Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
125th Anniversary Album
Violin Concerto • Zvezdolikiy
Symphonies of Wind Instruments • The Rite of Spring
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
An American composer, Blair Fairchild, commissioned the Concerto for his protégé, the Polish-American violinist Samuel Dushkin. It did not become popular until 1972, when George Balanchine based his ballet Stravinsky Violin Concerto on it. The early neglect can be attributed to Dushkin's five-year performance exclusivity; to the absence of a cadenza; to the intricacies of the chamber music style; and to the arduousness of the solo part, which allows for no repose in the third movement, only two bars in the second, and only six very fast ones in the finale. The Concerto is entirely lyrical, from the march-like opening movement, through the long-line melodies of the second and the lavishly ornamented ones of the third, to the Russian dance of the last. The concluding "Presto," in which some of the violin part recalls some of Histoire du Soldat, is one of the most exciting endings Stravinsky ever wrote.
The Concerto is Stravinsky's most perfectly balanced concert piece. The four movements are all on the same high level and wonderfully contrasted and varied. The first three movements begin with the same triple-stop violin chord that Dushkin, when Stravinsky first showed it to him, and Heifetz later, declared unplayable. The closely related keys of the four movements (D major, D minor, F-sharp minor, and again D major), and of themes and episodes within them, conform to classical principles. So does the succession of soli and tutti in the first and fourth movements. The first of the middle-movement arias is sectional, spacious, but smoothly continuous. The third movement is Baroque in form and style. The lengths of the recapitulations are exceptional: 44 bars of the Toccata exposition are repeated toward the end, and 55 bars of the Capriccio. The first five bars of the first Aria are repeated in the middle of the movement, and the first seventeen are recapitulated at the end. The opening wind-instrument and violin figure of the second Aria, the most original and harshly striking music in the Concerto, a cry of anguish, becomes a refrain, when heard three more times penetrating the stanzas of the solo violin's song, in the third movement, which is accompanied by strings only.
In the most novel episode in Aria I, the solo violin plays on-the-beat notes in harmonics above the principal melody in off-beats, played by the first violins, harmonized by cellos, also playing off-beats. After a few bars the horn and solo violin take up the syncopated melody, suspending the ictus altogether for 4 bars, a rhythmic trick Stravinsky had first employed in Petrushka.
Duets between the solo violin and solo wind and string instruments in the orchestra are a feature of the Concerto. Perhaps the most spectacular of them is between the solo violin and a solo cello, both playing harmonics (at ), but those with bassoon, flute, piccolo clarinet (more of these than any other), trumpet, cellos, and the first violinist in the orchestra are more extensive.
This recording corrects a number of important errors. Thus the metronomic quarter at the beginning of the first movement is an unplayably fast 120, whereas the end gives 96 for the "Tempo Primo." The "allargando" at the end of the first movement should begin with the last five notes of the two trumpets, as in the manuscript. The metronomic quarter in the second movement should be changed to 126 (from 116), with 96 for the half-note in the middle section. In the third movement the eighth should equal 62, increasing to 92 in the middle section. In the last movement the eighth becomes 134, accelerating to 176 at  and 208 at . In the last bar before  the first F should have a natural sign. No.  lacks the "Tempo Primo" sign, and the two bars before lack the "accelerando." In the bar after  the clarinets in A should have a flat on the written D.
Stravinsky's first notation for the Concerto, for the music at , is dated 27 October 1930. He did not continue the piece, however, until 11 March, in Grenoble, where he had moved his family from Nice. The first movement was finished on 27 March and the score was completed on 4 September. The first performance took place in Berlin on 23 October 1931, conducted by Stravinsky with Dushkin as soloist.
