Kansas City Ballet dancers in The Four Temperaments (2015 production)

The Four Temperaments or Theme and Four Variations (The Four Temperaments)[1][2] is an orchestral work and ballet by Paul Hindemith. Although it was originally conceived as a ballet for Léonide Massine,[1] the score was ultimately completed as a commission for George Balanchine, who subsequently choreographed it as a neoclassical ballet based on the theory of the four temperaments.

The music was premiered in Switzerland by the Stadtorchester Winterthur under the direction of Hermann Scherchen on March 10, 1943.[3] However, Balanchine created the choreography a few years later. The ballet, The Four Temperaments was the first work Balanchine made for the Ballet Society, the forerunner of the New York City Ballet, and premiered on November 20, 1946, at the Central High School of Needle Trades, New York, during the Ballet Society's first performance. Though at the premiere, critics did not receive the ballet well, it was later acknowledged as a "masterpiece," and was revived by ballet companies worldwide.

Background and production

Kansas City Ballet's Angelina Sansone and Liang Fu in The Four Temperaments

Hindemith's score was borne from the success of his previous collaboration with Massine, Nobilissima Visione. Initially, they both conceived of a ballet based on the paintings of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, a score which the composer was projecting to being akin to a "Flemish peasant Persephone." Although Hindemith had composed a significant portion of the score according to Massine's scenario by 1940, he lost confidence in the choreographer after he devised an entirely new scenario for the work. On April 26, 1940, Hindemith wrote to his publisher, Willy Strecker of B. Schott's Söhne, that he had "broken off" his partnership with Massine, but that work on the score was continuing on schedule.[1] Although definitive proof has not been established,[1] it is generally believed that Hindemith's music from his aborted project ultimately became The Four Temperaments.[4] On November 4, 1940, Hindemith wrote that the music was "quite good and worthy of a better cause."[5]

Balanchine first commissioned the score from Hindemith for his own amusement, as a way to spend his income from working on Broadway and Hollywood, hoping he could enjoy listening to and play it on the piano. At the time, Balanchine approached Hindemith's agent about a commissioned and learned that it would cost five hundred dollars, but Hindemith was unavailable at the time. A year later, he became available, and the first part of the music was sent to Balanchine a week later.[6]: 208  The piece, "Theme with Four Variations (According to the Four Temperaments), for string orchestra and piano",[7] had its first hearing at Balanchine's apartment in 52 Street, Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, conducted by Edvard Fendler, Nicholas Kopeikine on the piano, and the orchestra consisted of Balanchine's friends including Nathan Milstein, Samuel Dushkin, Léon Barzin and Raya Garbousova.[6]: 208 

Balanchine first considered using Hindemith's score for a ballet in 1941, when the American Ballet was going tour in Latin America, sponsored by the State Department. The piece would be titled The Cave of Sleep, and Pavel Tchelitchew was brought in to design, but the project was abandoned due to its cost and Hindemith's objection.[6]: 208 

Hindemith's piece was ultimately used in The Four Temperaments, the first ballet George Balanchine choreographed for the Ballet Society.[6]: 209  The Ballet Society, co-founded by Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, was a subscription-only company that would mainly perform new works, and the forerunner of New York City Ballet.[6]: 206 [8] One of the lead dancers in the original cast, Tanaquil Le Clercq, was seventeen when she created a lead role in this ballet, which was also her first professional solo role.[6]: 239 

The costumes of the original production were designed by Kurt Seligmann, and were deemed impractical. Le Clercq called them "hideous" and "gave you a feeling of claustrophobia I can't describe." She noted the costumes include a wig with "a large white horn in the middle like a unicorn's," which she called "very irritating." It also included wings with "fingers enclosed."[9] Starting with a 1951 New York City Ballet revival, the costumes were replaced with practice clothes, which include black leotards for women, white T-shirts and black tights for men.[10][11]

Choreography and analysis

... [The ballet] is an expression in dance and music of the ancient notion that the human organism is made up of four different humors, or temperaments. Each one of us possesses these four humors, but in different degrees, and it is from the dominance of one of them that the four physical and psychological types—melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic, and choleric—were derived ... Although the score is based on this idea of the four temperaments, neither the music nor the ballet itself makes specific or literal interpretation of the idea. An understanding of the Greek and medieval notion of the temperaments was merely the point of departure for both composer and choreographer.

