The Russian Stravinsky
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Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Pulcinella The Fairy's Kiss
Pulcinella (1920): Ballet in One Act with Song
At the time of the first performance of Pulcinella themusic was attributed to \Igor Strawinsky d'apr?¿sGiambattista Pergolesi". In fact fewer than half of thepieces that Stravinsky arranged for an orchestra of 33and three singers were by Pergolesi (1710-1736), whoseentry in The New Grove Dictionary of Music andMusicians lists more "spurious" and "doubtful"creations than certifiably authentic ones. As muchmaterial comes from the trio sonatas of the Venetiancomposer Domenico Gallo (active c. 1730) as from hisNeapolitan contemporary. Further, the score's mostpopular song, "Se tu m'ami," is by Parisotti, notPergolesi. The eighteenth-century copies from whichStravinsky worked are unsigned. Dyagilev toldStravinsky that they had come from a conservatorylibrary in Naples, but in actuality most of them weretranscribed in the British Museum.
The libretto is in the hand of Leonide Massine, whoalso choreographed the ballet. The scene is set in Naplesand the characters are taken from the Commediadell'Arte. Rosetta and Prudenza respond to theserenading of Caviello and Florindo by dousing themwith water. A Dottore arrives and chases the musicalpair away. Pulcinella enters, dances, and attractsPrudenza, who tries to embrace him. He rejects her.
Rosetta appears, chaperoned by her father Tartaglia. Shetells him of her love for Pulcinella, for whom shedances. He kisses her, but is seen by Pimpinella, hismistress, who becomes jealous. Caviello and Florindore-enter in disguise, and Florindo, jealous of Pulcinella,stabs him. When the would-be lovers leave, Pulcinellacautiously gets up. Four little Pulcinellas enter, carryingthe body of Furbo disguised as Pulcinella. They placethe body on the floor. The Doctor and Tartaglia enterwith their daughters, who are horrified. A magicianappears and revives the corpse. When the fathers refuseto believe the miracle, the magician removes his cloakand reveals himself as the real Pulcinella. The revivedcorpse is his friend Furbo. Pimpinella enters but isfrightened at the sight of two Pulcinellas. Florindo andCaviello return, disguised as Pulcinellas, hoping formore satisfaction in their amorous pursuits. Theconfusion caused by four Pulcinellas prompts Furbo toresume his disguise as magician. At the end, the"Pulcinella" couples, including Pimpinella and theballet's eponymous hero, are reunited and married.
Further to complicate the distinction of identities,the musical numbers do not correspond to dramaticsituations, and the texts of the vocal pieces--six of theseven were borrowed from three different operas--areunrelated to the stage action. Some of them, but notincluding Contento forse vivere, from Metastasio'sAdriano in Siria, are in Neapolitan dialect. Unpromisingas all of this may sound, the vocal pieces, one aria forthe bass, three for the tenor, two for the soprano, oneduet, and two trios, seem to turn the ballet into an operawith a cohesive dramatic entity.
Stravinsky's chief means of distancing himself fromthe eighteenth century is in the instrumentation, which,almost alone, transforms the music into a modern work.
The small orchestra, with strings divided into ripieniand a concertante solo quintet, sounds like, but nevercompletely like, an eighteenth-century ensemble. Oneexplanation for this is that the trombone, employed inthe eighteenth century chiefly in sacred or solemnmusic, is here the instrument of a 1920s jazz band, asthe glissandos confirm. Other modern instrumentaltouches include the use of flute and string harmonics,and string effects such as flautando, saltando, and thenon-arpeggiated double-stop pizzicato. Still othertwentieth-century orchestral novelties are the alternationof string and wind ensembles for entire pieces, as in,respectively, the Gavotta and the Tarantella, theexploitation of wind-instrument virtuosity--thewhirligig velocity of the flutes in the C minor Allegro--and the high ranges of the double-reeds (the oboe's highA, and a bassoon tessitura fully a fifth higher than wouldbe expected in eighteenth-century music). Thecontrabass, too, in its syncopated, jazz-style solo,explores a higher altitude than is normal in Old Music,but this bass riff does not change a note of the original.
Indeed, what is most surprising about the whole ofPulcinella is how closely Stravinsky follows hismelodic and figured-bass skeletons, and how little healters the harmonic and melodic structure. The bassvocal part also requires an exceptional high-register,which the vocal score wrongly transposes an octavelower.The Fairy's Kiss
Scene IThe lullaby in the storm:
A mother, lulling her child, struggles through a storm.
The Fairy's attendant sprites appear and pursue her.
They separate her from the infant and carry him off. TheFairy herself appears. She approaches the child andenfolds him with her tenderness. Then she kisses him onthe forehead and goes away. Now he is alone. Countryfolk, passing, find him, search in vain for his mother,and, deeply distressed, take him with them.
Scene IIA village f?¬te:
A peasant dance is in progress, with musicians on thestage. Among the dancers are a young man and hisfiancee. The musicians and the crowd disperse, and, hisfiancee going away with them, the young man remainsalone. The Fairy approaches him in the guise of a gypsywoman. She takes his hand and tells his fortune, thenshe dances, and, ever increasingly, subjects him to herwill. She talks of his romance and promises him greathappiness. Captivated by her words, he begs her to leadhim to his fiancee.
Scene IIIAt the mill:
Guided by the Fairy, the young man arrives at the mill,where he finds his fiancee among her friends playinggames. The Fairy disappears. They all dance; then thegirl goes with her friends to put on her wedding veil.
The young man is left alone.
The Fairy appears, wearing a wedding veil. The youngman takes her for his bride. He goes towards her,enraptured, and addresses her in the terms of warmestpassion. Suddenly the Fairy throws off her veil.
Dumbfounded, the young man realizes his mistake. Hetries to free himself, but in vain; he is defenseless beforethe supernatural power of the Fairy. His resistanceovercome, she holds him in her power. Now she willbear him away to a land beyond time and place, whereshe will again kiss him, this time on the sole of the foot.The Lullaby of the Eternal Place:
The Fairy's attendant sprites group themselves in slowmovements of great tranquillity before a wide decorrepresenting the infinite space of the heavens. The Fairyand the young man appear on a ridge. She kisses him tothe sound of her lullaby.
The young man, of course, is Tchaikovsky himself, theFairy his Mephistophelean muse. The ending ofStravinsky's homage to his beloved forbear, one of themost moving he ever wrote, is rarely heard in balletperformances at present. George Balanchine'sabbreviated version of the ballet concludes with thepeasants' dance, which is in the dominant, not the tonic,of its key.
Commentaries on The Fairy's Kiss generallyattempt to establish parallels between Pergolesi-Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky-Stravinsky, but the onlyexact one is that both unwitting collaborators werecomposers of the past. The unique entirely originalmusic in Pulcinella is a short bridge section and theintroduction to the Tarantella. The Fairy's Kiss, atanother extreme, is largely original composition.
Stravinsky greatly altered, developed, and elaborate