The Relationship Between Classical Music and Ballet

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

Many people enjoy classical music and ballet without realizing the close relationship between the two art forms. In fact, classical music and ballet have been intertwined for centuries, with ballet dancers often performing to classical compositions.


It is widely accepted that ballet and classical music go hand in hand. Many famous ballets, such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, are based on well-known classical pieces. Even today, most ballet performances are accompanied by classical music. But why is this the case?

It is thought that the reason ballet and classical music work so well together is because they share similar rhythms. When choreographers create ballet routines, they often do so with a particular piece of music in mind. This means that the steps and movements of the dancers are designed to match the beats and rhythms of the music. As a result, when these two art forms are combined, they create a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing experience.

Another reason for the close relationship between ballet and classical music is that both art forms originated in Europe during the same period. Ballet first emerged during the Renaissance in Italy, while classical music began to take shape during the Baroque period in Germany. Over time, these two art forms spread to other parts of Europe and became increasingly popular. As they did so, their popularity grew among nobility and aristocracy, who were often great patrons of the arts. It was during this time that many ballets were created for noble families to enjoy in their private chambers.

Today, the relationship between ballet and classical music remains strong. Some of the most famous ballets in the world are still based on well-known pieces of classical music, such as Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake or Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. And while there have been some attempts to create ballets with more modern accompaniments, such as jazz or rock music, these have not been as successful as those featuring traditional classical tunes.

The History of Classical Music and Ballet

The relationship between classical music and ballet is a long and complicated one. Classical music was originally created for the aristocracy and the upper class, while ballet was created for the common people. Over time, the two forms of art have come to be appreciated by people of all social classes.

The Origins of Classical Music

Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music. While a more precise term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820 (the Classical period), this article is about the broad span of time from before the 6th century AD to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common-practice period.

Western staff notation is used by composers to indicate to performers the pitch, tempo, meter and rhythms for a piece of music. This can leave less room for practices such as improvisation and ad libitum ornamentation, which are otherwise extensively enjoyed in non-Western art music and in popular-music styles such as jazz and blues. The term “classical music” did not appear until the early 19th century, in an attempt to distinctly canonize the period from Johann Sebastian Bach to Ludwig van Beethoven as a golden age. The earliest reference to “classical music” recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary is from about 1836.

The Origins of Ballet

Ballet is a performance dance form characteristic of classical Western dance, which originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th and 16th centuries. Ballet spread from the Renaissance courts to France, and eventually to Russia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and England. In the 19th century ballet achieved wide popularity as a feature of opera performances throughout Europe. But it was in Russia that ballet reached its greatest artistic development under the imperial patronage of Catherine the Great.

The word ballet is derived from the Italian ballare (“to dance”), which in turn derives from the Latin ballare (“to dance or to jump about”). The earliest ballets were simply divertissements (diversions or entertainment) within other dramatic works such as operas and masques (elaborate theatrical productions with singing, dancing, and special effects). The first real ballet de cour—a court ballet—was staged in 1573 at Fontainebleau for King Charles IX by Pierre Beauchamp, master of ceremonies at the French court, and by Catherine de Médici’s dancing master, Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx. It was probably also Beaujoyeulx who staged another important early court ballet, Le Ballet comique de la reine (The Queen’s Comic Ballet), which was performed in Paris in 1581. Both these ballets combined mime with acrobatic interludes and were intended to entertain rather than to tell a story.

How Classical Music and Ballet Have Influenced Each Other

Classical music and ballet have had a long and intertwined history. The relationship between the two art forms has been one of both influence and mutual benefit. Classical music has served as an inspiration for many great ballets, while ballet has in turn helped to popularize classical music.

The Influence of Classical Music on Ballet

From its beginnings, classical ballet was strongly influenced by the music of the day. The first ballets were danced to music by Renaissance composers such as Giovanni da Palestrina and Claudio Monteverdi. Later, as the ballet developed in France, the music of French composers such as Jean-Baptiste Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau became popular. In the early 19th century, ballets were often performed to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

As ballet began to spread throughout Europe, other composers began to write music specifically for this new art form. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is perhaps the most famous example of this. The composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was commissioned by the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre to compose a score for a new ballet based on a German fairy tale. The result was one of the most popular ballets of all time.

Today, many ballets are still based on familiar classical pieces. For example, The Nutcracker is based on Tchaikovsky’s score of the same name, and Romeo and Juliet is often set to Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite.

The Influence of Ballet on Classical Music

There is a long-standing relationship between ballet and classical music. Many of the greatest classical composers have written music for ballet, and ballet has often been inspired by classical music.

The Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina wrote some of the first known pieces of ballet music in the 1500s. In the 1600s, the French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully wrote music for several ballets, including ones based on Greek mythology. The Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi also wrote several pieces of ballet music, including The Four Seasons.

The first great ballet composer was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. He composed the music for classics such as Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. Tchaikovsky’s ballets were so popular that they are still performed today.

Other great ballet composers include Sergei Prokofiev, who composed the music for Romeo and Juliet; Claude Debussy, who composed Afternoon of a Faun; and Igor Stravinsky, who composed The Rite of Spring.

Ballet has also been a source of inspiration for many classical composers. Tchaikovsky was inspired to write Swan Lake after seeing a performance of the ballet La Sylphide. Stravinsky was inspired to write The Firebird after seeing a performance of the ballet Coppélia. Many other classical composers have been inspired by ballet, including Maurice Ravel, Paul Hindemith, and Benjamin Britten.


In conclusion, it is evident that there is a great relationship between classical music and ballet. This art form would not be able to exist without the other. Each one needs the other in order to create the beauty that is seen on stage.

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