STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps / Jeu de Cartes (Alexander Rahbari/ Belgian Radio and Television Philharmonic Orchestra/ Gunter Appenheimer) (Naxos: 8.550472)
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Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971)
The Rite of Spring (Le sacre du printemps)
Jeu de cartes (Card Game) (Ballet in Three Deals)
Igor Stravinsky was the son of a distinguished bass soloist atthe Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, creator of important roles in new operas byTchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. He was born, the third of four sons, at Oranienbaum onthe Gulf of Finland in the summer of 1882. In childhood his ability in music did not seemexceptional, but he was able to study music privately with Rimsky-Korsakov, who became aparticularly important influence after the death of the composer's imperious father in1902. He completed a degree in law in 1905, married in the following year and increasinglydevoted himself to music. His first significant success came when the impresario Dyagilev,a distant relative on his mother's side of the family, commissioned from him the balletThe Firebird, first performed in Paris in 1910. This was followed by the very Russian Petrushka in 1911 for the Dyagilev Ballets russes, with which he was now closelyassociated, leading in 1913 to the notorious first performance of The Rite of Spring,first staged, like the preceding ballets, in Paris. Although collaboration with Dyagilevwas limited during the war, when Stravinsky lived principally in Switzerland, it wasresumed with the ballet >Pulcinella, based onmusic attributed to Pergolesi, and marking Stravinsky's association with neo-classicism.
The end of the association with Dyagilev was marked by what the impresario considered amacabre present, the Cocteau collaboration Oedipus Rex.
Stravinsky has been compared to his near contemporary Picasso,the painter who provided decor for Pulcinella andwho through a long career was to show mastery of a number of contrasting styles.
Stravinsky's earlier music was essentially Russian in inspiration, followed by a style ofcomposition derived largely from the 18th century, interspersed with musical excursions inother directions. His so-called neo-classicism coincided with the beginning of a careerthat was now international. The initial enthusiasm for the Russian revolution of 1917 thathad led even Dyagilev to replace crown and sceptre in TheFirebird with a red flag, was soon succeeded by distaste for the new regime andthe decision not to return to Russia.
In 1939, with war imminent in Europe, Stravinsky moved to theUnited States, where he had already enjoyed considerable success. The death of his firstwife allowed him to marry a woman with whom he had enjoyed a long earlier association andthe couple settled in Hollywood, where the climate seemed congenial. Income from hiscompositions was at last safeguarded by his association with Boosey and Hawkes in 1945,the year of his naturalisation as an American citizen. The year 1951 saw the completionand first performance of the English opera The Rake's Progress, based on Hogarthengravings with a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, a work that came at thefinal height of the composer's neo-classicism. The last period of his life brought achange to serialism, the technique of composition developed by Arnold Schoenberg, afellow-exile in California, with whom he had never chosen to associate. In 1962 he made atriumphant return to Russia for a series of concerts in celebration of his 80th birthday.
Among his final compositions are the Requiem Canticles of 1965-6 which follow his Requiem Introitus for the death of the poet T. S.
Eliot, but prefigure his own death, which took place in New York in April, 1971. He wasburied in the cemetery on the island of San Michele in Venice, his grave near that ofDyagilev, whose percipience had launched his career sixty years before.
The Rite of Spring, withchoreography by Nijinsky was first staged at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris inMay, 1913. The work had already caused considerable trouble in Dyagilev's ballet company.
Nijinsky, the principal male dancer, in 1912 began to replace Fokin as choreographer, andwith The Rite of Spring he tackled a formidable task, to provide a new kind of dance for aplot of primitive symbolism and energy, coupled with music of a very new kind. Stravinskyalleged a degree of musical incompetence in Nijinsky, who needed, he once claimed, to betaught the rudiments of the subject. Nevertheless the dancer was able to match the musicwith something equally original and startling. Neither music nor choreography proved inany way acceptable to the general public on the occasion of the first performance,although all had gone well enough in a preview before an invited audience of cognoscenti.
At the first public performance there was an uproar, as members of the audience took sidesfor or against the piece. In spite of deafening and violent objections from many, thedancers and musicians continued to the end, although the music was inaudible. The resultwas, at least, a succes de scandale. In later years the music of the ballet was toexercise a strong influence over the course of 2Oth century music, although Nijinsky'soriginal choreography proved less durable.
Drawing on pagan Russia as its source of inspiration, The Rite of Spring opens with the Adoration of theEarth, the introduction to which is marked by the evocative bassoon solo with which itstarts and finishes, leading without a break to the forceful rhythm of the Augurs ofSpring, Dances of the Young Girls (Les augures printaniers: Danses des adolescentes). TheRitual of Abduction (Jeu du rapt) follows, with two groups of girls, dressed in red,pursued in a simulated ritual of abduction, by the young men. The Spring Rounds (Rondesprintanieres) are introduced by trills on flutes, with a simple Russian clarinet melody,the dancers moving in circles. Now the Ritual of the Two Rival Tribes begins (Jeux descites rivales), interrupted by the Procession of the Sage (Cortege du sage), as the tribalelders lead in their wise old high priest. He lies prone on the ground, in adoration ofthe earth (Adoration de la terre), after which the people celebrate with the Dance of theEarth (Danse de la terre).
The second part of The Riteof Spring is The Sacrifice (Le sacrifice). The mysterious introduction evokes atwilight scene, desolate, and yet inhabited by strange and primitive creatures. A darkhill-top is marked by sacred stones and totems. From the Mystic Circles of Young Girls(Cercles mysterieux des adolescentes) one will be chosen as sacrificial victim, as theycircle in rhythmic motion, watched by the tribal elders. Once the victim is chosen, lostin an ecstatic trance, her role is glorified in The Glorification of the Chosen One(Glorification de l'elue), a dance of fierce asymmetrical rhythms. Fanfares herald theEvocation of the Ancestors (Evocation des ancetres), and the elders, wearing animal-skins,celebrate the Ritual Action of the Ancestors (Action rituelle des ancetres), movingforward to the stark and exotic rhythms of the final Sacrificial Dance (Danse sacrale), asthe victim joins in a ritual that must end in her own death.
The ballet Jeu de cartes belongs to another world. Completed in1937, with libretto and music by Stravinsky, this choreographic Card Game in Three Dealswas commissioned for Lincoln Kirstein's American Ballet,with choreography by Balanchine, who explains the aim of the piece - to show that thehighest cards, kings, queens and jacks, the most important people, are nothing more thancards, to be defeated on occasion by small cards in the game. Stravinsky was anenthusiastic poker-player, and had earlier contemplated a ballet based on cards. Thecommission from the American Ball