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Stravinsky, Igor

By his early thirties, Igor Stravinsky had captured the world stage with The Firebird, dazzled audiences with Petrushka and incited riots with The Rite of Spring.  Before the First World War, he had earned his place as a seminal figure of the 20th century.  We’ll explore this fascinating life and sample his works.

Program 1

One of the more pastoral passages of the Firebird suite opens this segment, showcasing the sound of early classical music in Russia. To contrast Stravinsky with the earliest Russian tunes, we give a listen to Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture, which sounds like what would likely happen if Haydn composed Romantic period music. It is derivative of many composers, and this showcases just how new classical music was in Russia in the 19th century. The Russian Five then emerged, and a divide emerged between them; Tchaikovsky opted for a more German sound, whilst Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky have attempted to sound more intrinsically Russian. When Stravinsky emerged, he took inspiration from both sides. Rimsky-Korsakov in particular proved to be such an inspiration to Stravinsky that his Symphony No. 1 in E-flat was dedicated to the older composer. We hear bits and pieces from the first and second movements. Next is the Pastorale, which Stravinsky wrote shortly after he got married. It is a short song, and we soon move onto the Scherzo Fantastique, the first hint at some of Stravinsky's harsher sounds. Next is a small piece called Fireworks, and then an equally fiery piece--the famous Firebird. Petrushka, 1st tableau closes this segment, as well as Stravinsky's Russian career.

Stravinsky: Firebird III (excerpt)
EMI 47099

Glinka: Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture
RCA 61394

Stravinsky: Symphony No. 1 in E-flat, I & II (excerpts)
Detroit Symphony/Dorati
Lon 414456

Stravinsky: Pastorale
Ens. Intercontemporaine/Boulez; Bryn-Julson, s.
DG 2531 377

Stravinsky: Scherzo Fantastique
St. Petersburg Phil/Ashkenazy
Lon 448812

Stravinsky: Fireworks
Mercury 431012

Stravinsky: Firebird I & II
EMI 47099

Stravinsky: Petrushka, 1st tableau
Lond 443775

Program 2

This segment picks up right where the last one left off with excerpts from Petrushka: 2nd Tableau and 3rd Tableau. The music is as evocative of any ballet, but in Stravinsky's case it is jarring and emotional, with unsettling chords being used to represent Petrushka's jealousy and heartbreak, as well as his outright thrashing by the Moor. Stravinsky was not quite 30 when he wrote Petrushka, but it made him quite famous. What made him even more famous was the infamous yet celebrated ballet set to a primal representation of prehistoric Russia: the Rite of Spring. We don't have time for all of it, but we hear all of part one and a large section of part two. At the time of writing this, it is 2013--the Rite of Spring has turned 100.

Stravinsky: Petrushka: 2nd Tableau (excerpt), 3rd tableau
Lon 443775
1:17, 6:40, 13:50

Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps: Part I & Part II (excerpt)
Lon 417325
15:41, 10:21

Program 3

This segment begins with the third movement of the Song of the Nightengale, a setting of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale set in China, as is apparent from the opening bars. The next piece is much smaller, but again features similar themes and structures. We hear 3 Easy Pieces for Piano Duet, a couple of small pieces dedicated to three of his friends. Next, as Stravinsky's money ran out in the midst of the First World War, he teamed up with a friend and composed a number of pieces, one of which is L'Historie du Soldat, which features only a small touring ensemble. We hear a large portion of this piece. To close this segment out, we listen to another one of Stravinsky's ballet settings, which was inspired by some travels through Italy with a group of artsy folk, including his friend Pablo Picasso. This is Pulcinella, and we hear a few selections from it.

Stravinsky: Song of the Nightingale, III
RCA 5733

Stravinsky: 3 Easy Pieces for Piano Duet
Bridge 9051

Stravinsky: L’Histoire du Soldat (excerpts)
Members of Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Maazel
RCA 09026-68470

Stravinsky: Pulcinella (excerpts)
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
DG 445541

Program 4

This segment sees Stravinsky's stylistic transformation from his "Russian" period, marked by boundary-breaking and often primitivist music, to his Neoclassical period. We begin with the Octet for Winds, which illustrates the Neoclassical style as a form that despite some modern quirks is indeed harking back to older musical forms, against the grain of modernism that was emerging in the 1920s. Next are excerpts from Oedipus Rex and Apollo, the latter being produced as a commission from the Library of Congress in America. We don't hear very much of these pieces because room has been cleared so that we can hear the complete Symphony of Psalms, in all of its beautiful yet horriffic, classical yet modern glory.

Stravinsky: Octet for Winds
London Sinfonietta/Chailly
Lon 417114

Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex (excerpts)
DG 435872

Stravinsky: Apollo (excerpt)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Rattle
EMI 49636

Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra/Shaw
Tel 80254

Program 5

When the Second World War broke out, Stravinsky decided that Europe was no longer the place for him, and he boarded a ship that would take him to America for good. He began a transition from a Russian composer in exile to an American composer, and one of his first commissions in America was from P.T. Barnum: a bit of music for the circus, simply titled Circus Polka. Next is the third movement of the Ebony Concerto, written for Woody Herman as one of the seminal pieces in early attempts to combine jazz with symphonic music. Next is the final movement of the Violin Concerto, which sounds particularly classical in style. In the same year he composed the Ebony Concerto, Stravinsky was commissioned to compose a Symphony in Three Movements by the New York Philharmonic, of which we hear the first movement. It is good to note that despite his wide variety of ballets, Stravinsky was also a wonderful symphonic composer. Almost twenty years later, after being struck deeply by John F. Kennedy's assassination, he wrote the Elegy for JFK, which shifts drastically away from the Neoclassical sound in favor of what the Neoclassicists had been rebelling against: Serialism. To close out the segment, we pick up where we left off in the very beginning of the week with the conclusion of the Firebird, in all of its explosive glory.

Stravinsky: Circus Polka
LSO/Tilson Thomas
RCA 09026-68865

Stravinsky: Ebony Concerto, III
Woody Herman Orchestra
Everest 9049

Stravinsky: Violin Concerto (excerpt)
LSO/Rostropovich; Vengerov, p.
EMI 56966

Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements, I
Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio/Maazel
RCA 09026-68470

Stravinsky: Elegy for JFK
Berberian, s; Howland, Kreiselman & Russo, clarinets
Sony 89910

Stravinsky: The Firebird (excerpts)
EMI 47099


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