Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Igor Stravinsky: A Birthday and a Wedding

Since today is Igor Stravinsky’s birthday – born June 17th, 1882 – let me point you in the direction of a collection of humorous short stories based on the ‘what-if’ question inspired by this photo of “Stravinsky’s Tavern.”

Even Google’s home-page was getting into the act with a Stravinksy-inspired logo based on two of his best known ballets, The Firebird and, presumably, The Rite of Spring (at least I assume the garland of daisies has been left behind by the now-sacrificed virgin).

If you’re not familiar with The Rite of Spring, one of the most important works of the 20th Century, watch the videos of a reconstruction of the original choreography that created such a scandal at its world premiere in 1914 – you can see them on an earlier springtime post.

Another one of my favorite Stravinsky works is Les Noces which I discovered when I was in high school in the mid-60s but never saw as a staged ballet until the late-70s when I lived in New York City. My miniature score calls it “Свадебка” (“Svadebka”) or “Village [or Little Folk] Wedding” though it’s usually known in French as “Les Noces” or “The Wedding.”

The story follows the preparation and blessing of the bride-to-be for her wedding, then a somewhat rowdier one for the groom, leading to the departure of the bride from her parents’ home for her future husband’s home where they will celebrate the wedding and the wedding feast. It consists almost entirely of rituals – the bride’s hair is braided into long strands, she weeps not because she is sad but because she must weep. Stravinsky is supposed to have collected Russian folks songs related to weddings – though he stressed it was not his intent to ethnographically reconstruct a folk wedding on stage.

The ballet – it is more accurately described as “choreographic scenes” or a “danced cantata” – had a long gestation. Stravinsky began work on it in 1913 around the time he was finishing The Rite of Spring (perhaps a different sacrifice of a virgin, here – make no mistake about the choreography’s symbolism at the end of Les Noces when the husband leads his new bride off to the bed chamber, his arm raised in phallic salute), but it wasn’t until ten years later the work, in its final form, received its premiere. It began with an expanded orchestra similar to The Rite of Spring, but before he’d finished the first of its four scenes, he began to rethink it in several different ways. One of these included player pianos which proved to be for any number of reasons impractical.

The final version was scored for a quartet of vocal soloists, a choir and two groups of percussion instruments – pitched and unpitched – including four (count ‘em, four) pianos. When it was first performed in the United States, the four pianists were all composers, including Marc Blitzstein and Aaron Copland. The recording I grew up with was conducted by the composer with composer-pianists Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Lukas Foss and Roger Sessions.

This video produced by the Royal Ballet was staged in 1966 by Bronislava Nijinska using her original choreography and the costume designs from the 1923 premiere.

So even though it is Stravinsky’s birthday, let’s go to the wedding (to the wedding)…

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Part One – the Blessing of the Bride; beginning of the Blessing of the Bridegroom

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Part Two – conclusion of the Blessing of the Bridegroom – the Departure of the Bride – the beginning of the Wedding Feast

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Part Three – the conclusion of the Wedding Feast

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Happy Birthday, Igor - and ||: many happy returns :||

- Dr. Dick

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