— George Balanchine, Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets (1977)[12]: 253 

The Four Temperaments, subtitled A Dance Ballet without Plot.[8] is an "abstract" plotless ballet, and as biographer Bernard Taper described, "unlike anything that had ever been seen in ballet before."[6]: 209  The choreography stems from the music, with emphasis on "pulse drive", "change of weight" and "foot and leg work", which would become part of Balanchine's vocabulary in making modernist works. The ballet features a theme and four variations that are based on the theory of four temperaments, including Melancholic, Sanguinic, Phlegmatic and Choleric.[8]

The ballet starts with the Theme, with three separate pas de deux. In the book The Faber Pocket Guide to Ballet, dance critic Luke Jennings and former Royal Ballet principal dancer Deborah Bull described, "The mood is pensive; several physical motifs are carefully developed, and by the third pas de deux the music’s speed is gathering."[13] The first variation, "Melancholic," starts with a male principal dancer. On the choreography of this role, Jennings and Bull wrote, "His movements are articulate, plastic and considered, but he is so earth-bound, and so abject. He searches for escape, but is imprisoned by his fascination with his own condition." Then, he joined by two female soloists, before four other women also enters the stage.[13] At the end of this section, the man bend his back backwards.[8]

The second variation, "Sanguinic," starts with a duet. Jennings and Bull commented, "Their steps and lifts are lit with morning brightness, hungry and speedy."[13] The New Yorker critic Arlene Croce noted the female role "is an allegro technician; but is also in character."[7] They are then joined by a corps de ballet of four women.[13] The third variation, "Phlematic," also starts with a male solo, which Jennings and Bull called "considerable articulacy, but his elaborate designs come to nothing in consequence of his intense inward focus."[13] He is later joined by another four women.[13] Croce wrote that this section "is indolent, tropical, given to detached contemplation, to pretentious vices."[7] The fourth and final variation, "Choleric," begin with a female solo, which Croce called an "angry goddess," then joined by the entire cast.[7] The ballet ends with a series of grand jeté lifts.[13]

At the premiere of the ballet, it was not well-received by critics for being "cold and depressing," but it was later regarded, as Jennings and Bull described, a "masterpiece."[13] In 1975, Croce wrote that it "is a messianic work, which conveys to this day the sense of a brilliant and bold new understanding."[7] The ballet is now regarded as one of Balanchine's "black and white" ballets.[8] In The Cambridge Companion to Ballet, edited by Marion Kant, it was described that by shifting to practice clothes, "Balanchine shifted the focus from spectacle to the dance itself and especially to the unadorned body and its natural line, its flexibility, agility, strength and submission to the force above all explored in The Four Temperaments."[8] It influenced other ballets with similar style choreographed by Balanchine, including Ivesiana, Agon, Movements for Piano and Orchestra, Stravinsky Violin Concerto and Kammermusik No. 2.[6]: 209 

Original cast

Section Dancers[14]
Theme Beatrice Tompkins
José Martinez
Elise Reiman
Lew Christensen
Gisella Caccialanza
Francisco Moncion
First variation: Melancholic William Dollar
Georgia Hiden
Rita Karlin
Second variation: Sanguinic Mary Ellen Moylan
Fred Danieli
Third variation: Phlematic Todd Bolender
Fourth variation: Choleric Tanaquil Le Clercq


Kansas City Ballet dancers in The Four Temperaments

The Four Temperaments premiered on November 20, 1946, at the auditorium of Central High School of Needle Trades (now High School of Fashion Industries) during Ballet Society's first performance. The stage was merely a raised surface, while the fifty members of the orchestra performed right in front of the audience due to the lack of an orchestra pit.[6]: 207 [9][15] Ravel's opera L'enfant et les sortilèges, also choreographed by Balanchine, was also performed the same night.[15] Due to the company's subscription-only policy, the press was not invited, but reviewers nevertheless were able to attend the performance by either purchasing a subscription themselves, or as Bernard Taper wrote, "sneaking into the auditorium."[6]: 209 

New York City Ballet, the successor of Ballet Society, revived The Four Temperaments during one of their earliest performances.[16] Other ballet companies that had performed the ballet include Paris Opera Ballet,[17] The Royal Ballet,[18] San Francisco Ballet,[19] National Ballet of Canada,[20] Dutch National Ballet,[21] Vienna State Ballet,[22] The Australian Ballet,[9] Pacific Northwest Ballet,[23] Boston Ballet,[24] Houston Ballet,[25] Joffrey Ballet,[26] Pennsylvania Ballet[27] and Dance Theatre of Harlem.[28] At New York City Ballet's "Balanchine: The City Center Years" program in 2018, The Four Temperaments was performed by The Joffrey Ballet.[26] The School of American Ballet, the affiliate-school of New York City Ballet, had included The Four Temperaments in their annual workshop performances.[29]


