves rhythmic expression, aural perception, sight-reading skill, and creative confidence.
Dalcroze Eurhythmics consists of three main branches: rhythmics, aural training and improvisation. However, rhythmics lessons include aural training and elements of improvisation, just as aural training sessions include improvisation and movement. In rhythmics lessons teachers improvise on piano and/or on other instruments in order to guide their students in the exploration and discovery of music.
The social aspect to a Dalcroze lesson means that students learn to cooperate, to empathise and to understand what it means to work in a team. This is a vital part of lessons.
A typical exercise within a rhythmics lesson makes a connection between pulse, rhythm & the whole body. Students may step a pulse or show it in different parts of the body and rhythms can also be shown in this way. Such movement creates a muscular memory and kinaesthetic memory which gives an exercise a deeper and more long-lasting learning experience. Rhythm cards may be used to make the connection between what students experience with the whole body and musical notation.
Dalcroze lessons seek to understand all the elements of music through whole-body movement. Students experience phrasing in music, dynamics, accent, articulation, metres, polyrhythms and canon…just to name a few musical elements that are covered!
Dalcroze Eurhythmics can enable us to interpret music through its musical elements so that we ‘show’ the structure, melody, rhythm, harmony and so on, through movement. Clearly this is close to many genres of dance but is, nevertheless, unique. Dalcroze called it Plastique Animée. Below is a choreography which includes elements of Plastique Animée. Here are the programme notes for the choreography.
Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914) – Igor Stravinsky
My starting point for the choreography was dementia. I wanted my group piece to represent a study of dementia with themes of repetition, loss, anger, confusion and loneliness. My father exhibited these symptoms in the last few months of his life, which followed the death of his wife, my mother, several months earlier. I offer the choreography as a tribute to my parents.
The Three Pieces for String Quartet by Stravinsky allowed a choreography that explored these themes. The movements contrast each other in mood, texture, structure and timbre. Stravinsky went on to revise the music as a piece for 4 hands and later as a chamber piece. The pieces for string quartet have no titles but he later added them to the 1928 work: Danse, Eccentrique & Cantique.
During the rehearsal process the dementia theme became increasingly subservient to the music and the choreography is primarily a plastique animée. However, you will notice the expression of loss, anger, love and some humour in the choreography. The ostinato cello part in the first movement represents the repetition of conversation and actions in dementia patients and the repeated accented chords could be interpreted as the anger that is frequently evident. I imagined a dance that continued while the dementia patient is unaware of it and simply repeats himself/herself.
The 2nd movement, which was inspired by the clown Little Tick, shows moments of humour and my father always had a wicked but silly sense of humour which he didn’t lose.
The last movement evokes the well-known Gregorian chant Dies Irae (used frequently by Prokofiev in his music). In Stravinsky’s music the music is slow, dark, yet very beautiful. In this movement I imagine the spirits of the dead trapped in our world and trying to leave. My father’s memory of my mother became confused and he was unsure when, or if, she had died. The choreography ends with her dance and that of her spirit.