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Billy the Kid (ballet)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Billy the Kid
ChoreographerEugene Loring
MusicAaron Copland
Based onthe story of Billy the Kid
Premiere16 October 1938
Civic Opera House (Chicago)
Original ballet companyBallet Caravan Company
SettingWild West

Billy the Kid is a 1938 ballet written by the American composer Aaron Copland on commission from Lincoln Kirstein. It was choreographed by Eugene Loring for Ballet Caravan. Along with Rodeo and Appalachian Spring, it is one of Copland's most popular and widely performed pieces. It is most famous for its incorporation of several cowboy tunes and American folk songs and, although built around the figure and the exploits of Billy the Kid, is not so much a biography of a notorious but peculiarly appealing desperado as it is a perception of the "Wild West", in which a figure such as Billy played a vivid role.[1]

It premiered on 16 October 1938[2] in Chicago by the Ballet Caravan Company, with pianists Arthur Gold and Walter Hendl performing a two-piano version of the score. The first performance in New York City occurred on 24 May 1939, with an orchestra conducted by Fritz Kitzinger.

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Setting: New Mexico and Arizona, 1870s and 1880s

The story follows the life of the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid. It begins with "The Open Prairie" and shows many pioneers trekking westward. The action shifts to a small frontier town, in which a young Billy and his mother are present. His mother is killed by a stray bullet during a gunfight and he stabs her killer, then goes on the run.

The next scene shows episodes in Billy's later life. He is living in the desert, is hunted and captured by a posse (in which the ensuing gun battle features prominent percussive effects) and taken to jail. He manages to escape after stealing a gun from the warden during a game of cards and returns to his hideout, where he thinks he is safe, but sheriff Pat Garrett catches up and shoots him to death. The ballet ends with "The Open Prairie" theme and pioneers once again travelling west.

Order of numbers

  1. Introduction: The Open Prairie
  2. Street Scene in a Frontier Town
  3. Mexican Dance and Finale
  4. Prairie Night (Card Game at Night, Billy and his Sweetheart)
  5. Gun Battle
  6. Celebration (After Billy's Capture)
  7. Billy's Death
  8. The Open Prairie Again


Woodwinds Brass Percussion Strings
piccolo 4 horns in F piano harp
2 flutes 3 trumpets in B♭ timpani 1st and 2nd violins
2 oboes 3 trombones bass drum violas
2 clarinets in B♭ tuba cymbals cellos
2 bassoons triangle contrabasses
snare drum
sleigh bells
gourd (or guiro)


Cowboy and folk tunes were heavily used, for instance:[3]

It also includes the Mexican Jarabe dance, played in 5
by a solo trumpet, just before "Goodbye Old Paint".[3]


The eight movements of the ballet make up the first seven tracks of jazz guitarist Bill Frisell's album "Have a Little Faith".

See also


  1. ^ Walter Terry, Ballet Guide, 1976, p. 57
  2. ^ This premiere date is persistently but incorrectly listed as October 6 in many standard reference works and Copland biographies, but contemporary advertisements and reviews in Chicago newspapers confirm October 16 as the correct premiere date.
  3. ^ a b Elizabeth Bergman Crist (Dec 11, 2008). Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland during the Depression and War. Oxford University Press. p. 74. ISBN 9780199888801.

External links

This page was last edited on 10 June 2024, at 01:00
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