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STRAVINSKY – RUSSIAN PERIOD

1. Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Biography outline

Grew up in St. Petersburg and family estate at Ustilug (in Ukraine near Polish border

Father was opera singer – Stravinsky privately trained, disciple of Rimsky-Korsakov (d. 1908) –
member of circle of young, “progressive,” nationalist composers around Rimsky – early works
performed in Russia

Firebird commmission from Diaghilev, 1910 – other Paris ballets (see below) – Back and forth
from France to Russia – participated in musical life of both

War and Revolution, 1914-1918 – Stravinsky already living in Switzerland because of wife’s
health – Very opposed to Bolshevik Revolution (1918) – Lost family fortune and artistic contacts

European years, 1919-1938 - resided mainly in France – Associates were now modernist
European musicians, artists, authors - supported self and family by composing, performing –
Involved in a great variety of productions: ballets, theater pieces, concert pieces, chamber music
– A couple tours of US and South America

American years, 1939-1971 – Went to US because of onset of WW II – lectures at Harvard in


1939 (Poetics of Music) – To Hollywood in 1941 – Associated mainly with other exiles, with
Robert Craft from 1949 – Diverse projects (e.g. Fantasia, ballets, tours, opera) – Back and forth
to Europe in 60s

Periodization of works

1) Russian period (1906-1920) - Most works have to do with Russia and Russian folklore -
Nightingale, 3 ballets for Paris: Firebird, Petrushka, Rite; Les Noces -

2) Neoclassical period (1918-1953) - Characterized by anti-romantic aesthetic, borrowings from


earlier music - many famous works: Octet (1920), Apollo (1927), Symphony of Psalms (1930),
Symphony in 3 Movements (1945), Rake's Progress (1951) – Still uses many techniques of
Russian works (e.g. octotonic scale)

3) 12-tone period (1954-1971) - Adopted Schönberg's 12-tone techniques – Works: Canticum


Sacrum (1956), Agon (1957), Threni (Lamentations) (1958) – What were motivations? Influence
of Craft, Death of Schoenberg (1951), desire to reinvent self as modernist – Again uses earlier
techniques

Stravinsky as autobiographer – Spoke and wrote a lot about his music and his life – e.g. “What I
wanted to express in the Rite” (1913) “Some ideas about my Octuor” (1924), Chronique de ma
vie (1935), Poetics of Music (1939), Conversations (with Craft) (1959), Dialogues etc. with Craft –
Notoriously untrustworthy – e.g. denies importance of Russian folklore, takes credit for
collaborators’ ideas, etc.

2. Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

Firebird, Petrushka, Rite were all written for them – So were several later Stravinsky ballets:
Pulcinella (1920), Renard (1922), Les Noces (1923), Apollo (1928)
Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) -- D. was a producer, not a musician or a dancer – essentially a
dilletante - worked in Royal ballet in St. Petersburg

Moved to Paris in 1909, imported most of his dancers from Russia – His operation was called the
Ballets Russes – 1909 season included ballets on Russian music: Prince Igor, Sheherazade – D.
commissioned a lot of new music from both Russian and Western composers, e.g. Stravinsky,
Debussy (Afternoon, Jeux), Prokofiev (Scythian Suite), de Falla (3-cornered hat), Poulenc (Les
Biches), Satie (Parade), Ravel (La Valse, but rejected by Diaghilev)

What did D. offer Paris? -- dance technique, novelty, exoticism (Russian fad in France), new
music, new ballets, modernism, occasional scandal

Stravinsky's first 3 ballets all for Diaghilev

Firebird - 1910 - his great triumph at age 28

Petrushka - 1911

Rite of Spring – 1913

Later projects with Diaghiliev: Nightingale (1914), Pulcinella (1920), Mavra (1922), Reynard
(1922), The Wedding (1923), Oedipus rex (1927) and Apollo (1928).