Stravinsky's setting of Konstantine Balmont's Symbolist poem, Zvezdolikiy ("The Star-Faced One"), begins with an unaccompanied male chorus intoning a "motto" in six harmonic parts. Its three melodic intervals are repeated nine times in the body of the piece, and its first chord returns in the winds in seven octaves at the half-way point, heralding the voice of the "lodestar": "Do you keep the Word?" The translation of the text is as follows:
His eyes were like stars, like flames which furrow space. His visage was like the sun when it shines at its zenith. The luminous colors of the heavens, purple, azure, and gold, dappled the gorgeous robe he wore to be reborn among us. Around him the thunder rolled in the ravaged, storm-rent sky, seven halos of brilliant stars shone around his head. Lightning struck the hills and brought forth spring flowers. "Do you keep the Word?" he asked. And we all replied, "Yes, always." "Alone and invisible I reign," he said. The thunder growled louder. "It is the hour," he said in his glory. "The harvest waits. Amen." Piously and fervently we followed him. Lightning cleft the clouds. Seven halos of brilliant stars showed the way through the desert.
Unique in Stravinsky's music are the uncontrasted slow tempo, the quiet dynamic level, the sostenuto style (no staccato, no accents), the absence of a motoric rhythm (the "purple, azure, and gold" passage exposes six different rhythmic figures simultaneously), and the sonorities: the radiance of the wind-instrument chords, the choral humming, the fluttertongueing in clarinets (as well as flutes), the muted oboes, the "bridge" effects and harmonics in the strings, which play with mutes throughout. Zvezdolikiy quotes Debussy literally in the final section, and alludes to him throughout in its orchestral shimmering (string tremolos, harp glissandos) and repeated-note rhythmic-figure in the horns.
The piece was first performed on 19 April 1939 by the Brussels Radio Orchestra conducted by Franz André. In May 1952, Maestro André came to Stravinsky, who was conducting Oedipus Rex in Brussels, to tell the composer of his difficulties with the intonation of the chorus in the 1911 piece.
Symphonies of Wind Instruments
After the hostile reception of the Symphonies at its première, London, 10 June 1921, as well as at subsequent premières (Geneva, 1921; Paris, 1922; Philadelphia, 1923; Brussels and New York, 1924), Stravinsky withdrew it from performance by all conductors except Ansermet and himself. But the composer did not conduct the piece until 1948, and then in his new, 1947 version, an unfortunate simplification of the original.
The score of the original Symphonies is now published by Boosey & Hawkes.
Stravinsky may have been restudying the Symphonies in 1937 or 1938. The "Final Chorale" and the concluding wind-instrument hymn in the Symphony in C resemble each other. When Ansermet made an unauthorized cut in Jeu de cartes in 1937, Stravinsky sent a flinty note reminding him of a time "when you were not afraid to play a work as risky in regard to success and audience comprehension as the Symphonies d'Instruments à Vent."
The Symphonies was not composed from beginning to end, nor the other way around, even though the end was completed first. Notations for the concluding hymn are among the earliest in Stravinsky's sketchbooks for the opus, indeed after the first tolling of the "bell motive." Receiving the news of Debussy's death, Stravinsky immediately telegraphed his condolences to the widow, and, or so this writer believes, immediately notated the "bell motive" in his sketchbook: at any rate it stands out there in striking contrast to the surrounding sketches for the Ragtime for 11 Instruments, and it is characteristic of Stravinsky to respond to a profound shock of grief with a harsh cry in a peal of mourning bells. Exactly when he returned to the composition is not known, but it cannot have been before the completion of The Soldier's Tale in early autumn 1918, and of Pulcinella in the spring of 1920. The sketches for the successive motives of the piece follow approximately in the same order in which they appear in the completed composition.
The Symphonies links nine distinct motives, all of which are repeated at intervals, some of them two, three, or more times. Their lengths, character, and importance vary, and each is assigned one of three tempos, which are related by a proportional metronomic value: a basic unit, its doppio valore, and its sesquialtera. The two most prominent motives are stated at the beginning: "bell motive" (A), which returns five times in the first half of the piece; and the response to it (B), the "hymn" melody, which also returns five times in the body of the piece and is developed at the end into a hymn complete in itself.
In an April 1948 program note, Stravinsky used the term "litanies" with reference to the flute and clarinet dialogues. Musicologists quickly assumed from this that the remark in the sketch score, "end of the second litany," means that the Symphonies was modeled on the Panikhida, the Russian Orthodox memorial service for the dead. But this seems unlikely in that litanies are part of many Orthodox services, and the Symphonies lacks other correspondences with the Panikhida sacrament.
