Despite Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1952 revival production, which did much to revitalise the popularity of Delibes’ 1876 ballet Sylvia, it remains somewhat overshadowed by his earlier, extremely successful, ballet Coppelia.
The music, though, is absolutely delightful and had numerous admirers at the time. These included Tchaikovsky, no less, who said that it was “the first ballet in which the music constitutes not only the chief but the sole point of interest”. Praise indeed, but his comment also points to the ballet’s underlying failing – a thin storyline – in brief, (and in Ashton’s words) ‘boy loves girl, girl captured by bad man, girl restored to boy by a god’. Delibes, recognising that his music may be forgotten, decided to put together a concert suite – of which Pizzicati forms part. As its name implies the piece was, unsurprisingly, originally largely scored for pizzicato strings – but works surprisingly well on four bassoons!