The Neo-Classic Stravinsky
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Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
125th Anniversary Album
Violin Concerto - Zvezdolikiy
Symphonies of Wind Instruments - The Rite of Spring
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
An American composer, Blair Fairchild, commissioned the Concerto for his prot?®g?®, the Polish-American violinist Samuel Dushkin. It did not become popular until 1972, when George Balanchine based his ballet Stravinsky Violin Concerto on it. The early neglect can be attributed to Dushkin's five-year performance exclusivity; to the absence of a cadenza; to the intricacies of the chamber music style; and to the arduousness of the solo part, which allows for no repose in the third movement, only two bars in the second, and only six very fast ones in the finale. The Concerto is entirely lyrical, from the march-like opening movement, through the long-line melodies of the second and the lavishly ornamented ones of the third, to the Russian dance of the last. The concluding \Presto," in which some of the violin part recalls some of Histoire du Soldat, is one of the most exciting endings Stravinsky ever wrote.
The Concerto is Stravinsky's most perfectly balanced concert piece. The four movements are all on the same high level and wonderfully contrasted and varied. The first three movements begin with the same triple-stop violin chord that Dushkin, when Stravinsky first showed it to him, and Heifetz later, declared unplayable. The closely related keys of the four movements (D major, D minor, F-sharp minor, and again D major), and of themes and episodes within them, conform to classical principles. So does the succession of soli and tutti in the first and fourth movements. The first of the middle-movement arias is sectional, spacious, but smoothly continuous. The third movement is Baroque in form and style. The lengths of the recapitulations are exceptional: 44 bars of the Toccata exposition are repeated toward the end, and 55 bars of the Capriccio. The first five bars of the first Aria are repeated in the middle of the movement, and the first seventeen are recapitulated at the end. The opening wind-instrument and violin figure of the second Aria, the most original and harshly striking music in the Concerto, a cry of anguish, becomes a refrain, when heard three more times penetrating the stanzas of the solo violin's song, in the third movement, which is accompanied by strings only.
In the most novel episode in Aria I, the solo violin plays on-the-beat notes in harmonics above the principal melody in off-beats, played by the first violins, harmonized by cellos, also playing off-beats. After a few bars the horn and solo violin take up the syncopated melody, suspending the ictus altogether for 4 bars, a rhythmic trick Stravinsky had first employed in Petrushka.
Duets between the solo violin and solo wind and string instruments in the orchestra are a feature of the Concerto. Perhaps the most spectacular of them is between the solo violin and a solo cello, both playing harmonics (at ), but those with bassoon, flute, piccolo clarinet (more of these than any other), trumpet, cellos, and the first violinist in the orchestra are more extensive.
This recording corrects a number of important errors. Thus the metronomic quarter at the beginning of the first movement is an unplayably fast 120, whereas the end gives 96 for the "Tempo Primo." The "allargando" at the end of the first movement should begin with the last five notes of the two trumpets, as in the manuscript. The metronomic quarter in the second movement should be changed to 126 (from 116), with 96 for the half-note in the middle section. In the third movement the eighth should equal 62, increasing to 92 in the middle section. In the last movement the eighth becomes 134, accelerating to 176 at  and 208 at . In the last bar before  the first F should have a natural sign. No.  lacks the "Tempo Primo" sign, and the two bars before lack the "accelerando." In the bar after  the clarinets in A should have a flat on the written D.
Stravinsky's first notation for the Concerto, for the music at , is dated 27 October 1930. He did not continue the piece, however, until 11 March, in Grenoble, where he had moved his family from Nice. The first movement was finished on 27 March and the score was completed on 4 September. The first performance took place in Berlin on 23 October 1931, conducted by Stravinsky with Dushkin as soloist.
Stravinsky's setting of Konstantine Balmont's Symbolist poem, Zvezdolikiy ("The Star-Faced One"), begins with an unaccompanied male chorus intoning a "motto" in six harmonic parts. Its three melodic intervals are repeated nine times in the body of the piece, and its first chord returns in the winds in seven octaves at the half-way point, heralding the voice of the "lodestar": "Do you keep the Word?" The translation of the text is as follows:
His eyes were like stars, like flames which furrow space. His visage was like the sun when it shines at its zenith. The luminous colors of the heavens, purple, azure, and gold, dappled the gorgeous robe he wore to be reborn among us. Around him the thunder rolled in the ravaged, storm-rent sky, seven halos of brilliant stars shone around his head. Lightning struck the hills and brought forth spring flowers. "Do you keep the Word?" he asked. And we all replied, "Yes, always." "Alone and invisible I reign," he said. The thunder growled louder. "It is the hour," he said in his glory. "The harvest waits. Amen." Piously and fervently we followed him. Lightning cleft the clouds. Seven halos of brilliant stars showed the way through the desert.
Unique in Stravinsky's music are the uncontrasted slow tempo, the quiet dynamic level, the sostenuto style (no staccato, no accents), the absence of a motoric rhythm (the "purple, azure, and gold" passage exposes six different rhythmic figures simultaneously), and the sonorities: the radiance of the wind-instrument chords, the choral humming, the fluttertongueing in clarinets (as well as flutes), the muted oboes, the "bridge" effects and harmonics in the strings, which play with mutes throughout. Zvezdolikiy quotes Debussy literally in the final section, and alludes to him throughout in its orchestral shimmering (string tremolos, harp glissandos) and repeated-note rhythmic-figure in the horns.
The piece was first performed on 19 April 1939 by the Brussels Radio Orchestra conducted by Franz Andr?®. In May 1952, Maestro Andr?® came to Stravinsky, who was conducting Oedipus Rex in Brussels, to tell the composer of his difficulties with the intonation of the chorus in the 1911 piece.
Symphonies of Wind Instruments
After the hostile reception of the Symphonies at its premi?¿re, London, 10 June 1921, as well as at subsequent premi?¿res (Geneva, 1921; Paris, 1922; Philadelphia, 1923; Brussels and New York, 1924), Stravinsky withdrew it from performance by all conductors except Ansermet and himself. But the composer did not conduct the piece until 1948, and then in his new, 1947 version, an unfortunate simplification of the original.
The score of the original Symphonies is now published by Boosey & Hawkes.
Stravinsky may have been restudying the Symphonies in 1937 or 1938. The "Final Chorale" and the concluding wind-instrument hymn in the Symphony in C resemble each other. When Ansermet made an unauthorized cut in Jeu de cartes in 1937, Stravinsky sent a flinty note reminding him of a time "when you were not afraid to play a work as risky in regard to success and audience comprehension as the Symphonies d'Instruments ?á Vent."
The Symphonies was not composed from beginning to end, nor the other way around, even though the end was completed first. Notations for the concluding hymn are among the earliest in Stravinsky's sketchbooks for the opus, indeed after the first tolling of the "bell motive.