Composing The Little Mermaid Score


When John Neumeier sent me the first draft of the libretto he added in the letter, which accompanied it, that I should use this libretto very freely — as a source for inspiration and as a suggestion for the structure — so that in return the music could inspire the choreography and vice-versa. During the work on the ballet we met many times in New York, Hamburg, Baden-Baden, and Copenhagen – and sometimes talked for hours on the telephone, an ocean across from each other, so there was always a mental link between us. Yet we also spent long stretches of time working separately and sometimes our visions of the Mermaid and her world would slightly depart from each other and it would take some effort to adjust each other’s perspective. In some ways it is like two parents raising a child, or raising a Mermaid in this case. In fact the work went through so much transformation, as we went along, that the original libretto that I received from John bares little resemblance to the final work.

In some ways our The Little Mermaid is a very intimate work. It is about personal transformation and about relationship between a creator (Andersen) and his creation (Mermaid).  A lot of the material is written as chamber music. Yet, it is also a larger than life story of love, death, personal identity, time, and timelessness. It deals in three levels  – under the ocean (Mermaid’s world), on earth (human world) and above earth (after-world), and for this the large canvas – full orchestra is needed. Just the ocean with its multiple depths, layers, colors, shifting movements requires a large mural and a full pallet to work with.

In Andersen’s tale, Mermaid has a most beautiful haunting voice. I was searching for a very special sound. I even thought of using a singer, but it did not feel right as it was too real, too hot-bloodedly human. I needed the voice from the dreams, haunting, fragile and powerful at the same time, strange and expressive. Mermaids in different world’s tales can lure the sailors and cause ship-racks, because when men would hear their singing ­– the time itself would stop to listen and one could completely loose oneself and die for their magical voices.  I found the timbre I was searching for in the sound of the Theremin, the very first electronic instrument, created in the 1920’s by Leo Theremin. The instrument is incredibly expressive – think of a mixture between cello and flute to have an idea of its sound. Also, there is something very mysterious in this instrument, as it is played by moving hands in the air, no strings attached, no keyboards. The instrument itself is an electromagnetic field, created by its antenna. There is something magical about creating the sounds from emptiness. The instrument also is an outsider of the standard orchestra just like Little Mermaid is an outsider of her surroundings, and to represent a creature who becomes a spirit of air – the theremin seemed most appropriate. For Mermaid’s human nature – I have chosen a solo violin. Thus, there is a duality between the solo violin and theremin, representing the dual nature of this chimera. The ballet’s orchestration is for the full symphony orchestra and is highly multilayered, presenting different levels, similar to the ocean’s complex co-existence of different worlds.


Yuan Yuan Tan in Neumeier's The Little Mermaid (© Erik Tomasson)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Comment

  1. Posted March 20, 2010 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed reading about your creative process and look forward to hearing the music. -In sea greens and shimmering blues I hope.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  • Categories

  • Archived

  • Recent Posts

//google code goes here