Continuity and change in Stravinskiy`s ballets. Стравинский и его балеты


Continuity and change in Stravinskiy`s ballets.


Written by: A. Bogdanov

Penglais school


Music to me is a power which justifies things.

(I. Stravinskiy)

Stravinskiy Igor Fyodorovich, the famous Russian composer of 20-th century was born in small village 17th June of 1882. His father was a famous exponent of the leading bass parts at the St. Petersburg`s Opera and the young Igor thus became familiar at the early age with the works of such Russian composers as Musorgskiy, Glinka, Dargomyzhskiy.

One of the fellow-students, was the youngest son of Rimskiy-Korsakov,  who introduced Stravinskiy to his father. From then until his death in 1908 Rimskiy-Korsakov played an important part in Stravinskiy`s early musical formation.

At the age of twenty-seven Stravinskiy was already famous, his first performance in Paris, on 25 June 1910, of his ballet “The Fire-bird”, produced by Dyagilev and Russian ballet, established him firmly in the eyes of the international musical world as a composer of genius with a big future before him.

Stravinskiy throughout his career refused to go on repeating himself. With inexhaustible avidity he tackled new problems and pressed for new solutions. It happened more than once that a phase of his career seemed to move in the opposite direction from the one before. In retrospect, however, his various periods emerge as necessary stages in a continuous evolution toward greater purity of style and abstraction of thought.

Stravinskiy began his compositional life as an exponent of the Russian National school. “The Fire-bird” displays all the shimmer of Rimskiy-Korsakov`s orchestra along with influences of French Impressionism). Here, as in the works that followed, Stravinskiy worked within the frame of Russian folklore, drawing sustence from popular songs and dance. All the same, from the beginning he was aligned with those forces in Russian culture that were oriented toward the West – especially those that were receptive to clarity and grace. He therefore was free to move toward the universal values that underlie the classical outlook.

“The Fire-bird” was written in 1910. In his firstwork for stage Sravinskiy followed his master Rimskiy-Korsakov and did choose a Russian fairy-tale as the subject of his ballet. He shows his acquaintance with contemporary French music very clearly, using irregular ostinato rhythms. To create this story Stravinskiy used sections from an earlier work - the opening of “Fireworks”, with its resolute diatonic motifs. In “The Fire-bird” hero prince takes a folksong path to catch the Fire-bird, as the bird moves between tonalities and orchestral groupings in her rapid, melodic+rhythmic patterns patterns.

In introduction to “The Fire-bord” Stravinskiy uses bass drum, cellos and double basses to set the dark, mysterious atmosphere of Kashchey`s garden, darting, rhytmic phrases for woowind. The piece ends with distant horn calls, and a ripple of notes from the piano.

Dance of the firebird is made up of glittering flashes of sound for woodwind and piano. Later on there are intricate rhytmic patterns for the strings, and colourful splashes of sound from the brass. Flourishes for piccolo and piano give the impression of swift, darting movements.

In horovod - round dance - flutes play a canon – one flute starts with the tune, and second flute continue later with the same tune.

The internal dance of king Kashchey is shown by vivid orchestral colours and syncopated rhytms, that mirror the twisting, darting movements of the evil magician. A shrieking chord for full orchestra – and a persistent rhytm begins on the kettle-drum, palyed with wooden sticks. The main theme is played with brass instruments.

In the finale, Stravinskiy uses another Russian folk song indicating that he was a nationalist composerof this time. It is played in turn by horn, violins, atrings and woodwind, and full orchestra. This section illustrates Stravinskiy`s mastery of orchestration.

A year separating "Petrushka" (1911) and "The Fire-bird", is a significant distance for a quickly ripening phenomenal talent of composer. While "The Fire-bird" still carries sounds of the past, "Petrushka" looks in the future. Everything here is new: folklore and new orchestra, new polythonality… But the main feature is the magic of connection of different genre and semantic elements: a romantic history and a folklore direction, Russian national theatre doll Petrushka and characters of Italian "comedies of masks". The world of the people and world of dolls coexist in Stravinskiy`s ballet.

Petrushka was comissioned by Dyagilev. It is one of the composer`s most completely successful and perfectly integrated creations.

The simultaneous use of two keys (bitonality) and of several (polytonality) is one of the Stravinskiy`s music features (and it is found in “Petrushka”). The mainspring of Stravinskiy`s art is rhythm. He was a leader in the revitalization of European rhythm. It is significant that his first great success was won in the field of ballet, where rhythm is allied to dynamic body movement and expressive gesture.

