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Detail from a page of Justamant's score for Giselle

The Score: Justamant's Manuscript

Our work on this project has led us to many discoveries but the subject of this card is one of the most exciting and unusual.

The oldest surviving version of the score for Giselle's choreography was recently rediscovered in a market in Germany. Made by choreographer, ballet-master Henri Justamant in the 1860s, it was acquired in 2002 by the Deutsche Tanzarchiv Köln who have published a facsimile edition.

A beautiful document, in a unique form of notation, even today Justamant's Giselle is not very well known.

Here is a sample page from the end of Act Two that gives a flavour of Justamant's score and an example of his notation.

Of the original Carlotta Grisi productions of Giselle we now have only the music, the libretto and the reviews.

The choreography that is most often performed today is based on the later Russian version of Marius Petipa who revived Giselle for the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg.

By contrast, Justamant was associated with the Paris Opera, where he was ballet master in 1860 while Giselle was still in the repertoire, and his version is likely to be (much) closer to the 1841 original.

From conversations with scholars including Marian Smith and Claudia Jeschke we understand that it is most likely that Justamant's scores (Giselle is one of many) were made for his private use as a working ballet master and choreographer, not for publication.

To show some of the differences between the two versions, here is the passage from the score that we quoted above, performed in a version derived from Petipa's by the ballet company of La Scala in Milan.

Even in this brief passage you will find numerous differences between the two versions.

Albrecht falls prostrate on the ground, rather than sinking to one knee. The Wilis go on dancing rather than freezing as if about to die. They don't seem to be terrified by the sound of the clock striking four. Albrecht is revived by Giselle, rather than coming to his senses himself, he doesn't seem to be particularly surprised. And so on.

The Justamant score is clearly quite high level which fits with the idea that it is a private working document/aide memoire, but allowing for that it feels less flowery, more dramatic.

Marian Smith, who kindly spoke to us in the course of this project, is working with Peter Boal and the Pacific Northwest Ballet on a new production of Giselle that is closer to Justamant's version. You can read about their project here.

A brief excerpt from Act One of the Pacific Northwest Ballet version

Apart from its potential value as a record of the original Paris production, Justamant's score is a most beautiful and evocative document that can be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in dance or innovative forms of notation.

We were lucky enough to get hold of a copy of the facsimile edition of Justamant's manuscript in the course of this project. Anyone who wants to study Giselle, or simply loves the ballet and wants to enjoy it in the form of a book, should do their best to acquire their own.

The relevant page on the publisher's website is here.

We are considering a project to publish a digital edition of Justamant's manuscript - please email if you would be interested in a digital edition.

Post Script - An Early Record of the Ballet's Mimed Scenes

The Theatre Museum in St. Petersburg holds two annotated musical scores for Giselle that are probably even earlier than the Justamant manuscript but, unlike Justamant who documents the dancing, they only document the non-dancing (i.e. mimed) scenes. These mimed scenes accounted for roughly half the ballet in the early productions (but not nearly so much nowadays). Giselle was not called a 'ballet pantomime' for nothing.

For a discussion of these two important documents see Marian Smith's article 'The Earliest Giselle'.

1 Justamant, Henri (facsimile edition by Deutsche Tanzarchiv Köln, 2008) Giselle ou Les Wilis : Facsimile of Henri Justamant's manuscript 2 Smith, Marian (2010) Beyond the Veil: Giselle Revealed 3 Stenning- Edgecombe, Rodney (2015) The Score of Giselle 4 Smith, Marian (2000) The Earliest Giselle

Card image: Detail from a page of Justamant's score for Giselle | Tanz Archiv Köln Publication