Friday, May 4, 2018

Stravinsky: Ballet Suites

No. 278  the ongoing ITYWLTMT  series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at

For our second of four montages of Russian music, this week’s Blog and Podcast shares three ballet suites, or key highlights from three of Stravinsly’s ballets.

Igor Stravinsky, a towering composer of the twentieth century, was closely linked to dance. His early commissions for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes—The Firebird, Petrouchka, and The Rite of Spring—put him on the international map and propelled both ballet and music into the modern age.
Of the three suites I retained for this week’s podcast, two come from ballets inspired by composers of the past: Tchaikovsky and Pergolesi.

Pulcinella is a one-act neoclassical ballet commissioned by Diaghilev based on an 18th-century play Quartre Polichinelles semblables ("Four identical Pulcinellas"). The ballet premiered at the Paris Opera on 15 May 1920 under the baton of Ernest Ansermet. The dancer Léonide Massine created both the libretto and choreography, and Pablo Picasso designed the original costumes and sets.

Stravincky “composed” the ballet music through the process of revising and modernising existing musical themes attributed to Pergolesi, much of that attribution has since proved to be spurious; some of the music may have been written by Domenico Gallo, Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer, Carlo Ignazio Monza, and possibly Alessandro Parisotti.

The Pulcinella Suite, derived from the ballet, was written in 1922 and its first performance was with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Pierre Monteux on 22 December 1922. As he did with much of his works which weren’t protected by American Copyright laws, the suite was revised by the composer in 1949 and 1965.

Le baiser de la fée (The Fairy's Kiss) is a ballet in one act and four scenes composed in 1928 and revised in 1950 for George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet. Based on Hans Christian Andersen's short story Isjomfruen (English: The Ice-Maiden), the work is an homage to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, for the 35th anniversary of the composer's death. Stravinsky elaborated several melodies from early piano pieces and songs by Tchaikovsky in his score.

The Divertimento is a concert suite for orchestra based on music from the ballet. Stravinsky arranged it in collaboration with Samuel Dushkin in 1934 and revised it in 1949.

The Firebird (French: L'Oiseau de feu) was written for the 1910 Paris season of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company; the original choreography was by Michel Fokine, with a scenario by Alexandre Benois and Fokine based on the Russian fairy tales of the Firebird and the blessing and curse it possesses for its owner. When first performed at the Opéra de Paris on 25 June 1910, the work was an instant success with both audience and critics.

The ballet has historic significance not only as Stravinsky's breakthrough piece, but also as the beginning of the collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky that would also produce the acclaimed ballets Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).

Besides the complete 50-minute ballet score of 1909–10, there are three shorter suites arranged by the composer himself for concert performance which date from 1911, 1919 and 1945. While the 1919 suite remains the most well-known and often played, the 1945 version contains the most music from the original ballet score (partly motivated by the need to secure copyright in a USA). This is the version I chose to close the montage.

I think you will love this music too.