About this Recording
8.557503 - STRAVINSKY, I.: Pulcinella / Le baiser de la fee (The Fairy's Kiss) (Craft) (Stravinsky, Vol. 5)
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Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Pulcinella • The Fairy’s Kiss
Pulcinella (1920): Ballet in One Act with Song

At the time of the first performance of Pulcinella the music was attributed to “Igor Strawinsky d’après Giambattista Pergolesi”. In fact fewer than half of the pieces that Stravinsky arranged for an orchestra of 33 and three singers were by Pergolesi (1710–1736), whose entry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians lists more “spurious” and “doubtful” creations than certifiably authentic ones. As much material comes from the trio sonatas of the Venetian composer Domenico Gallo (active c. 1730) as from his Neapolitan contemporary. Further, the score’s most popular song, “Se tu m’ami,” is by Parisotti, not Pergolesi. The eighteenth-century copies from which Stravinsky worked are unsigned. Dyagilev told Stravinsky that they had come from a conservatory library in Naples, but in actuality most of them were transcribed in the British Museum.

The libretto is in the hand of Léonide Massine, who also choreographed the ballet. The scene is set in Naples and the characters are taken from the Commedia dell’Arte. Rosetta and Prudenza respond to the serenading of Caviello and Florindo by dousing them with water. A Dottore arrives and chases the musical pair away. Pulcinella enters, dances, and attracts Prudenza, who tries to embrace him. He rejects her. Rosetta appears, chaperoned by her father Tartaglia. She tells him of her love for Pulcinella, for whom she dances. He kisses her, but is seen by Pimpinella, his mistress, who becomes jealous. Caviello and Florindo re-enter in disguise, and Florindo, jealous of Pulcinella, stabs him. When the would-be lovers leave, Pulcinella cautiously gets up. Four little Pulcinellas enter, carrying the body of Furbo disguised as Pulcinella. They place the body on the floor. The Doctor and Tartaglia enter with their daughters, who are horrified. A magician appears and revives the corpse. When the fathers refuse to believe the miracle, the magician removes his cloak and reveals himself as the real Pulcinella. The revived corpse is his friend Furbo. Pimpinella enters but is frightened at the sight of two Pulcinellas. Florindo and Caviello return, disguised as Pulcinellas, hoping for more satisfaction in their amorous pursuits. The confusion caused by four Pulcinellas prompts Furbo to resume his disguise as magician. At the end, the “Pulcinella” couples, including Pimpinella and the ballet’s eponymous hero, are reunited and married.

Further to complicate the distinction of identities, the musical numbers do not correspond to dramatic situations, and the texts of the vocal pieces—six of the seven were borrowed from three different operas—are unrelated to the stage action. Some of them, but not including Contento forse vivere, from Metastasio’s Adriano in Siria, are in Neapolitan dialect. Unpromising as all of this may sound, the vocal pieces, one aria for the bass, three for the tenor, two for the soprano, one duet, and two trios, seem to turn the ballet into an opera with a cohesive dramatic entity.

Stravinsky’s chief means of distancing himself from the eighteenth century is in the instrumentation, which, almost alone, transforms the music into a modern work. The small orchestra, with strings divided into ripieni and a concertante solo quintet, sounds like, but never completely like, an eighteenth-century ensemble. One explanation for this is that the trombone, employed in the eighteenth century chiefly in sacred or solemn music, is here the instrument of a 1920s jazz band, as the glissandos confirm. Other modern instrumental touches include the use of flute and string harmonics, and string effects such as flautando, saltando, and the non-arpeggiated double-stop pizzicato. Still other twentieth-century orchestral novelties are the alternation of string and wind ensembles for entire pieces, as in, respectively, the Gavotta and the Tarantella, the exploitation of wind-instrument virtuosity—the whirligig velocity of the flutes in the C minor Allegro— and the high ranges of the double-reeds (the oboe’s high A, and a bassoon tessitura fully a fifth higher than would be expected in eighteenth-century music). The contrabass, too, in its syncopated, jazz-style solo, explores a higher altitude than is normal in Old Music, but this bass riff does not change a note of the original. Indeed, what is most surprising about the whole of Pulcinella is how closely Stravinsky follows his melodic and figured-bass skeletons, and how little he alters the harmonic and melodic structure. The bass vocal part also requires an exceptional high-register, which the vocal score wrongly transposes an octave lower.

The Fairy’s Kiss

Scene I
The lullaby in the storm:
A mother, lulling her child, struggles through a storm. The Fairy’s attendant sprites appear and pursue her. They separate her from the infant and carry him off. The Fairy herself appears. She approaches the child and enfolds him with her tenderness. Then she kisses him on the forehead and goes away. Now he is alone. Country folk, passing, find him, search in vain for his mother, and, deeply distressed, take him with them.

