Igor Stravinsky – Three Japanese Lyrics (1913)

Stravinsky’s Three Japanese Lyrics (1912-1913) were composed just as the taste for all things Oriental, from fine arts to fashion, was reaching its apex throughout Europe. Nowhere was this fad more rampant than in Paris, where the composer lived and, in 1912, had come upon an anthology of Japanese poetry translated into Russian, providing him with the texts for a group of three songs. These terse and somewhat mournful songs — “Akahito,” “Mazatsumi,” and “Tsaraiuki” — represent the composer’s most overt adoption of Far Eastern subject matter. Like many of Stravinsky’s works which draw upon elements from “exotic” sources, the songs reveal a degree of detachment, objectivity and stylization.
The Three Japanese Lyrics were composed some 15 to 18 months after Le sacre du printemps (1911-1913) was completed; as in that seminal ballet, the songs’ melodic material is based upon the repetition of numerous small cells. “Akahito” features a six-note ostinato comprised of slow, ornamented eighth notes that run throughout the song, while “Tsamaiuki” contains tiny refrain figures that are likewise repeated in an ostinato pattern. The Lyrics suggest a similarity to Le sacre du printemps in terms of subject matter as well. Both illustrate the dawning of spring, but while Le sacre du printemps expresses the death of winter through violence and elemental force, the Lyrics draw attention elsewhere. Here the emphasis is more upon the visual, decorative aspects of the season, symbolized by the color white — patterns of white flowers set against fresh snowfall.
Texturally, the Lyrics reveal another significant influence: Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (1912). Stravinsky attended a performance of the revolutionary melodrama in Berlin in December 1912, and Schoenberg’s band of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano was a likely inspiration for the instrumentation of the Lyrics (two flutes, two clarinets, and piano quintet). Moreover, the Lyrics, despite their clearly tonal language, employ harsh sonorities and free chromaticism to a greater extent than in Stravinsky’s previous works.
Following their first performance in 1914, many listeners were taken by the Lyrics’ metrical freedom and ambiguity. Indeed, rather than relying upon stereotyped orientalist clichés like pentatonic scales and garish ornamentation, Stravinsky emulates Japanese speech patterns with a remarkable degree of authenticity.

I. Akahito
II. Mazatsumi
III. Tsaraiuki

Evelyn Lear, soprano; Columbia Symphony, cond. Robert Craft. Art by Tensho Shubun.

Download sheet music as PDF:


Igor Stravinsky – Ebony Concerto (1945)

Two different worlds united in one.

I. Moderato
II. Andante
III. Moderato

Igor Stravinsky wrote the Ebony Concerto in 1945 for the Woody Herman band known as the First Herd. It is one in a series of compositions commissioned by the bandleader/clarinetist featuring solo clarinet. Herman recorded the concerto in the Belock Recording Studio at Bayside New York, calling it a “very delicate and a very sad piece”. Stravinsky felt that the jazz musicians would have a hard time with the various time signatures. Saxophonist Flip Phillips said “during the rehearsal […] there was a passage I had to play there and I was playing it soft, and Stravinsky said ‘Play it, here I am!’ and I blew it louder and he threw me a kiss!” [source]

Woody Herman Orchestra.
Igor Stravinsky, conductor.
Recorded in 1946.
Columbia 78rpm disc 7479-M (XCO 36778; XCO 35779).
Digital Transfer by F. Reeder

listen to the version with Benny Goodman here


[Happy Valentinesday]

Igor Stravinsky – Symphony In C (1940)

On today’s date in 1940, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra helped to celebrate its 50th anniversary with the premiere performance of a specially commissioned symphony from the famous Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

Stravinsky himself was on hand to conduct his “Symphony in C” — a work that attracted a great deal of attention at the time. For starters, writing a symphony in the key of C Major seemed a definitely anti-modern gesture at a time when Arnold Schoenberg’s “twelve tone” method of composition was gaining ground with prominent American musicians and critics. “How traditional can you get?” some of these must have thought when they saw the title of Stravinsky’s work.

Stravinsky’s new symphony was quickly labeled “neo-classical,” meaning it consciously harked back in form of Haydn’s or Mozart’s symphonies, albeit clothed, musically speaking, in a much more modern fashion.

Now, traditionally the key of C Major was deemed a “happy” or “bright” key, but Stravinsky composed his Symphony during one of the unhappiest periods of his life, when his wife, his mother and one of his daughters had all died in rapid succession.

“It is no exaggeration to say that in the following weeks I was able to continue my own life only by my work on the Symphony in C,” wrote Stravinsky. “But I did not seek to overcome my grief by portraying or giving expression to it in music, and you will listen in vain, I think, for traces of this sort of personal emotion.”

Composed in 1938 – 1940
CBC Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Igor Stravinsky

Elliott Carter – Dialogues for solo piano and 18 instruments (2004)

Dialogues for piano and chamber orchestra was a BBC Radio 3 commission for the brilliant young British pianist Nicolas Hodges and is scored for piano solo and a chamber orchestra comprising 18 instruments. Carter writes that “Dialogues is a conversation between the soloist and the orchestra: responding to each other, sometimes interrupting one another or arguing.”

Elliott Carter: “Dialogues” (2004) for solo piano and 18 instruments. David Swan – piano, New Music Concerts Ensemble

***Performance by Daniel Barenboim in Berlin, October 15, 2012. More information here.***

Igor Stravinsky – Symphony in Three Movements (1942-45)

The Symphony in Three Movements is a work by Russian expatriate composer Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky wrote the symphony from 1942–45 on commission by the Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York. It was premièred by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Stravinsky on January 24, 1946.

