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ClassicsOnline Home » STRAVINSKY: Sacre du Printemps (Le) / Jeu de Cartes
Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971)
The Rite of Spring (Le sacre du printemps)
Jeu de cartes (Card Game) (Ballet in Three Deals)
Igor Stravinsky was the son of a distinguished bass soloist at
the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, creator of important roles in new operas by
Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. He was born, the third of four sons, at Oranienbaum on
the Gulf of Finland in the summer of 1882. In childhood his ability in music did not seem
exceptional, but he was able to study music privately with Rimsky-Korsakov, who became a
particularly important influence after the death of the composer's imperious father in
1902. He completed a degree in law in 1905, married in the following year and increasingly
devoted himself to music. His first significant success came when the impresario Dyagilev,
a distant relative on his mother's side of the family, commissioned from him the ballet
The Firebird, first performed in Paris in 1910. This was followed by the very Russian Petrushka in 1911 for the Dyagilev Ballets russes, with which he was now closely
associated, leading in 1913 to the notorious first performance of The Rite of Spring,
first staged, like the preceding ballets, in Paris. Although collaboration with Dyagilev
was limited during the war, when Stravinsky lived principally in Switzerland, it was
resumed with the ballet >Pulcinella, based on
music attributed to Pergolesi, and marking Stravinsky's association with neo-classicism.
The end of the association with Dyagilev was marked by what the impresario considered a
macabre present, the Cocteau collaboration Oedipus Rex.
Stravinsky has been compared to his near contemporary Picasso,
the painter who provided decor for Pulcinella and
who through a long career was to show mastery of a number of contrasting styles.
Stravinsky's earlier music was essentially Russian in inspiration, followed by a style of
composition derived largely from the 18th century, interspersed with musical excursions in
other directions. His so-called neo-classicism coincided with the beginning of a career
that was now international. The initial enthusiasm for the Russian revolution of 1917 that
had led even Dyagilev to replace crown and sceptre in The
Firebird with a red flag, was soon succeeded by distaste for the new regime and
the decision not to return to Russia.
In 1939, with war imminent in Europe, Stravinsky moved to the
United States, where he had already enjoyed considerable success. The death of his first
wife allowed him to marry a woman with whom he had enjoyed a long earlier association and
the couple settled in Hollywood, where the climate seemed congenial. Income from his
compositions was at last safeguarded by his association with Boosey and Hawkes in 1945,
the year of his naturalisation as an American citizen. The year 1951 saw the completion
and first performance of the English opera The Rake's Progress, based on Hogarth
engravings with a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, a work that came at the
final height of the composer's neo-classicism. The last period of his life brought a
change to serialism, the technique of composition developed by Arnold Schoenberg, a
fellow-exile in California, with whom he had never chosen to associate. In 1962 he made a
triumphant return to Russia for a series of concerts in celebration of his 80th birthday.
Among his final compositions are the Requiem Canticles of 1965-6 which follow his Requiem Introitus for the death of the poet T. S.
Eliot, but prefigure his own death, which took place in New York in April, 1971. He was
buried in the cemetery on the island of San Michele in Venice, his grave near that of
Dyagilev, whose percipience had launched his career sixty years before.
The Rite of Spring, with
choreography by Nijinsky was first staged at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris in
May, 1913. The work had already caused considerable trouble in Dyagilev's ballet company.
Nijinsky, the principal male dancer, in 1912 began to replace Fokin as choreographer, and
with The Rite of Spring he tackled a formidable task, to provide a new kind of dance for a
plot of primitive symbolism and energy, coupled with music of a very new kind. Stravinsky
alleged a degree of musical incompetence in Nijinsky, who needed, he once claimed, to be
taught the rudiments of the subject. Nevertheless the dancer was able to match the music
with something equally original and startling. Neither music nor choreography proved in
any way acceptable to the general public on the occasion of the first performance,
although all had gone well enough in a preview before an invited audience of cognoscenti.
At the first public performance there was an uproar, as members of the audience took sides
for or against the piece. In spite of deafening and violent objections from many, the
dancers and musicians continued to the end, although the music was inaudible. The result
was, at least, a succes de scandale. In later years the music of the ballet was to
exercise a strong influence over the course of 2Oth century music, although Nijinsky's
original choreography proved less durable.
