The Four Temperaments

Choreography by: George Balanchine

Music by: Paul Hindemith

A ballet with unceasing appeal, The Four Temperaments references the medieval concept of psychological humors through its classically grounded but definitively modern movement.

The score for this ballet was commissioned by George Balanchine from Paul Hindemith in 1940. The ballet, together with Ravel’s opera L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, constituted the opening program of Ballet Society (the direct predecessor of the New York City Ballet) on November 20, 1946. In Complete Stories of the Great Ballets, Balanchine wrote of the ballet that it “is an expression in dance and music of the ancient notion that the human organism is made up of four different humors, or temperaments. Each one of us possesses these four humors, but in different degrees, and it is from the dominance of one of them that the four physical and psychological types — melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic, and choleric — were derived …. Although the score is based on this idea of the four temperaments, neither the music nor the ballet itself makes specific or literal interpretation of the idea. An understanding of the Greek and medieval notion of the temperaments was merely the point of departure for both composer and choreographer.”

An accomplished pianist, Balanchine commissioned the score because he wanted a short work he could play at home with friends during his evening musicales. It was completed in 1940 and had its first public performance at a 1944 concert with Lukas Foss as the pianist.


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Theme with Four Variations [According to the Four Temperaments], for string orchestra and piano (1940); commissioned by George Balanchine
November 20, 1946, Ballet Society, Central High School of Needle Trades, New York
NYC Ballet Premiere
October 25, 1948, City Center for Music and Drama
Original Cast
Beatrice Tompkins, José Martinez, Elise Reiman, Lew Christensen, Gisella Caccialanza, Francisco Moncion, William Dollar, Georgia Hiden, Rita Karlin, Mary Ellen Moylan, Fred Danieli, Todd Bolender, Tanaquil Le Clercq

32 Min.
Costumes by
Kurt Seligmann (from 1951, performed in practice clothes and without scenery)
Set by
Kurt Seligmann
Lighting by
Mark Stanley