Jerome Robbins approached Tharp to collaborate on a new work for New York City Ballet in early 1983. Shortly before his death, George Balanchine suggested Tharp and Robbins select Johannes Brahms’ "Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel.” They took his advice and began work on Brahms/Handel, a uniquely collaborative endeavor.
The two choreographers agreed that all the material they made was fair game: Robbins riffed on Tharp’s phrases; Tharp inverted Robbins’ steps. They created variations on each other’s variations, not just on the theme. The spacing and staging was also built collaboratively. Tharp might set her dancers upstage and Robbins would bring his cast onstage in the middle of the phrase to begin a new section.
In homage to Balanchine, Tharp and Robbins incorporated references to two of his ballets, Serenade (1935) and Bugaku (1962). "…[We] were all feeling pretty lost because Balanchine had just died,” Maria Calegari recalls, “[Brahms/Handel] was just a really, wonderfully inspiring experience - for myself particularly - because I found that there was a connecting thread between Balanchine's work and Twyla's work.”
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 (1861) composed for solo piano.
Orchestrated by Edmund Rubbra
Performed by the NBC Symphony Orchestra (monophonic)
(A set of 25 variations and a Fugue based on Handel's Harpsichord Suite No. 1in B-flat minor, HWV 434.)
Performed during the 1990 Jerome Robbins Festival