Stravinsky’s Suites Nos. 1 and 2 for Small Orchestra: Jubilant Miniatures

As the First World War raged throughout Europe, Igor Stravinsky lived in exile in Switzerland. In the years leading up to the war, Stravinsky had created immense and colorful orchestral scores, which included The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913) for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris. Now, with changing circumstances, Stravinsky’s music became smaller, with more intimate instrumentation. These included eight charming piano duets with “easy right hand.” Stravinsky composed Three Easy Pieces (1915) …

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Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Poulenc: Three Twentieth Century Pastorales

With roots in the Baroque period, the musical pastorale evokes a serene, bucolic landscape. Often, it rolls along in a gentle 6/8 time and suggests the simple, free-floating melodies and drones of a shepherd’s bagpipes. J.S. Bach’s Pastorella In F Major, BWV 590 for organ, the final movement of Corelli’s “Christmas” Concerto, and the Pastoral Symphony from Handel’s Messiah are famous examples. The sound world of the twentieth century was dominated by …

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Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress”: “No Word From Tom,” Dawn Upshaw

Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera, The Rake’s Progress, is a morality play with Faustian undertones. Its English-language libretto, written by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, tells the story of Tom Rakewell, a man who abandons his fiancée, Anne Trulove, to pursue a life of gambling and debauchery in the brothels of eighteenth century London. Urged on by Nick Shadow, a shady character who turns out to be the Devil in disguise, Tom ends up …

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Stravinsky’s Septet: A Turn to Serialism

The Septet, completed in 1953, marks a stylistic turning point in the musical catalogue of Igor Stravinsky. The first movement is a sparkling and witty celebration of neoclassicism. Its dense, pristine counterpoint seems like a twentieth century retrofit of music from the Baroque and Classical periods. In the second and third movements, the tonal center fades and the music enters the twelve tone world of serialism. For the first time, Stravinsky abandons …

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Stravinsky’s “Orpheus”: Melancholy, Love, and Mystery

“Myths never were, but always are,” wrote the 4th century Roman commentator, Sallustius. So it is with the story of Orpheus, which inspired Igor Stravinsky and George Balanchine in mid-twentieth century Hollywood as deeply as it did Claudio Monteverdi in 1607 and the lyric poet Ibycus in the 6th century BC. In 1946, Stravinsky received a commission from Balanchine and the impresario, Lincoln Kirstein, for a contemporary treatment of the Orpheus story. The resulting …

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Stravinsky Meets Tchaikovsky: Reimagining “The Sleeping Beauty”

Tchaikovsky’s fairytale ballet, The Sleeping Beauty, was first performed at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre on January 15, 1890. Among the audience members of this premiere production was the eight-year-old Igor Stravinsky, who later noted it as a formative musical experience. For the first time, the young Stravinsky was struck by the majesty of the orchestra, and well as the music of Tchaikovsky, a personal friend of Stravinsky’s father. In January of 1941, Stravinsky received a …

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Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements: Rhythmic Delirium

Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements is a delirious celebration of rhythm. This bright, exuberant music leaves behind the rapturous, primordial jabs of The Rite of Spring to enter the crisp, spare world of neoclassicism. Witty and spirited conversations unfold between instrumental voices. Quirky, irrepressible ostinatos propel the music forward amid unpredictable and swiftly changing rhythmic currents. The outer movements hurtle forward with the hyper, unrelenting energy of an action film, whisking us from one …

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