Scene II
A village fête:
A peasant dance is in progress, with musicians on the stage. Among the dancers are a young man and his fiancée. The musicians and the crowd disperse, and, his fiancée going away with them, the young man remains alone. The Fairy approaches him in the guise of a gypsy woman. She takes his hand and tells his fortune, then she dances, and, ever increasingly, subjects him to her will. She talks of his romance and promises him great happiness. Captivated by her words, he begs her to lead him to his fiancée.

Scene III
At the mill:
Guided by the Fairy, the young man arrives at the mill, where he finds his fiancée among her friends playing games. The Fairy disappears. They all dance; then the girl goes with her friends to put on her wedding veil. The young man is left alone.

Scene IV
The Fairy appears, wearing a wedding veil. The young man takes her for his bride. He goes towards her, enraptured, and addresses her in the terms of warmest passion. Suddenly the Fairy throws off her veil. Dumbfounded, the young man realizes his mistake. He tries to free himself, but in vain; he is defenseless before the supernatural power of the Fairy. His resistance overcome, she holds him in her power. Now she will bear him away to a land beyond time and place, where she will again kiss him, this time on the sole of the foot.

The Lullaby of the Eternal Place: The Fairy’s attendant sprites group themselves in slow movements of great tranquillity before a wide décor representing the infinite space of the heavens. The Fairy and the young man appear on a ridge. She kisses him to the sound of her lullaby.

The young man, of course, is Tchaikovsky himself, the Fairy his Mephistophelean muse. The ending of Stravinsky’s homage to his beloved forbear, one of the most moving he ever wrote, is rarely heard in ballet performances at present. George Balanchine’s abbreviated version of the ballet concludes with the peasants’ dance, which is in the dominant, not the tonic, of its key.

Commentaries on The Fairy’s Kiss generally attempt to establish parallels between Pergolesi– Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky–Stravinsky, but the only exact one is that both unwitting collaborators were composers of the past. The unique entirely original music in Pulcinella is a short bridge section and the introduction to the Tarantella. The Fairy’s Kiss, at another extreme, is largely original composition. Stravinsky greatly altered, developed, and elaborated melodies from early piano pieces and songs by Tchaikovsky, expanding them into sizable ballet numbers forming a continuous dance symphony. He was so familiar with Tchaikovsky’s stylistic features, melodic, harmonic, and instrumental, that he could compose more Tchaikovsky himself.

The sketches for The Fairy’s Kiss do not contain a single reference to sources in Tchaikovsky, but perhaps more than those for any other Stravinsky work they confirm T. S. Eliot’s dictum that “the mark of the master is to be able to make small changes that will be highly significant”. In some instances Stravinsky simply changes Tchaikovsky’s tempo. Thus the Scherzo humoresque becomes the slow-tempo song at the beginning of Scene III of the ballet, and Tchaikovsky’s Allegretto grazioso is wholly transformed simply by being played at half tempo: Stravinsky retains the melody, rhythm, and even the harmony of the original. Stravinsky had a genius for perceiving the slow-tempo lyrical piece in the fast-tempo one, the attractive melody obscured by the dull rhythm. The male dancer’s Variation in Scene III changes Tchaikovsky’s 3/4 Nocturne to 6/8 and his monotonously repeated eighthnotes (quavers) to quarters (crotchets) followed by eighths (quavers). I should add that the ballet also transposes the piece from A down to G, but that, clearly, was to accommodate the high notes of the horn.

The most remarkable transformation in The Fairy’s Kiss is that of the early song “Both Painful and Sweet” into the Ballad that concludes Scene II. In the first five notes of the theme, Stravinsky reverses the melodic sequence E, C sharp, D natural, to E, C natural, D sharp, thereby changing A major to A minor, while preserving the ambitus. He also rewrites Tchaikovsky’s rhythmic pattern of quarter-note (crotchet) beats and eighth-note (quaver) offbeats to on-the-beat triplets, with a rest replacing the third note, as in the piano and string ostinato in the first movement of the 1945 Symphony; this transforms the mood from resolution to agitation. What amazes us, however, is the mileage that Stravinsky gets out of this fragment in its development, repeating it in different octaves, progressively slower tempos, and longer note-values, until, at the end of the scene, the bass clarinet plays it slowly beneath six ascending octave scales in the flute, the first four notes of which are in Stravinsky’s A minor, the last four in Tchaikovsky’s A major, a subtle collaboration indeed.

Robert Craft


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