The Rite of Spring – A Chronicle
15 July - Ustilug, Ukraine
Stravinsky writes to his co-scenarist and set and costume designer, Nicolas Roerich, in St. Petersburg : "Dear Nikolai Konstantinovich, it is imperative that we see each other and decide about every detail.… Please write immediately on your arrival in Talashkino, telling me the best means of conveyance from Smolensk. If it is not too far, could some horses be sent to fetch me? Remember that my train from Warsaw arrives very early, I think 5 o'clock in the morning.…"
"In July I traveled to the Princess Tenisheva's country estate near Smolensk, to plan the scenario of The Rite of Spring with Roerich. He wanted me to see her collection of Russian ethnic art. I went from Ustilug to Brest-Litovsk. Discovering that I would have to wait two days for the next passenger train, I bribed a freight-train conductor to let me ride in the cattle car, in which I found myself alone with a bull tethered by a single rope. As he glowered and slavered, I barricaded myself as best I could behind my suitcases. I must have seemed an odd sight climbing out of the train in Smolensk, carrying expensive, or at least not tramp-like, bags, and brushing the straw from my clothes and hat. The Princess Tenisheva placed a guesthouse at my disposal, and, after two days with Roerich, the plan of the action and the titles of the dances were assigned. Our name for the ballet at this time was Vesna Sviasschénnaya —'Sacred Spring.' (The French title, Le Sacre du printemps, was Leon Bakst's contribution.")
15 August - Karlsbad, Germany
Stravinsky and Diaghilev sign a contract for The Rite of Spring.
26 September - Clarens, Switzerland
To Roerich: "I have already begun to compose, and, in a state of passion and excitement, have sketched the Introduction for 'dudki' [reed pipes] as well as the 'Divination with Twigs.' The music is coming out very fresh and new. The picture of the old woman in a squirrel fur sticks in my mind. She is constantly before my eyes as I compose the 'Divination with Twigs.' I see her running in front of the group, sometimes stopping it and interrupting the rhythmic flow. I am convinced that the action must be danced, not pantomimed, and for this reason I have connected the 'Dance of the Maidens' and the 'Divination with Twigs,' a smooth jointure with which I am very pleased."
21 November - Clarens
To Alexander Benois, in St. Petersburg : "… I have been to Paris twice, the first time voluntarily, a rest after strenuous composing. I stayed at Delage's and had barely arrived back here when Diaghilev summoned me by telegram. He had come from London for two days. I went for one day. I was at Mme Edwards' [Misia Sert's], and played there what I had composed of the new ballet. Everyone liked it very much."
2 January - Les Tilleuls ("The Lindens," a boarding house), Clarens
To Benois: "… I have worked very hard and almost completed Part One, the orchestration as well as the music; only the ending, 'The Dance of the Earth,' remains to be done. If you see Roerich, tell him that I have composed very well."
7 March - Montreux, Switzerland
Stravinsky to Andrey Rimsky-Korsakov in St. Petersburg : "… You probably know that I am working on the piece that I conceived after Firebird. The Russian title is still not definite, but the French is Les Sacres [sic] du printemps. I have finished the entire first part (with instrumentation) and am now composing the second.… It seems as if I am indulging in a bit of self-praise, but when you hear it, you will understand what you and I have talked about. It is as if twenty and not two years had passed since Firebird was composed."
15 March (?) - Monte-Carlo
During a walk with Maurice Ravel, the two composers stopped at a café, the Taverne Parisienne, Avenue de la Costa, where Stravinsky asked for a slip of paper and wrote two measures of unpitched rhythm. His Russian script beneath the sketch says: "This is the rhythm from which the Danse Sacrale grew."
19 March - Clarens
To Roerich: "A week ago I completed Part One [Dance of the Earth] in full score.… It seems to me that I penetrated the secret of the rhythm of Spring, and that musicians will feel it."
