Vivian Fine





The Race of Life
Ballet for Doris Humphrey; choreography based on a series of drawings by James Thurber


Original ballet score (piano): 1937
Orchestral arrangement: 1956


22 minutes


Dance composition: Piano and percussion
Orchestral arrangement: 2021, 2221, timpani, percussion, piano, strings


January 23, 1938, Guild Theater, New York City; Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Jose Limon and Dance Company. Vivian Fine, piano, (percussionist unidentified)

Orchestral arrangement: April 27, 1956, Juilliard Dance Theater, New York City; Doris Humphrey and Dance Company, Juilliard Orchestra, Frederick Prausnitz conducting

Orchestral arrangement using slides instead of dancers, April 16, 1961, Poughkeepsie, New York, Hudson Valley Philharmonic, Claude Monteux conducting.

program notes

…it was quite a score and quite an experience. She [Fine] was a true collaborator in a field, that of composing for dance, which is so different from other kinds of program music that it calls for unique qualifications….My enthusiasm for James Thurber led me to select one of his series of drawings, at the time brand new, concerning the adventures of a middle class American Family called The Race of Life. Vivian and I both loved his dry and improbable humor…The scenes were all quite short, six of them, and had subject matter with a challenging range: The Beautiful Stranger, Night Creatures, Indians, Spring Song, culminating in the achievement of the goal, a mountain top covered with the heart’s desire—gold, jewels and money.
     Vivian Fine met all these moods with imagination and a full awareness of their Thurberian gaucherie and humor. Even his Beautiful Stranger is no chic adolescent, but plainly bears the germ of the full-grown Thurber female, rather hard, aggressive and blowsy. To catch such a conception in music was a difficult feat. She treated the Indians with a very funny version of an authentic pseudo-Indian popular song. Both in the music and the dance our Indians were phony, gaudy cigar-store fixtures. Night Creatures was handled with grotesquerie, but still with a dreamlike delicacy. At this point she added to the all-piano score a Flexotone whose sliding eeriness exactly met the requirements of the weird scene. In its entirety it was a notable score—bright, humorous, expert.
     ….in all her undertakings in the dance field, she has an uncanny sense of what to choose as sound and that sine qua none for dance composers, a complete understanding of body rhythms and dramatic timing.

–Doris Humphrey, American Composers Alliance Bulletin, 1958


“Vivian Fine’s music is miraculously right for the romping nonsense it accompanies.”

–Mary O’Donnell, The Dance Observer, March 1938