Leonard Bernstein's 1944 musical On the Town -- really an expanded version of Bernstein and Jerome Robbins' shorter work, Fancy Free (though the music is completely different) -- had a first run of over 450 performances and is today remembered fondly as the source of the tune "New York, New York;" when Bernstein extracted the Three Dance Episodes, a orchestral concert-piece, from the score some months later, he dutifully made sure that that famous tune figured prominently into one of the episodes. First performed in February 1946 by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the Three Dance Episodes from On the Town are precisely what we would expect from Bernstein at this early stage in his career (only in his twenties) -- a peculiar and fresh blend of symphony, jazz, pop, and Coplandesque Americana.
Each of the Dance Episodes is dedicated to a person intimately involved in the production of On the Town. The first episode, called "The Great Lover," is drawn from music used during a scene in which one of our three sailor-heroes falls asleep in the subway and dreams of Ivy Smith, whose picture he has just seen posted in the subway as the winner of the subway-sponsored "Miss Turnstiles" pageant; Bernstein dedicated the episode to Sono Osata, the ballerina who originated the role of Miss Turnstiles. The music bustles along as does the machinated subway car in which our sailor sleeps, breaking into swing music as it goes.
Episode No. 2 is called "Lonely Town" (Pas de deux) and is dedicated to Betty Comden, who, along with Bernstein and Adolf Green, developed the show. It is a tender duet danced by a sailor and a teenage girl met in Central Park; Copland's "American" style has never been more perfectly absorbed into another composer's manner, and then more strikingly adorned with foreign elements (blues in particular), than it is in this three-and-a-half minute charmer.
The final episode, extracted from the finale to Act I, opens in true jazz-combo fashion, clarinet solo and rhythm section taking charge. As our three sailors roam Times Square in search of diversion, the strains of "New York, New York" fill the air (or, in this case, the concert-hall). The episode, which is called "Times Square," is dedicated to Nancy Walker, a player in the original production.