9 June - 17 bis, rue des Capucines, Bellevue, Paris,
From a memoir by Louis Laloy, editor of La Grande Revue : "One bright afternoon in the spring of 1912 I was walking about my garden with Debussy. We were expecting Stravinsky. As soon as he saw us, the Russian musician ran with his arms outstretched to embrace the French master, who, over his shoulder, gave me an amused but compassionate look. Stravinsky had brought an arrangement for four hands of his work The Rite of Spring. Debussy agreed to play the bass. Stravinsky asked if he could remove his collar. His sight was not improved by his glasses, and, pointing his nose to the keyboard, and sometimes humming a part that had been omitted from the arrangement, he led into a welter of sound the supple, agile hands of his friend. Debussy followed without a hitch, and seemed to make light of the difficulty. When they had finished, there was no question of embracing, nor even of compliments. We were dumbfounded, overwhelmed by this hurricane which had come from the depths of the ages, and which had taken life by the roots."
24 August - Lugano
Stravinsky plays The Rite for Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Benois.
26 August - The Grand Hotel, Venice
Stravinsky plays The Rite for Diaghilev, Nijinsky, and Misia Sert. At this point the score is complete through .
12 November - Paris
La France publishes a report by Florent Schmitt: "…In a faraway pavilion in Auteuil, which from henceforth will remind me of the most magnificent of temples, M. Igor Stravinsky played Les Sacres [sic] du printemps for my friends. I will speak to you of its importance to all music … it tells of freedom, newness, and the richness of life."
17 November (Old Style) - Hôtel du Châtelard, Clarens
Stravinsky completes the draft score of The Rite "with an unbearable toothache."
14 December - Clarens
Stravinsky to Roerich: "I have just received your costume designs for our Spring! … They are a real miracle, and I only hope that the realization of them will be good! Nijinsky started his staging of the 'Spring' only yesterday, Friday, and he begged me to stay longer. I had to leave but promised that if he couldn't manage without my help, I would come to him ( for the third time ).… How I hope Nijinsky has time enough to stage the 'Spring.' It is very complex, and I feel that it must be done as nothing has ever been done before!"
To N. F. Findeizen, in St. Petersburg : "I wanted the whole of the composition of The Rite to give the feeling of closeness between men and earth … and I sought to do this in lapidary rhythms. The whole thing must be put on in dance ( tantsevel'no ) from beginning to end. Nijinsky directs it with passionate zeal, forgetting himself."
4-15 January - Budapest and Vienna
Stravinsky supervises piano and dance rehearsals of Sacre. As Dame Marie Rambert, the disciple of Dalcroze who was teaching the rhythms of the music to the dancers, recalled: "Hearing the way his music was being played, Stravinsky flew into a rage. He yelled, pounded on the piano, pushed aside the fat-bottomed German pianist, nicknamed ' Kolossal ' by Diaghilev, who played everything desperately slowly, and proceed to play twice as fast as we had been doing and twice as fast as we could possibly dance. He stamped his feet on the floor and banged his fists on the piano cover and sang and shouted.… This dreadful scene made Nijinsky very nervous. After ' Kolossal ' was replaced, Nijinsky said 'I cannot do it.' The rehearsal was stopped and Diaghilev cancelled a future engagement in order to rehearse." (From a letter to Robert Craft from Lincoln Kirstein, London, 21 October 1973.)
25 January - Hotel Hauffe, Leipzig
Nijinsky to Stravinsky: "I know what Le Sacre du printemps will be when everything is as we both want it: new, and, for an ordinary viewer, a jolting impression and emotional experience. For some it will open new horizons flooded with different rays of sun. People will see new and different colors and lines. All different, new, and beautiful."
28 January - London
Stravinsky arrives in London (Savoy Hotel) and rehearses with Nijinsky and his dancers in the Aldwych Theatre almost daily for three weeks. Bronislava Nijinska recalled that Stravinsky and Michael Osipovitch Shteinman, a conductor engaged by Diaghilev in St. Petersburg, played from the four-hand piano score. She also remembered that the only form of the music for the final dance was the sketch score ( particell ) and that when Stravinsky returned to Switzerland on 20 February Shteinman had to decipher this alone as best he could. (The sketch-score, sold by Serge Lifar at Sotheby's in 1982, is inscribed by Stravinsky on the last page of the next-to-last dance: "That idiot Nijinsky never returned the Sacred Dance." Where is it now, in 2007?)
