Cortège Hongrois (“a courtly parade in the Hungarian style”) was created by Balanchine as a farewell gift for Melissa Hayden when she announced her retirement after more than 20 years of dancing principal roles with New York City Ballet. The mixture of “character” ethnic dances with classical ballet, including a grand pas de deux, is also a tribute to Marius Petipa, choreographer of the original full-length Raymonda (1898).
As a student and dancer in St. Petersburg, Balanchine knew Raymonda and the character dances typically included in Petipa’s great 19th century ballets. The full-length Raymonda ends with a lavish Hungarian divertissement, which is recalled in Cortège Hongrois’ ethnically accented costumes of green, white, and gold. Balanchine considered the Raymonda score “a treasure chest of music.” For Cortège Hongrois he chose some of the same music he had used for Pas de Dix in 1955. Still other excerpts were chosen for the 1961 Raymonda Variations.
Alexander Glazounov (1865-1936), a student of Rimsky-Korsakov, was director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music from 1906 to 1917. It was during his tenure there that he was called to the Maryinsky to play piano for a rehearsal of Raymonda; Balanchine was one of the dancers present. Besides ballets, Glazounov composed eight symphonies, a piano concerto, a violin concerto, chamber music, and orchestral tone poems.