This is a witty and comical suite in a toe-tapping, active, firmly tonal style, easily comprehensible by an average concert audience.
The composer, Nino Rota (1911 - 1979) was an inspired choice to score the ballet Le Molière imaginaire for the great choreographer Maurice Béjart. Rota, born in Milan and educated at the Conservatory there, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, was a genuine musical prodigy, and had formed an attachment to French culture during childhood visits there. He became Italy's most famous film music composer, but as such (and because his concert and operatic music were tonal and conservative) he was dismissed as an unimportant composer by most European commentators during the period from about 1950 to 1980 when experimental and twelve-tone music held sway over critics, musical academics, and concert programmers.
One compositional habit in particular came up for disapproving remarks: his penchant for pastiche of various past style, which quite often turned into outright quotation -- often of his own earlier music but sometimes of others' music. Reassessment of this habit leads to the conclusion that such music is often an homage. One of the most noticed examples of such incorporation is his use of the Larghetto from Dvorák's Opus 22 Serenade as a theme for a character in Fellini's film La Strada. It took some a while to recognize that this usage of past music for purposes of evocation mirrors Fellini's frequent delving into the past, both personal and cultural.
Béjart's Molière project was conceived for commemorations of the 300th anniversary of the death of the great French dramatist. The choreographer had long admired Fellini's films and the scores Rota composed for them, and asked Rota to collaborate on the ballet. Rota's music achieves, in terms that are definitely of the twentieth century, music that incorporates the sound, style, and mood of the great age of Louis XIV and the French Baroque music that became associated with Molière's theater. The ballet received a double premiere, being presented for the first time on December 3, 1976, at both the Comédie-Française in Paris and the Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie in Brussels.
After that the ballet went on a successful European tour. In 1978 Rota prepared this orchestral suite of seven movements drawn from the ballet score and conducted its premiere in Naples on December 15, 1978, not long before his own death. Despite the popularity of the ballet, there were no more performances of the entire suite until 1999, at the instigation of the Swedish record label Bis, in preparation for a recording by Hannu Koivula and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra.
The ballet itself concerned both the life and the work of Molière, and thus the full score has a substantial amount of melancholy and tragic music. However, the suite focuses on Molière's theater, stressing its often sardonic wit. There are seven movements, titled "Ouverture"; "Molière"; "Danse des comédiens"; "Armande"; "Danse du roi"; "La Nature"; and "Pont Neuf, le Roi (Galop)."