In 1977, Balanchine, who had long been interested in filming ballets, placed The Four Temperaments as his first choice for PBS' Dance in America broadcast.[8] Dancers who appeared in this broadcast include Bart Cook, Merrill Ashley, Daniel Duell, Adam Lüders and Colleen Neary.[30]


  1. ^ a b c d Corleonis, Adrian. "Paul Hindemith, Theme and Variations, 'Die vier Temperamente' (The Four Temperaments)". American Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  2. ^ Hindemith, Paul (1948). Theme and Four Variations (The Four Temperaments) (PDF). New York City: Associated Music Publishers.
  3. ^ "Werkverzeichnis Paul Hindemith: Theme with four Variations". Paul Hindemith Aktuelles. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  4. ^ Hewett, Ivan (1992). "Liner notes for Chandos CD CHAN 9124" (PDF). Chandos Records. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
  5. ^ Johnson, Sandra L. (2011). "Paul Hindemith's Philosophy of Music and the Role of The Four Temperaments". College Music Symposium. 51. JSTOR 26513067.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Taper, Bernard (1987). Balanchine: A Biography. ISBN 9780520060593.
  7. ^ a b c d e Croce, Arlene (April 30, 2003). Writing in the Dark, Dancing in The New Yorker: An Arlene Croce Reader. ISBN 9781429930130.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Kant, Marion (June 7, 2007). The Cambridge Companion to Ballet. p. 231-232. ISBN 9781139827195.
  9. ^ a b c Potter, Michelle (January 13, 2021). "The Four Temperaments. Some reflections".
  10. ^ Martin, John (November 23, 1951). "City Ballet Gives Balanchine Work; 'Four Temperaments,' to Music by Hindemith, is Revived-- 'Practice Clothes Used". New York Times.
  11. ^ Macaulay, Alastair (April 30, 2015). "Review: City Ballet's Balanchine Dances Open Spring Season". New York Times.
  12. ^ Balanchine, George; Mason, Francis (1977). Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385113816.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Jennings, Luke; Bull, Deborah (September 4, 2014). The Faber Pocket Guide to Ballet. Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571321605.
  14. ^ "George Balanchine Catalogue". The George Balanchine Foundation.
  15. ^ a b "New Ballet Group Enters Field Here; Balanchine Is Artistic Director of Ballet Society, Which Will Open Season on Nov.20". New York Times. October 21, 1946.
  16. ^ Martin, John (October 26, 1948). "City Ballet Gives 2 Special Works; Balanchine '4 Temperaments' and Eglevsky in 'Symphony in C' Top the Program". New York Times.
  17. ^ Sulcas, Roslyn (May 8, 2008). "Bringing Balanchine's 'Four Temperaments' to a Fevered Pitch". New York Times.
  18. ^ Liber, Vera. "The Four Temperaments / Untouchable / Song of the Earth". British Theatre Guide.
  19. ^ Tsao, Aimee (April 29, 2015). "San Francisco Ballet – Caprice, The Four Temperaments, Swimmer – San Francisco". DanceTabs.
  20. ^ Schubas, Martha (March 10, 2016). "National Ballet of Canada: A pairing of Balanchine and Ekman". The Globe and Mail.
  21. ^ Mackrell, Judith (May 18, 2001). "Dutch National Ballet 2". The Guardian.
  22. ^ Percival, John (November 5, 1968). "Viennese Dance 2 by Balanchine; American's Works Best of Troupe's Paris Repertory". New York Times.
  23. ^ "Pacific Northwest Ballet". The Washington Post. October 21, 1996.
  24. ^ Singer, Thea (May 8, 2010). "Boston Ballet hits 'Four Temperaments'". The Boston Globe.
  25. ^ Glentzer, Molly (May 23, 2014). "Houston Ballet's 'Four Temperaments' a pleasant event". The Houston Chronicles.
  26. ^ a b Seibert, Brian (November 6, 2018). "City Center's Balanchine Festival Lacked a Balanchine Quality: Boldness". New York Times.
  27. ^ Macaulay, Alastair (June 10, 2016). "Review: 'Balanchine and Beyond,' and Going Beyond Isn't Easy". New York Times.
  28. ^ Anderson, Jack (January 17, 1980). "Dance: Harlem's '4 Temperaments'". New York Times.
  29. ^ Harss, Marina (June 8, 2016). "School of American Ballet – Workshop Performance: Danses Concertantes, Les Gentilhommes, The Four Temperaments – New York". DanceTabs.
  30. ^ Krafft, Rebecca; O'Doherty, Brian (1991). The Arts on Television, 1976–1990: Fifteen Years of Cultural Programming. p. 4. ISBN 9780160359262.