The Ghosts of the Dance refers to picture that I came across of a couple who looked like they could be competing in one of the dance marathons held in thirties America. I had already started work on the piece when I realised that I was being unconsciously influenced by thirties and forties dance music, which I’m not aware of having paid much attention to, but assume that I heard on the radio as a child. Although the viola was not a feature of that music, the suave, caramel sound that it produces in it’s middle and lower registers makes is well suited to it. The piece begins as if you had opened a door and discovered your self in a thirties dance hall. The band are playing a mid-tempo number and many couples, the women in long evening dresses, the men in tuxedos, are dancing, and we are aware that they have been dancing for a very long time. The music quickens, as if pushing the dancers harder and harder, and gradually pairs drop out. Then the second dance begins, characterised by a slow tango rhythm played by plucked strings followed by a lyrical theme that is taken up by the viola. The gentle nature of this music perhaps encourages couple to take to the floor again. The music gradually builds in intensity, then repeats, with variations, and ends with a gentle coda. The third dance begins in the character of a soft-shoe-shuffle; a popular thirties and forties dance. Then increases in tempo to a wild orchestral episode, returns to the opening music and repeats this pattern three times. Then, after a short solo for the viola, we hear the very opening music again, which leads to a peaceful coda. By this time only one couple are left on the dance floor, and I imagine them leaving and making their way slowly home, as if in a painting by Edward Hopper.
Geoffrey Burgon 2009