The Symphony in Three Movements is considered as Stravinsky’s first major composition after emigrating to the United States. It uses material written by Stravinsky for aborted film projects.

In 1943, Stravinsky had begun work on rescoring his ballet The Rite of Spring. Although the project was left incomplete, his revisit to this earlier composition appears to have influenced the symphony. The ostinatos and shock tactics of the last movement, for example, recalls the “Glorification of the Chosen Victim” and “Sacrificial Dance” from The Rite, and some woodwind passages are reminiscent of the ballet’s introduction. On the other hand, there are passages forecasting the opera The Rake’s Progress, notably the openings of the slow movement and the finale.

A typical performance of the symphony lasts 20–25 minutes:

Overture; Allegro (about 10 minutes)
Andante; Interlude: L’istesso tempo (about 6 minutes)
Con moto (about 6 minutes)

The symphony is scored for an orchestra of piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 3 clarinets in B♭ and A (3rd doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets in C, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, piano, harp, violins I & II, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Stravinsky, who rarely acknowledged outside inspirations for his music, referred to the composition as his ‘war symphony’. He claimed the symphony as a direct response to events of the Second World War in both Europe and Asia. The first movement was inspired by a documentary on Japanese scorched earth tactics in China. The third movement deals with footage of German soldiers goosestepping and the allied forces’ mounting success.

Material is drawn from projects that Stravinsky had abandoned or reorganized. The pianoforte’s presence in the first movement stems from a piano concerto that was left incomplete. Music for harp is prominent in the second movement, using themes for a film adaptation of Franz Werfel’s novel The Song of Bernadette. Stravinsky was considered for this project but it was later assigned to Bernard Herrmann. The third movement unites the first two movements by giving equal emphasis to piano and harp.

In contrast to Stravinsky’s earlier Symphony in C, the Symphony in Three Movements is much more turbulent and chromatic. While the Symphony in C is based on abstract ideas, his later symphony makes use of pressing social concerns. From a purely musical standpoint, the Symphony harkens back to Stravinsky’s earlier styles of composition while an outstanding achievement of neoclassicism.

Igor Stravinsky – Concerto in D (1946)

Concerto in D, for string orchestra in D major (“Basel Concerto”), (1946)

I. Vivace
II. Arioso
III. Rondo

Bournemouth Sinfonietta
Richard Studt

Paul Sacher’s 1946 commission for a work to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of his Basler Kammerorchester was Stravinsky’s first European commission after moving to America. Stravinsky began the composition on the Concerto in D in early 1946 and completed it on August 8 of the same year in his home in Hollywood. The work received its first performance by Sacher and the Basler Kammerorchester on January 27, 1947, in Basel, and the work is dedicated to them. For this reason the work is sometimes referred to as the “Basle Concerto.”

Written for string orchestra, the Concerto in D was Stravinsky’s first work for string orchestra since Apollon Musagète (1927-1928). It is approximately the same length and in approximately the same form as the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto (1937-1938) and the Ebony Concerto (1945), which directly preceded the composition of the Concerto in D. All three works are in three movements in the fast-slow-fast order of the Baroque concerto grosso, and all three works feature the contrast of concertino and ripieno typical of the concerto grosso. In the Concerto in D, the movements are Vivace, Arioso: Andantino and Rondo: Allegro. The opening Vivace is roughly in sonata form; that is, the outer section functions as an exposition whose themes are repeated in approximately the same order at the movement but the central section is in a slower Moderato tempo. The central Arioso: Andantino features one of Stravinsky’s few long, lyrical melodies for violins, punctuated twice by perfect cadences in unrelated keys. The concluding Rondo: Allegro is longer than the first two movements together and is in Stravinsky’s typical middle-1940s spiky rhythm.

The Concerto in D was one of Stravinsky’s last tonal works. Only Orpheus (1947), the Mass (1944/1947)and The Rake’s Progress (1948-1951) followed it. Although at the time of its composition it seemed to be another in the series of pastiche works Stravinsky had composed since Pulcinella (1919-1920) — works that used the styles of earlier composers to furnish Stravinsky with the raw material for his compositions — the Concerto in D and Orpheus have come to be viewed retrospectively as the tired works of a composer for whom style and tonality had become a burden. [Allmusic.com]

[via Alexander Natas in Copenhagen]

Aaron Copland – Dance Symphony for Orchestra (1925)

One of Aaron Copland’s first significant works upon returning from his studies in Paris was the necromantic ballet Grohg. This ballet, suggested to Copland by the film Nosferatu, a free adaptation of the Dracula tale, provided the source material for his later Dance Symphony. Copland composed three numbered symphonies, but applied the word “symphony” to more than just symphonies of typical structure. He rewrote his early three-movement Organ Symphony omitting the organ, calling the result his First Symphony. His fifteen-minute Short Symphony was the Second Symphony, though it also exists as the Sextet. His Dance Symphony was hurriedly extracted from the earlier unproduced ballet Grohg to meet an RCA Records commission deadline.

Read a review of Copland conducting himself in 1975 in The New York Times here.


RHYTHM IS IT! – The Dance Performance shows the first piece of the DANCE SERIES: the complete dance performance of LE SACRE DU PRINTEMPS with 250 young dancers, the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle in front an audience of 3000 at the Arena Berlin.

A Film by Thomas Grube and Enrique Sánchez Lansch

© 2005 BOOMTOWN MEDIA International