3. Petrushka (1911)

Collaboration of several people

Music: Stravinsky;

Choreography: Michel Fokine;

Scenario and scenery: Alexandre Benois;

Dancer: Vaslav Nijinsky

Producer: Sergei Diaghilev

Russian setting – St. Petersburg fair in bygone times (1830s) (Shrovetide = Carnival = mardi
gras), puppet show, magic puppets that come to life: Petrushka, Ballerina, Blackamoor

Elements taken from Russian folklore: Setting, characters, scenery, tunes, modes – To Russians
these elements were nostalgic – To Parisians and other western Europeans they were exotic, i.e.
“representation of one culture for consumption by another”

Stravinsky took tunes from published collections – Some of these were obscure, some were very
familiar - HANDOUT - Stravinsky usually takes only a motif or a suggestion, not an entire tune

Tunes given exotic harmonizations to give feeling of exotic, mysterious East - compare Firebird,
where "eastern" elements were given more romantic harmonizations - juxtapositions and
dissonances make the materials sound strange and exotic – Octatonic harmonizations – i.e.
harmonizing passage with chords formed from octatonic collection of principal melodic notes, e.g.
Petrushka chord

Stravinsky also some tunes from non-Russian sources -"Elle avait une jambe en bois" by Emile
Spencer was still under copyright and Diaghilev had to pay royalties – Also 2 Austrian waltz tunes
by Joseph Lanner – Non-Russian materials make the ballet sound “popular” as well as folkloric –
These usually get diatonic harmonizations

PLAY DVD from RN 51 or so through flute playing and dance of puppets - This is recreation of
original Fokine choreography, original sets and costumes - Note exotic elements in music,
costumes, and choreography - Note how music and dance tell story together as in classic ballet

Given that the materials are so traditional, why does Petrushka seem “modern”? – Because it’s
an exotic tradition, because traditional elements are disassembled, distorted, and juxtaposed,
because of the combination of tragedy and banality

Petrushka was a huge success – People found the score dissonant and challenging but the best
“modern” music, particularly as combined with the story and dance (2nd half of Hamm reading,
not assigned) – But not successful in Russia – Because not exotic? Because nostalgic rather
than nationalistic?

4. Rite of Spring (NAWM 145)

Premiere MAY 29, 1913 in Paris – Know this date

Producer: Diaghilev,

Music: Stravinsky

Scenario and scenery: Nicholas Roerich

Choreography: Vaslav Nijinsky - He didn't dance in Rite; although he did dance other ballets on
the same program

Scandal -- withdrawn after 2nd performance -- 2 performances in London got same reception –
Diaghilev’s "leaks" to the press before the performance were calculated to create a scandal -
Nijinsky's unusual choreography was as much responsible for the scandal as the music

Stravinsky’s score was immensely influential musically, from first performance on - Perhaps the
most famous piece of the century

Why? - Aggressively modern, yet primitive and vital - Same combination as Picasso, Gaugin
and other artists were successful with in same period.

We hear the Rite now almost exclusively as a concert piece - We need to remember that it was a
ballet and that the elements of dance, staging and scenery were very important

Similarities to Petrushka:

Russian theme - Ritual dance in prehistoric Russia - It was probably Roerich who first thought up
the idea

Russian melodic material - cribbed again from printed collections - Stravinsky worked over the
melodies in his sketchbook, making them less folkloric, more "primitive" - HANDOUT

Differences from Petrushka:

Russian elements are interpreted as "primitive" rather than as "exotic" - Instead of being quaint
and touching, the ballet is "mythic" - Ballet is ritual to bring back spring and renew the fertility of
the earth - Part 1 is warm-up - basically unsuccessful rites - Part 2 is sacrifice of virgin, which
brings about spring

Costumes and scenes - scenes are semi-abstract, emphasizing nature rather than Russian
village life - costumes based on American Indians rather than Russian peasants

Dance - Nijinsky's choreography was self-consciously radical - rejected gestures, movements,


configurations of traditional ballet - Aimed at elemental, archetypal human situations and
emotions - Rejected leaps, upward gestures, solo dancing, expressive gestures – Replaced
these with: downward movement, stamping, group choreography (rival tribes, men vs. women),
stylized gesture

Melodies - Procedures aren't fundamentally different from Petrushka, but more emphasis on
rhythm and repetition -– melodies from folklore collections are sliced and diced and re-combined
– We can see this process in his sketchbooks – Stravinsky uses rhythms, ornaments and
dissonance to make them seem “primitive” instead of “exotic” – PLAY beginning

Rhythms – Repetitious but not periodic – i.e. rhythmic groupings don’t repeat predictably –
Stravinsky disturbs periodic rhythms by unexpected accents and by changing time signatures

PLAY video – Background of video – This was a re-creation by the Joffrey Ballet of the original
choreography which had been lost (After the failure of the original ballet, Diaghilev had it re-
choreographed by Fokine) – A couple of the oriignal dancers were still alive in the 1970s (esp.
Mary Rambert)

Dance of the adolescents – DVD 6 (29:50)

Sacrificial Dance – DVD 10 (46:00)