Some composers dedicated most of their time to writing music for ballet, some composers tried their hand in writing a ballet, and some composers wrote only one ballet in their entire career (maybe a masterpiece or a fluff piece that is forgotten now).
And then there is Mozart. He is considered the greatest composer of Western music. And even if he had composed only one ballet, he is important for ballet music because almost all composers of his time tried to copy his ideas when writing a ballet. He composed various pieces, but he is not known for his ballet which is a shame because the story of his only ballet deserves a story of its own.
Les petits riens
Not all ballet stories have complicated plots and last two hours. Some of them are shorter, and their plot is simple so that they can be shown during the breaks of another play or opera.
The choreographer Noverre asked Mozart to compose a divertissement, a type of ballet known for showing the talent of the dancers, not really having an impact on the story.
Les petits riens is a ballet formed of only three scenes.
During the first scene, Cupid is imprisoned in a birdcage by a shepherd and shepherdess. The second scene presents the game of hide and seek (Colin-Maillard) of the shepherd and shepherdess. And in the final scene, Cupid dresses a girl into a shepherd to trick the shepherdess. Our shepherdess confesses her love to the girl dressed as a shepherd but soon realizes that she had been a victim of a trickery played by Cupid.
The ballet by Mozart was almost lost forever
As I have mentioned, some ballets are shown during the breaks for other operas. Les petits riens was presented to the audience as an intermezzo (between the half of the show) during the opera La finta gemelle (1778)
But Mozart’s name was not written on any poster, his involvement remaining a secret almost, and somehow the libretto was lost. Some parts of it could be recovered from a newspaper from Paris and so the ballet could still be played, but other parts were lost with the libretto. And so, the music that Mozart had composed, his only ballet, had also been lost.
Almost one hundred years later, another composer named Viktor Wilder accidentally found it at the library from the Opéra national de Paris and the original music could be once again used for this ballet.
It was discovered that in the original version there were 20 dances and almost 15 were written by Mozart (and we can say this for sure because of the music that is characteristically for him). Also, he reused some of them for other pieces, easing our detective work of finding the true composer for the musical pieces.
The other dances were improvised by Noverre by using similar music belonging to Tartini and Gluck (a great ballet music composer – Don Juan).
Today the ballet is still played at some companies, a short story with gorgeous music that has the ability to warm even the coldest hearts. Do not hesitate any longer and search the nearest ballet companies to see when Les petits riens is going to be put on stage for everyone to be seen. I am sure that you will not regret buying a ticket and seeing a (short) comedy ballet. Or if you do not find any ballet company that will stage Les petits riens then listen to the piece online and try to imagine the beautiful dances of the shepherd and shepherdess and the playful game of Cupid.