The Daily Mail publishes an interview with Stravinsky: "My new ballet 'The Crowning of Spring' has no plot. It is a series of ceremonies in ancient Russia. …"
The Pall Mall Gazette publishes an interview with Nijinsky: "… I am working hard on … Sacre du printemps.… It will be danced only by the corps de ballet, for it is a thing of concrete masses, not of individual effects."
30 March - Paris
Pierre Monteux writes about his rehearsals of Part One to Stravinsky in Clarens: "I have had two strings rehearsals, three wind rehearsals, and two full rehearsals. Yesterday I rehearsed Sacre with Petrushka and Firebird. What a pity that you could not be here, above all that you could not be present for the explosion of Le Sacre. I thought of you constantly and regretted your absence, but I know that you are very busy. Now it will be for the month of May.…" The letter contains Monteux's diagnoses for four problematical orchestral balances, and solely on the conductor's word, Stravinsky rewrote a full page of the orchestra score. (But why did he not go to Paris to attend at least one rehearsal of what he knew to be his most important creation? Did he fear that first contact with the actuality of the music? This would be unlike him, but so was the Sacre unlike anything that he or anyone else had ever wrought.)
3 May - Lausanne
Stravinsky writes to Maximilian Steinberg in St. Petersburg : "Dear one, order a tromba piccolo in D; if a timpani piccolo cannot be had, that is only half a problem, but the tromba is essential; it isn't to be found in Paris, nor is there any way to procure one. A further request: Obtain mutes from Zimmerman, two for the tubas, and three for the trombones (whether bronze or leather does not matter) and have them sent immediately to the head of the Russian Ballet G. Astruc, Rue Louis le Grand." (The letter reveals that in 1913 trombones and tubas in Paris orchestras did not have mutes, and that a small trumpet in D could be found, or made quickly, in St. Petersburg, but not in the capital of France.)
13 May - Paris
Stravinsky arrives in Paris, Hôtel Splendide, and directs a piano rehearsal with Nijinsky.
18 May (Afternoon) - Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
The first rehearsal of Le Sacre du printemps with the dancers on stage.
26-27 May - Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
Rehearsals with the full orchestra. "The theatre was still being finished and workmen kept going through the rehearsal room. Nijinsky lost his temper and tried to throw a chair at a man coming through" (Rambert).
27 May (?)
Monteux leaves a note for Stravinsky at the Hôtel Splendide: "I stopped by to work with you, but, since you were out, I will go to the library at the Théâtre to make the changes in the parts that you made yesterday. Are you free this evening? Perhaps we can work together after dinner."
The dress rehearsal, attended by Debussy, Ravel, and the artistic monde. Dame Rambert recalled that the "dress rehearsal was pandemonium" and that "the dancers had not heard the orchestra before".
Extract from an unidentified Paris newspaper: " Le Sacre du printemps will be presented this evening in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. It is the most astonishing creation that I have ever witnessed by the admirable troupe of M. Serge Diaghilev.…"
The premiere of Le Sacre du printemps. Stravinsky occupies seat 111, but he soon goes backstage. The Sacre is the second offering of the evening, following Les Sylphides. The program concludes with Le Spectre de la Rose and Dances from Prince Igor. "I could not hear the orchestra. When the curtain went down Nijinsky passed me in the wings and was cursing: Dura Publica [stupid audience]" (Rambert).
Debussy sends a pneumatique inviting Stravinsky to dinner but not mentioning the performance. Comœdia publishes an account of the premiere by Louis Vuillemin: "… people sang, whistled, applauded, shouted ironic bravos even before the curtain rose." Vuillemin attributes this to the exchange of controversial opinions all over Paris from people who attended the rehearsals, adding that "Every critic in Paris was invited to the dress rehearsal on 28 May. At the performance, by the end of the prelude one had stopped listening to the music and attention was directed to the choreography, which was ugly or indifferent.…"
The Ballets Russes perform the Sacre for the second time, on a program beginning with Les Sylphides and ending with Shéhérazade.
