A page from a répétiteur for Pugni's 1862
score for Petipa's "The Pharoah's Daughter"
this being the Pas de Guirlandes ,
a Variation for the Ballerina Carolina Rosati

A page from a piano reduction
of Pugni's score for Perrot's 1844
" La Esmeralda"
This is a page from the overture

It is a rather common misconception that Pugni cobbled together melodies "borrowed" from other composers for his own scores. Since the majority of Pugni's music which still survives in modern performance just so happens to contain numbers that consist of "borrowed" themes, it has been widely assumed and even given as fact that he based his scores on the melodies of others. Although Pugni did in fact "borrow" music, it was usually done at the behest of a Balletmaster or Ballerina who wanted a particular theme for their Pas . For example, one such "borrowed" theme is to be found in Petipa's 1859 Venetian Carnival Grand Pas de Deux (also known as the Fascination Pas de Deux from Satanella ), which contains themes from one of Niccolò Paganinii 's violin concertos.

Some of Pugni's "borrowings" were in fact done by the composer as an homage to the Ballerina - Pugni was well-known for attempting to curry favor from the Ballerinas by dedicating scores to them or incorperating their favorite themes. Marie Taglioni's variation from Perrot's famous Pas de Quatre is based on a theme taken from Johann Strauss I 's 1828 The Suspension Bridge Waltz - the Wonder of the World ( Kettenbrücke-Walzer ). Although this "borrowing" could have been at Perrot's request, it was likely Pugni who was responsible for it: Strauss's waltz was written in honor of the great suspension-bridge completed in 1828 in Budapest , and likely it was an ode to Taglioni suggesting she was also a "wonder of the world". Another "borrowed" theme turns up in the Ballerina's variation from the Pas de Six from Saint-Léon's 1844 , which contains a theme from the Ballerina's variation ( Pas Seul ) of Adolphe Adam 's score for Ferdinand Albert 's 1842 La Jolie Fille du Gand - Pugni likely "borrowed" this theme for the great Fanny Cerrito , who danced the leads in both works, as the audience would have likely remembered her great success in the varition from La Jolie Fille du Gand , a ballet which was given only two years before the premiere of La Vivandière .

Pugni's score for Saint-Léon's Diavolina , a ballet set in 18th century Naples that was staged for the Paris Opera in 1863, was a pastiche of popular Italian airs, all chosen by Saint-Léon for Pugni to interpolate into his score. One Parisian critic of the publication Le France Musicale who viewed the premiere of Diavolina was under the impression Pugni had chose these selections himself, stating in his review that the composer "...has found it fit to pillage the celebrated collection of popular airs called 'Passatempi Musicali'...with an admirable candour, he has literally transcribed from it a dozen well-known airs. He has also added other no less well-known airs, such as 'Le Roi Dagobert' and 'Marlborough'...A pleasing musical hors d'oeuvre to mention is the 'Danse des Pêcheurs', which is none other than the 'Chasse aux Hirondelles', a polka-galop by Maximilian Graziani, from whon Saint-Léon has often borrowed airs for his ballets."

The judgement of history that Cesare Pugni was a hack composer whose music is nowhere near deserving of serious notice rests, not on a balanced assessment of his work, but on generalised statements that have taken hold over the last fifty or so years when modern audiences and critics have encountered the music of the 19th century specialist ballet composers , and the impression of such music in relation to the more symphonic ballet scores of such composers as Glazunov , Tchaikovsky , Stravinsky , and so on. Interestingly, many have dismissed Pugni as a hack composer while only having heard a minute fraction of his work, the majority of which is not even presented as he originally scored it.












Pugni was well-known for the quickness with which he worked, requiring very little time to complete an entire score. His ballet Ondine took him only three weeks, and La Esmeralda just two weeks. He was known to prepare brilliant individual dances and divertessments in a single day, and if the need should arise he could score a supplemental variation for a Ballerina in only an hour or less, along with complete orchestration . Such speed in composition had its consequences however, for some of Pugni's surviving scores show errors, unevenness, and the occasional negligence, but taken as a whole was always eminently danceable and far superior to the work of many other ballet composers of his time - indeed few composers of the period knew their metre better than Cesare Pugni.

Pugni was always on the lookout for inspiration for his scores. According to Benjamin Lumley 's account of the creation of La Esmeralda Pugni and Perrot "often burnt the midnight oil in working out the scenario, where Pugni was always ready to seize any idea that might suggest itself for a situation or Pas . Pugni's scores always reflected the genre, locale, or mood of the scenario, a feature sorely lacking in many of the ballet compositions of the period, as during this time, no matter if the ballet was set in the Middle-East, France, or Spain, many composers gave out the same style of music. His greatest talent was in his nearly super-human ability to craft an unlimited variety of infectious and memorable melodies for his ballets.

For Perrot's 1843 Ondine , Pugni composed music for the under-water scenes to reflect the setting, with instrumentaion suggesting enchanted caverns beneath the sea. The reviews for the ballet's premiere from The Times , a London newspaper, praised Pugni's score as being "singularly appropriate, quite descriptive, and adding charm to the perfection of the ballet. In the scene were the young fisherman Mattéo is conveyed into the depths of the sea, and the Naiads dance their many fascinations around him, the musical accompaniments which describe the rise and fall of the waves are eminently characteristic and beautiful: the very ripple of the flow, and the rushing sound of the ebb over the pebbly strand are heard, and fully satisfy the ear." For Saint-Léon's 1850 Stella , set in 18th century Italy, Pugni created a score filled with a great variaty of scintillating Neopolitan melodies, while for the death of Esmeralda in Perrot's 1844 La Esmeralda Pugni scored a somber organ solo. A critic from the London newspaper The Illustrated London praised Pugni's score for Paul Taglioni 's 1849 The Winter Pastimes (AKA The Ice Skaters ), which was set in a winter garden and on a frozen lake. The critic described Pugni's music as "graphically describing every episode, even imitating the sound of gliding on ice."