In “Petrushka” Stravinskiy used one famous chord associated with the luckless hero of ballet. It is the kernel out of which the work grew: a C-major arpeggio superposed upon one in F-sharp major: this is an example of bitonality.

In “Petrushka” we encounter the laconic melodies, resilient rhythms, and orchestral brightness that are composer`s very own. One of the most original scores of the century, this is the best loved of the Stravinskiy`s works for the theatre.

In one section an organ-grinder joins the gathering accompanied by his lady dancer who pirouettes to the strains of a merry tune played on the barrel organ. While he was working on the score of “Petrushka” Stravinskiy had actually heard this tune played on a barrel-organ.

The brilliant and imaginative orchestration, rhythmic and harmonic innovations combine to make “Petrushka” a masterpiece which is moreover a landmark in the development of Russian music.


The premiere of “The Rite of Spring”, May 29, 1913, held in Paris, was very controversial. Since the first minutes of performance such extreme noise has risen, that dancers did not hear an orchestra. The “Rite” opens with a solo bassoon playing a theme originally from Lithuania, though it is reminiscent of some of the rhapsodic themes of the Carpathian shepherds, or of a Tibetian tune. These astringent sounds take us back suddenly a prehistoric world.

This ballet sets forth a new musical language based on the percussive use of dissonance, polyrhythms and polythonality.

Dissonant chords in the dark register of the strings exemplify Stravinskiy`s “elemental pounding”, their percussive quality is heightened by the use of polytonal harmonies.

The dominance of pulse, which is of course the most conspicuously revolutionary feature of “The Rite”, is equally obviously the main sourse of its primitivism – this music restored to its condition before European civilisation. Such things as the omnipresent ostinato of the “Dances of the young girls” are the rudiments of Russian folksong released into separate being, things more primitive than what is already a primitive stock. The effect produced is truly brilliant, it sounds beutiful and fresh.

In his music, as in life, Stravinskiy was quick to respond to changes, and new developments were assimilated into his music freely. Stravinskiy`s later music was very varied.

During the war, when Stravinkiy was already outside Russia, he continued to compose. In his creativity the products of the small forms with use of folklore motives prevailed. In 1914 he began work on his “The Wedding” and only in 1923 has finished it. “The Wedding” was a sort of choreographic cantata descriptive of a Russian peasant wedding. In 1918 was written "A History of the soldier ", in which are used the recitation, pantomime and dances. Both these works are written for much smaller orchestras or ensembles indicating Stravinskiy`s move to the Neo classical style.

In 1918 Stravinsky produces “The history of the Soldier”. Though it was written at the period when the composer had severed connexion with his native country and was living in Switzerland, it still belongs in style to his “Russian” period and it text is taken from Russian folk-tale. The story, telling of a soldier, is apoken by a narrator, while the action is mimed and danced. Tunes in this ballet are diatonic and related to European art music. So, the tune of Royal March is combined of snippets of early 19-th century Italian opera ans Spanish figurations. Before his final dance the devil sings his triumph in a chorale. This looks like a parody of a Bach chorale, but Bach`s chorale is an equation between melody and harmony, while Stravinskiy`s piece there are few chords that could not be found in Bach.

The style of the Baroque Concerto Grosso can also be found in “Pucinella” when the strings divide into two groups and there is contrast between loud and soft. Stravinskiy does not use percussion in this ballet but the rhythmic impulse of the music is still strong.

In 1919 Dyagilev invited the composer to create a ballet based upon Pulcinella – the traditional hero of many Italian comedies, the same as a Petrushka in Russia. Dyagilev suggested that music should be based on tunes by the Italian composer Pergolesi of the 18-th century. Stravinskiy said: ”the remarkable thing about “Pulcinella” is not how much but how little was added or changed”.

Nearly half of “Pulcinella” is made up from trio sonatas, the rest comes from keyboard pieces, orchestral movements and arias.

“Apollo Musagetes” (1927-1028) was a ballet designed to last half an hour. The costumes are all white and the music reflects the rather aushere neo classicism that Stravinskiy was adopting at this time.

Stravinskiy`s music is nearly always art to the second degree, art about art. In the absence of a wider social context Stravinskiy chose Western culture itself ­‑ not in his historical sense but as a contemporary phenomenon – as his subject matter. In so going he could not help expressing the crisis of traditional culture ever as he defined a musical sensibility that is still very much part of our contemporary awareness.

Continuity and change in Stravinskiy`s ballets.

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