Monday, April 22, 2013



If Beethoven bridged 2 musical eras, the classical and the romantic, Stravinsky defined and shaped the neo-romantic and helped lend legitimacy to the 12-tone or dodecophany style as it was once known. Being Russian didn't hurt, and he wrote about what he saw in the world around him. Unlike Prokofiev, who would leave Russia, shortly after the Revolution with the regime's blessings, only to return later to approbation for most of his works, Stravinsky, having left well before the Revolution, was free to come and go as he pleased.

I played for a conductor who looked like this once; he scared the hell out of me.

Thus, he was never hamstrung in the type of music he wrote. Don't get me wrong; they are both 2 of my favorite composers to listen to and play. But for sheer courage, one must listen to Shostakovich. He lived in Leningrad during the siege during WWII, wrote 15 symphonies and dared Stalin every inch of the way. His music is dripping with the tragedy of a nation. Prokofiev gives us glimpses and what-might-have-beens. His 7th symphony, the “American” is beautiful and heartrending in it's joyful abandon.

There are no "do overs" here.

Stravinsky was another kettle of fish. From “Firebird” which is probably my favorite piece to play (lots of growling around on the “C” string and the “Danse Infernale!) to the wonderful, game-changing “Le Sacre du Printemps” or The Rite of Spring, which was premiered in 1903 in Paris, as a ballet, no less!. The Parisians rioted in the streets. Diaghelev had choreographed the thing and I heard it was just a few scraggly ballerinas in chicken feathers, thus the riot. Most likely, it was because no one had ever really heard anything like this before. You can't read the bitch. It must be memorized. This music is a depiction of spring, exploding. It explodes in Russia, apparently. That, I can believe.

I have heard that Diaghilev and Stravinsky had an "intense" working relationship. You can just take one look at Igor and guess that...

Tempo changes. Different key signatures every measure. 1/7 measure, followed by 5/12 measure. Split measures. You cannot count it out in your head, you have to memorize it. Anyway, Stravinsky still had other things to write after this. Admittedly, I haven't played his later works, such as “Canticum Sacrum.” Of course, I don't sing. It is a vocal piece; exceedingly difficult and is a 12-tone work. Stravinsky was a seeker and sought out different sounds, tempi, chord changes, rhythms. and threw out all the rules, he learned so assiduously. Other composers, such as Aaron Copeland recognized Stravinsky's monumental greatness as a 20th century composer and his continual need to push the envelope in expansion of the expression of neo-romanticism as well as 12-tone music. Composers such as Arnold Schoenbert who started out writing neo-romantic pieces such as “Verklarte Nachte,” ended writing with his 12-tone masterpiece, “Pierre Luniere.” So much of his inspiration and writing stemmed from the groundwork set by Stravinsky.

Lt. Kije; it looks like they are letting cars into Red Square now!

While Prokofiev is a powerhouse as a composer in his own right, he had to answer to none other than the Soviet machine and there is little doubt that any radicalism he displayed in his earlier works was tamped. He took to writing more programmatic pieces, “Peter and the Wolf,” in collaboration with Disney, “The Scythian Suite,” “Lieutenant Kije,” “Alexander Nevsky” and “Love for 3 Oranges.” Along with several symphonies. The Russians were and remain, some of my favorites, to play and listen to, starting with Tschaikovsky all the way through Shostakovich.. However, Igor Stravinsky surpasses them all; ferocious music, written mostly during ferocious times. But, he had to leave his homeland to do it.

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