Pugni's score for Perrot's 1846 Catarina was hailed as a masterwork of genius, according to one critic of The Times "Pugni's music (for Catarina ) is filled with an overwhelming wealth of magnificent melodies, making one marvel at his unlimited fantasy, which never seems to falter. His waltzes and polkas are some of the most beautiful ever heard of the stage of ( Her Majesty's Theatre ) , and cause Perrot's equally masterful dances to sparkle with extraordinary brilliance." The critics who attended the premiere of Saint-Léon's 1864 The Little Humpbacked also hailed Pugni's score as a work of genius, as it contained agreat variety of differing musical styles for Russian folk dances, fantastical scenes set on magical isles and under-water, and for the oriental style of the Khan's palace. One critic of the St. Petersburg Gazette reported "Pugni's music is of the highest quality and originality, filled with wondrous and memorable themes. Mme. Muravieva (the creator of the lead role of the Tsar Maiden) made her entrance in the 'Grand Ballabile' set by or Balletmaster (Arthur Saint-Léon) on an enchanted isle. She danced her variation with cabrioles and pirouettes 'sur le pointe' (on her toes) to Pugni's beautiful violin solo, which moved the audience to such a degree that they at once demanded an encore." The critic went on - "Pugni has written a ( Waltz for the Anitmated Frescoes ) in the Khan's palace that has a most wonderful well as a spectacular march in the last scene played by the orchestra with great pomp, that no less pleased the Emperor ( Tsar Alexander II ) a great deal. The composer was called for (during the curtain calls) by the public no less that ten times."

Like many of the specialist ballet composers who came before him and after him, Pugni used rehearsals to create a vast majority of his scores. He would often present many multiple melodic passages to the Balletmaster for his approval for a particular Pas or scene. In 1848 Pugni accompanied Jules Perrot to St. Petersburg, where the Balletmaster staged the first Russian production of La Esmeralda for the Imperial Ballet, with Pugni revising his original score. The memoirs of the Ballerina Anna Petrovna Natarova gives an account of a rehearsal held for the production - " 1848 we had a chance to see how the Balletmaster Perrot, in truth a genius, produce the ballet 'La Esmeralda' (for the Imperial Ballet). The composer Pugni arrived (at rehearsal) with music and showed Perrot what he had written. Pugni came with two violinists: Alexander Nikolaevich Lyadov and Sokolov. Perrot had determined in advance the tempi and the number of bars for each piece. Pugni had prepared it thus: at one end of a piece of paper he had written the motif of a particular number, but if the sheet were turned upside-down, you would find written there another theme for the same piece. He shows Perrot the music. The musicians play it. Perrot listens. 'Well then, will it do?' asks Pugni. 'No it won't says Perrot. And we young girls waited impatiently for Pugni to turn over the page. This very much entertained us. 'And how about this?' asked Pugni. 'That is fine' answered Perrot."

An extensive archive of Cesare Pugni's music is to be found in the archives of the Paris Conservatoire , which is today incorporated in the Department of Music of the National Library of France , as well as some manuscripts which are extant in the British Library , and the Paris Opèra . The collection extant in the Paris Conservatoire is mostly of the ballets of Jules Perrot , the majority of which were scored by Pugni. Much of these ballets, along with many others Pugni composed in London and in St. Petersburg were published in their day in piano reduction, and sold very well, though no manuscript appears to be extant, a testament to the popularity of the music, as most likely the scores were played until they fell apart. The National Library of France holds not nearly as many scores, but it does contain manuscripts of a few of the ballets Pugni scored for Arthur Saint-Léon, including the original manuscript for The Little Humpbacked Horse . Perhaps the greatest archive of Pugni's original scores is housed in the Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg , which it has been said contains every ballet Pugni wrote while in Russia (including revisions to other works created for other theatres abroad), among them, the coveted original score for The Pharaoh's Daughter , as well as many other scores for ballets produced elsewhere that were also mounted in Russia. Another archive of Pugni's is to be found in the archives of the Harvard University Library Theatre Collection , which holds the famous Sergeyev Collection - a cache of choreographic notation and musical répétiteurs for the ballets of Marius Petipa.

The few modern musicologists who have studied Pugni's other compositions (such as Ivor Guest ): his masses, operas, symphonies, and other orchestral pieces, are quite surprised that the same hand that scored such ballets as Ondine , La Esmeralda , or The Pharaoh's Dughter composed such innovative and original pieces. The quality of these works clearly demonstrates his ability as a composer - his symphonies were written in the same style as those of Joseph Haydn , many of which are far more complicated, where as his operas were scored in the same manner as those of Rossini , or perhaps Bellini . A few of his masses and his orchestral pieces, particularly his pieces for small orchestras can be occasionally heard in performance, largely in Europe, by many prominent ensembles. Perhaps one day more of these pieces will come to light.

The music of Cesare Pugni