|About this Recording
8.553181 - STRAVINSKY: Pulcinella / Danses Concertantes
Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971)
Igor Stravinsky was the son of a distinguished bass soloist at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, creator of important rôles in new operas by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. He was born, the third of four sons, at Oranienbaum on the Gulf of Finland in the summer of 1882. In childhood his ability in music did not seem exceptional, but he was able to study music privately with Rimsky-Korsakov, who became a particularly important influence after the death of the composer's imperious father in 1902. He completed a degree in law in 1905, married in the following year and increasingly devoted himself to music. His first significant success came when the impresario Dyagilev, a distant relative on his mother' s side of the family, commissioned from him the ballet The Firebird, first performed in Paris in 1910. This was followed by the very Russian Petrushka in 1911 for the Dyagilev Ballets rosses, with which he was now closely associated, leading in 1913 to the notorious first performance of The Rite of Spring, first staged, like the preceding ballets, in Paris. Although collaboration with Dyagilev was limited during the war, when Stravinsky lived principally in Switzerland, it was resumed with the ballet Pulcinella, based on music attributed to Pergolesi, and marking Stravinsky's association with neo-classicism. The end of the collaboration with Dyagilev was marked by what the impresario considered a macabre present, the Cocteau collaboration Oedipus Rex.
Stravinsky has been compared to his near contemporary Picasso, the painter who provided décor for Pulcinella and who through a long career was to show mastery of a number of contrasting styles. Stravinsky's earlier music was essentially Russian in inspiration, followed by a style of composition derived largely from the eighteenth century, interspersed with musical excursions in other directions. His so-called neo-classicism coincided with the beginning of a career that was now international. The initial enthusiasm for the Russian revolution of 1917 that had led even Dyagilev to replace crown and sceptre in The Firebird with a red flag, was soon succeeded by distaste for the new régime and the decision not to return to Russia.
In 1939, with war imminent in Europe, Stravinsky moved to the United States, where he had already enjoyed considerable success. The death of his first wife allowed him to marry a woman with whom he had enjoyed a long earlier association and the couple settled in Hollywood, where the climate seemed congenial. Income from his compositions was at last safeguarded by his association with the publishers Boosey and Hawkes in 1945, the year of his naturalisation as an American citizen. The year 1951 saw the completion and first performance of the English opera The Rake's Progress, based on Hogarth engravings with a libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, a work that came at the final height of the composer's neo-classicism. The last period of his life brought a change to serialism, the technique of composition developed by Arnold Schoenberg, a fellow-exile in California, with whom he had never chosen to associate. In 1962 he made a triumphant return to Russia for a series of concerts in celebration of his 80th birthday. Among his final compositions are the Requiem Canticles of 1965-6 which follow his Requiem Introitus for the death of the poet T.S. Eliot, but prefigure his own death, which took place in New York in April 1971. He was buried in the cemetery on the island of San Michele in Venice, his grave near that of Dyagilev, whose percipience had launched his career sixty years before.
Dyagilev had not been happy at Stravinsky's apparent desertion of the Ballets russes during the war, but, according to the composer, attempted to lure him back by the suggestion of a ballet based on music attributed to Pergolesi. This followed the success of The Good-Humoured Ladies, based on Scarlatti. The choreographer and dancer Léonide Massine, during a visit in 1917 to Naples, when he was able to do research into the techniques of the commedia dell'arte, had found a play that might form a suitable basis for the new ballet, The Four Pulcinellas. Dyagilev arranged a collaboration between Stravinsky , Massine and Pablo Picasso, all very much under his own supervision. The work was eventually staged at the Paris Opéra on 15thMay 1920, conducted by Ernest Ansermet, and won a very considerable success among the more discerning. Picasso's final design made use of panels suggesting the portable scenery of Italian travelling theatre-companies, with buildings of cubist inspiration, a quay, the moonlit bay of Naples and Vesuvius in the background. The colours used were black, blue and white, with a white ground-cloth, suggesting moonlight. The dancers wore brightly coloured costumes in eighteenth century style, while Pulcinella, danced by Massine himself, wore the traditional commedia dell'arte mask. The music itself, based on excerpts from operas by Pergolesi and movements of instrumental works more properly to be attributed to contemporaries or imitators of Pergolesi, Domenico Gallo, Fortunato Chelleri, Carlo Monza and the nineteenth century Alessandro Parisotti, was scored for chamber orchestra and three singers and is, as Stravinsky pointed out, very much more than mere pastiche. The piquant harmonies and instrumental timbres make this very characteristic of neo-classical Stravinsky. Many of the dances are familiar from the Suite italienne derived from the score for concert use and from the orchestral ballet suite Pulcinella. The episode taken from the story of the four Pulcinella look-alikes concerns the real Pulcinella or Polichinelle of the title, who meets the girls Rosetta and Prudenza, rebuffing one and dancing with the other. His inamorata Pimpinella is angry at this, but they are reconciled in a duet. All the girls love Pulcinella, and this has naturally excited the jealousy of their lovers, notably Caviello and Florindo, who plan to kill him. It seems that they have succeeded, when Pulcinella falls beneath their blows, apparently dead and mourned by four little Pulcinellas. A magician appears and revives the corpse, not Pulcinella at all, but his friend Fourbo, who had impersonated him and feigned death. The magician now revea1s himself as Pulcinella, happily settling the marriages of the lovers for them, while he himself marries Pimpinella, and Fourbo assumes the guise of the magician.
Stravinsky wrote his Danses concertantes in Hollywood in 1941 and early 1942, in response to a commission from the Wemer Janssens Orchestra, which gave the first performance in Los Angeles on 8th February under the direction of the composer. Although originally intended for concert use, the Danses concertantes were planned in balletic sequence, with an introductory and concluding march to bring the dancers on and off the stage and the necessary variety, not only in the Pas d' action and Pas de deux but also in the theme and variations, three of the latter based on an ascending semitone step. In 1944 the dances were choreographed by Balanchine for the Ballet russe of Monte Carlo. The style of writing reflects that of the earlier ballet Jeu de cartes.
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