Episodes grew out of Balanchine’s enthusiasm for Webern’s music, to which he had been introduced by Stravinsky.
Balanchine wrote that Webern’s orchestral music “fills the air like molecules; it is written for atmosphere. The first time I heard it… the music seemed to me like Mozart and Stravinsky, music that can be danced to because it leaves the mind free to “see” the dancing. In listening to composers like Beethoven and Brahms, every listener has his own ideas, paints his own picture of what the music represents…. How can I, a choreographer, try to squeeze a dancing body into a picture that already exists in someone’s mind? It simply won’t work. But it will with Webern. ”
Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein invited Martha Graham to choreograph a joint work with Balanchine using all of Webern’s orchestral pieces. The result was no true collaboration but a work comprised of two separate sections. Graham’s contribution, Episodes I, was danced by her company plus four dancers from New York City Ballet. Episodes II, created by Balanchine, was danced by New York City Ballet and Paul Taylor, who was then a dancer in Graham’s company. After 1960, Graham’s section and the solo variation were no longer performed at New York City Ballet.
Anton von Webern (1883-1945), fromAustria, was part of the neoclassical movement in music. He was a musical scholar who adopted and extended Schoenberg’s twelve-tone method of composing music, which meant basing a composition on a “series” made up from the twelve notes of the chromatic scale arranged so that no note was repeated within the series. Webern became more and more rigorous in his attempt to compress or simplify his own style.