3 June (Afternoon) - Backstage, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
Stravinsky gives an interview to Henri Postel du Mas of Gil Blas.
The Ballets Russes perform the Sacre for the third time, on a program beginning with Shéhérazade and ending with Le Spectre de la Rose.
Gil Blas: "In all fairness, I must say that the composer was not greatly upset and did not fulminate too violently against his detractors when we interviewed him yesterday. Stravinsky is small in stature but looks tall because he holds his forehead high, thus dominating his interviewer. 'I quite understand that my music could not be immediately accepted. But the lack of good will on the part of the audience is unjustifiable. It seems to me that it should have waited to express its disappointment until the end of the performance. This would have been courteous and honest. I gave them something new, and I fully expected that those who applauded Petrushka and Firebird would be somewhat dismayed. But I also expected an understanding attitude. I have acted in good faith; my previous works … were a guarantee of my sincerity and should have proved that I had no intention of making fun of the public.'"
Schmitt's review of the premiere appears in La France : "… The genius of Igor Stravinsky could not have received more striking confirmation than in the incomprehension and vicious hostility of the crowd.… With a logic, with an infallibility, human stupidity demands its rights."
The Ballets Russes perform Sacre, Les Sylphides, and Thamar.
The Ballets Russes perform Sacre, Le Spectre de la Rose, La Tragédié de Salomé, Carneval.
Stravinsky, in a nursing home in Neuilly, recovering from typhoid, receives a visit from Debussy.
Stravinsky receives a visit from Giacomo Puccini, who had written to Tito Ricordi after one of the Sacre performances: "Sheer cacophony, but strange and not without a certain talent."
30 June - Paris
Jeanès (the painter) writes: "I had hoped to see you and tell you of the intense emotion that your Sacre aroused in me.… It seems to me that you have expressed one of the elemental forces of Man. … The Sacre was one of the greatest emotional experiences of my life."
3 July - Paris
Stravinsky writes to Maximilian Steinberg in St. Petersburg : "I am very satisfied with 'Holy Spring' in the orchestra and was happy, truly happy, to hear the long-awaited orchestra performance. The presentations went very stormily. Fights actually occurred. Nijinsky's choreography was incomparable; with the exception of a few places, everything was as I wanted it. One must wait a long time before the public becomes accustomed to our language, but of the value of what we have done I am certain, and this has given me the strength for further work.…"
11 July - Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London
The Sacre is performed for the first time in London. Apparently Diaghilev had demanded cuts in the score. Monteux informed Stravinsky of this, who answered, forbidding any cut. When Monteux read Stravinsky's reply to Diaghilev, Misia Sert cabled Stravinsky in Berlin, accusing him of "unjustly wounding Serge."
13 July - Berlin
Stravinsky cables Diaghilev in London, half apologizing. Diaghilev dismisses Monteux, and Rhené-Baton conducts the two remaining performances, 18 and 24 July.
31 July - Dieppe
Monteux writes to Stravinsky: "The Sacre went very well with the admirable London orchestra, nor did we have many rehearsals (only seven). The London public was much better behaved than the Parisian, and the whole work was heard from beginning to end. The success was considerable—six or seven curtain calls. I greatly regretted that you were not there."
5 April (Sunday), 2:30 p.m. - Salle du Casino, Paris
Stravinsky attends Monteux's concert performance of the Sacre and after it is borne from the hall on the shoulders of the crowd and carried in triumph through the Place de la Trinité.
6 April - Paris
Comœdia publishes a review by Emile Vuillermoz of Monteux's 5 April performance: "The crowd that invaded the Casino de Paris stopped all traffic in the Rue de Clichy and upset strollers in the Place de la Trinité. After the last chord there was delirium. The mass of spectators, in a fervor of adoration, screamed the name of the author, and the entire audience began to look for him. A never-to-be-forgotten exaltation reigned in the hall, and the applause went on until everyone was dizzy. The reparation is complete, Paris is rehabilitated. For Igor Stravinsky, the homage of unlimited praise."