Job: A Masque for Dancing

Job: A Masque for Dancing
Choreographer Ninette de Valois
Music Ralph Vaughan Williams
Libretto Geoffrey Keynes
Based on Book of Job, illustrated by William Blake
Premiere 5 July 1931
Cambridge Theatre, London
Original ballet company Vic-Wells Ballet (Royal Ballet)
Design Gwendolen Raverat
Setting Geoffrey Keynes

Job: A Masque for Dancing is a one act ballet produced for the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1931. Regarded as a crucial work in the development of British ballet, Job was the first ballet to be produced by an entirely British creative team.[1] The original concept and libretto for the ballet was proposed by the scholar Geoffrey Keynes, with choreography by Ninette de Valois, music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, orchestrations by Constant Lambert and designs by Gwendolen Raverat. The ballet is based on the Book of Job from the Hebrew Bible and was inspired by the illustrated edition by William Blake, published in 1826. Job had its world premiere on 5 July 1931, and was performed for members of the Camargo Society at the Cambridge Theatre, London. The first public performance of the ballet took place on 22 September 1931 at the Old Vic Theatre.[2]


The concept for a ballet based on the Book of Job was first proposed by the scholar Geoffrey Keynes, who was a respected authority on the work of William Blake.


The music for the ballet, titled Job: A Masque for Dancing, was written by the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams called it a "masque" because he disliked the word "ballet", but the work has no connection with the genre of masque. He began writing the score after the idea for the ballet was initially proposed to the Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who rejected it. As a result, the music was first written for a larger orchestra than could be accommodated in a conventional theatre pit and had its premiere in concert form in October 1930 at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, with Vaughan Williams conducting. When the ballet was eventually produced, the music was orchestrated for a small orchestra by Constant Lambert.

The full orchestral version is scored for three flutes (third doubling on piccolo and bass flute), two oboes, cor anglais, two clarinets (in Bb), alto saxophone, bass clarinet (doubling on third clarinet in Bb), two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns (in F), three trumpets (in Bb), three trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, side drum, cymbals, bass drum, xylophone, glockenspiel, tam tam, organ, two harp, and strings.

Vaughan Williams dedicated the score to the conductor Adrian Boult in 1934, after the composer had learned that the Bach Choir, which Boult had directed, raised funds towards the engraving of the full score of Job for publication as a parting gift to Boult.[3] Boult made four commercial recordings of the work, including the first recording in 1946 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra;[4] his fourth and final recording was taped in 1970 with the London Symphony Orchestra.[5]

O.A. Weltzien has written a detailed analysis of Blake's illustrations and Vaughan Williams' score.[6] F.W.D. Ries published an article containing reminiscences by Keynes of the original production and the later 1948 production.[1]

Performance history

The ballet was first performed by the Vic-Wells Ballet, with financial backing from the Camargo Society. It received its world premiere on 5 July 1931 and was staged for members of the society, at the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End theatre district. The role of Satan was performed by Anton Dolin, with Stanley Judson dancing the role of Elihu. The ballet subsequently received its public premiere on 22 September 1931 at the Old Vic Theatre. An adapted version of the ballet was also performed outdoors as part of the Lewisohn Stadium concerts, New York City in 1931, staged by Ted Shawn.

1948 revival

The first major revival of Job: A Masque for Dancing took place on 20 May 1948, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. By this time, the Vic-Wells Ballet had become known as the Sadler's Wells Ballet and had relocated from Sadler's Wells Theatre to become the resident ballet company at the opera house. Due to the significantly larger stage, Raverat's original set designs we no longer suitable for the ballet, so new designs were commissioned, produced by John Piper.[7]

The cast included:


The ballet includes 9 scenes, loosely based upon the sequence of Blake's illustrations and each including in the synopsis a quotation from the Bible. Vaughan Williams headed his score with 18 section headings.

– Introduction
– Pastoral Dance
– Satan's Appeal to God
– Saraband of the Sons of God

– Satan's Dance

– Minuet of the Sons and Daughters of Job

– Job's Dream
– Dance of Plague, Pestilence, Famine and Battle

– Dance of the Messengers

– Dance of Job's Comforters
– Job's Curse
– A Vision of Satan

– Elihu's Dance of Youth and Beauty
– Pavane of the Heavenly Host

– Galliard of the Sons of the Morning
– Altar Dance and Heavenly Pavane


  1. 1 2 Ries, Frank W. D. (1984). "Sir Geoffrey Keynes and the Ballet 'Job'". Dance Research. Edinburgh University Press. 2 (1): 19–34. doi:10.2307/1290777. ISSN 1750-0095. JSTOR 1290777 via JSTOR. (registration required (help)).
  2. "Royal Opera House Collections Online". Retrieved 2 September 2015.
    • Kennedy, Michael (1987). Adrian Boult. London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 0-333-48752-4.
  3. McNaught, W. (1946). "Gramophone Notes". The Musical Times. 87 (1243): 270–2. doi:10.2307/936029. ISSN 0027-4666. JSTOR 936029 via JSTOR. (registration required (help)).
  4. Ottaway, Hugh (1971). "Job by Vaughan Williams, LSO, Boult". The Musical Times. 112 (1542): 769. doi:10.2307/954633. ISSN 0027-4666. JSTOR 954633 via JSTOR. (registration required (help)).
  5. Weltzien, O. Alan (1992). "Notes and Lineaments: Vaughan Williams's 'Job: A Masque for Dancing' and Blake's 'Illustrations'". The Musical Quarterly. Oxford University Press. 76 (3): 301–36. doi:10.1093/mq/76.3.301. ISSN 1741-8399. JSTOR 742481 via JSTOR. (registration required (help)).
  6. "Royal Opera House Collections Online". Retrieved 2 September 2015.
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