About this Recording
8.554367 - STRAVINSKY: Chamber Music

Igor Stravinsky (1882- 1971)
Chamber Music

The miniatures recorded here (and all composed within the space of seven years) fall into three categories: three sets of songs for medium voice (in this case mezzo-soprano) with accompaniments for various instrumental ensembles; two sets of pieces and one separate piece for piano duet, and a set of pieces for piano solo; and a suite for violin, clarinet and piano from Histoire du Soldat.

Nobody who knows The Rake's Progress, Oedipus Rex or the Symphony of Psalms could possibly say that Stravinsky did not have a feeling for the human voice, but he could hardly be described as a song writer. Nevertheless, he did compose some thirty-five songs with accompaniment either for piano, for instrumental ensemble, or for orchestra, principally between 1910 and 1920. Pribaoutki (‘Song Games’), originally intended for baritone (Stravinsky's brother Gury) flute, oboe/cor anglais, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass, were written at Salvan in Switzerland in 1914. He wrote: 'The word pribaoutki denotes a form of popular Russian verse, to which the nearest English parallel is the limerick. It means a "telling", pri being the Latin pre, and baout deriving from the Old Russian infinitive "to say". Pribaoutki are always short – not more that four lines usually. According to popular tradition they derive from a type of game in which someone says a word, which someone else then adds to, and which third and fourth persons develop, and so on, with utmost speed… One important characteristic of Russian popular verse is that the accents of the spoken verse are ignored when the verse is sung. The recognition of the musical possibilities inherent in this fact was one of the most rejoicing discoveries of my life.’

Berceuses du Chat (‘Cat's Cradle-Songs’), for voice and three clarinets (piccolo clarinet in E flat/clarinet in E flat, clarinet in A/clarinet in B flat, and bass clarinet in B flat/clarinet in A), are settings of Russian popular texts, in the same idiom as Pribaoutki, but more epigrammatic, and with fascinatingly feline accompaniments; they were written at Clarens, Châtean d'Oex and Morges in Switzerland in 1915-16. Between 1915 and 1919 Stravinsky composed various Russian songs, apart from those discussed above, for voice and piano, with French translations by the Swiss novelist Charles Ferdinand Ramuz. In 1955, apparently having decided that the French versions were no longer satisfactory, he published a set of Four Russian Songs drawn from two of the earlier collections, with the accompaniment laid out for flute, harp and guitar, and with his own 'phonetic Russian texts'. He justified this in a footnote in which he declared: 'The sound of the syllables of this Old Russian poetry is closely connected with the music I composed to it. To the musician's ear, the right pronunciation of the syllables is much more explicit than the best translation, which is unavoidably different from the sound of the original pattern.’ The first two songs are, respectively, Nos. 1 and 4 of Four Russian Songs that Stravinsky wrote at Morges in December 1918; the second are Nos. 2 and 1 of Three Tales for Children, which he wrote there in May and June 1917, and dedicated 'to my youngest son'.

The Three Easy Pieces for piano duet (with an easy left-hand part) were written at Clarens in 1914-15 and dedicated to Alfredo Casella, Erik Satie and Sergey Dyagilev, respectively; and the Five Easy Piece, (with an easy right-hand part) were written at Morges in 1916-17 and were intended for Stravinsky's two older children, Theodore and Mika, their father presumably taking the left-hand part. All eight pieces were performed in public for the first time on 8th November 1919 in Lausanne by José Iturbi and the composer. They were orchestrated and slightly adjusted at various times between 1917 and 1925 to form two Suites for small orchestra, each containing four pieces with the sequence changed. The music is already moving away from the world of Russian popular music that Stravinsky had explored in Prihaoutki, to tap a more international source of light music, as the titles suggest; the pieces, all very short, are, by turns, witty, lyrical, comic. satirical and racy, and the orchestration nothing short of virtuosic. The Concertino is Stravinsky's own transcription for piano duet, of a piece he wrote in the summer of 1920 in Brittany for the Flonzaley Quartet, who wanted a modern work to vary their mainly classical repertory. The composer's sketchy description of this spiky, discordant work was 'a free sonata allegro with a definitely concertante part for the first violin'. The most satisfactory version of the Concertino is the drastic revision and re-scoring for twelve instruments he made in 1952. Les Cinq Doigts, a collection of eight short, symmetrical, tuneful pieces for piano solo, was written at Garches (near Paris) in 1921 and specifically designed for children. In the master's words: 'The five fingers of the right hand, once on the keys, remain in the same position sometimes even for the whole length of the piece, while the left hand, which is accompanying the melody, executes a harmonic or contrapuntal pattern of the utmost simplicity.’

was the third major collaboration of Stravinsky as composer and Ramuz as librettist/translator (the first two being Renard and Les Noces). It was conceived, at Morges in 1917, as a work that would be simple and economical to produce: a 'Tale' that required a Narrator, three actors (the Soldier, the Devil and the Princess – the latter a dancing part only) and an 'orchestra' consisting of a concertante violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone and percussion (an ensemble suggested by Stravinsky's discovery of American jazz). The first performance was given at the Théâtre Municipal in Lausanne on 28th September 1918, with Ernest Ansermet conducting and with sets by René Auberjonois. A Soldier going home on leave and playing his violin is accosted by the Devil, in disguise, who obtains his violin in exchange for a magic book, and invites the Soldier to spend a few days with him. The Soldier agrees, but when he finally reaches his village nobody recognises him and his fiancée has married someone else. Later, having lost all his possessions, the Soldier recovers his violin, plays to the sick Princess, who recovers and dances for him. The Devil collapses, but when the Soldier takes her, now his bride, to his village, he reappears, having regained the violin, and the Soldier follows him slowly and sadly away. The Suite fur violin, clarinet and piano, arranged by Stravinsky in 1919, has five movements: The Soldier's March (Introduction); The Soldier's Violin (Scene 1); Little Concert and Three Dances: Tango, Waltz, Ragtime (the Soldier and the Princess in Scene 5); and The Devil's Dance (also from Scene 5, when the Soldier forces the Devil to dance for him).

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