Drawing on pagan Russia as its source of inspiration, The Rite of Spring opens with the Adoration of the
Earth, the introduction to which is marked by the evocative bassoon solo with which it
starts and finishes, leading without a break to the forceful rhythm of the Augurs of
Spring, Dances of the Young Girls (Les augures printaniers: Danses des adolescentes). The
Ritual of Abduction (Jeu du rapt) follows, with two groups of girls, dressed in red,
pursued in a simulated ritual of abduction, by the young men. The Spring Rounds (Rondes
printanieres) are introduced by trills on flutes, with a simple Russian clarinet melody,
the dancers moving in circles. Now the Ritual of the Two Rival Tribes begins (Jeux des
cites rivales), interrupted by the Procession of the Sage (Cortege du sage), as the tribal
elders lead in their wise old high priest. He lies prone on the ground, in adoration of
the earth (Adoration de la terre), after which the people celebrate with the Dance of the
Earth (Danse de la terre).
The second part of The Rite
of Spring is The Sacrifice (Le sacrifice). The mysterious introduction evokes a
twilight scene, desolate, and yet inhabited by strange and primitive creatures. A dark
hill-top is marked by sacred stones and totems. From the Mystic Circles of Young Girls
(Cercles mysterieux des adolescentes) one will be chosen as sacrificial victim, as they
circle in rhythmic motion, watched by the tribal elders. Once the victim is chosen, lost
in an ecstatic trance, her role is glorified in The Glorification of the Chosen One
(Glorification de l'elue), a dance of fierce asymmetrical rhythms. Fanfares herald the
Evocation of the Ancestors (Evocation des ancetres), and the elders, wearing animal-skins,
celebrate the Ritual Action of the Ancestors (Action rituelle des ancetres), moving
forward to the stark and exotic rhythms of the final Sacrificial Dance (Danse sacrale), as
the victim joins in a ritual that must end in her own death.
The ballet Jeu de cartes belongs to another world. Completed in
1937, with libretto and music by Stravinsky, this choreographic Card Game in Three Deals
was commissioned for Lincoln Kirstein's American Ballet,
with choreography by Balanchine, who explains the aim of the piece - to show that the
highest cards, kings, queens and jacks, the most important people, are nothing more than
cards, to be defeated on occasion by small cards in the game. Stravinsky was an
enthusiastic poker-player, and had earlier contemplated a ballet based on cards. The
commission from the American Ballet brought this to realisation, effectively couched in
his sparer neo-classical style.
Jeu de cartes consist of three deals, with the cards shuffled
and then played, but action is complicated by the Joker, a card that should have no place
in a poker game. Each deal is marked by the music that opens the ballet. In the first
hand, with its rival sequences, one of the players is beaten and in the second the player
holding the Joker, who assembles four aces, beats his opponent's four queens. In the final
deal a sequence of spades, led by the Joker, is beaten by a royal flush in hearts. The
first deal contains a pas d'action and Joker's Dance, the second a march for hearts and
spades, variations for the queens and a pas de quatre, and the third a waltz-minuet, a
battle for spades and hearts and a final dance of triumph, to celebrate the royal flush in
BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels
The history of the BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels goes
back to the birth of the Belgian Radio in the 1930's. After the well-known musicologist
and promoter of contemporary music, Paul Collaer, had become head of the Music Department
of the Belgian Radio, the orchestra, under its conductor Franz Andre, gained a world-wide
reputation for its interpretations of the latest compositions of Stravinsky, Berg, Bartok,
Hindemith and other 20th century composers. The orchestra gave the first European
performance of Bartoks Concerto for Orchestra in Paris and the first West European
performance of the Fourth Symphony by Shostakovich, and has, over the years, worked with
many leading conductors, from Pierre Boulez, Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud to Lorin
Maazel and Zubin Mehta.
In 1978 the Radio Symphony Orchestra was dissolved and both the
Flemish and the French Radio divisions set up their own symphony orchestras. The Flemish
network soon had a new orchestra, the BRT Philharmonic, with some 90 musicians and Fernand
Terby became its principal conductor from 1978 to 1988. Since 1988. Alexander Rahbari has
been the principal conductor and musical director of the new BRT Philharmonic Orchestra.
Alexander Rahbari was born in Iran in 1948 and was trained as a
conductor at the Vienna Music Academy as a pupil of von Einem, Swarowsky and
Österreicher. On his return to Iran he was appointed director of the Teheran Conservatory
of Music and took a leading position in the cultural development of his country. In 1977
he moved to Europe, winning first prize in the Besançon International Conductors'
Competition and the Geneva silver medal. In 1979 he was invited by Herbert von Karajan to
conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and served as von Karajans assistant in
Salzburg. Rahbaris subsequent career has been highly successful, with concerts
throughout the world and engagements in leading opera-houses. He is Principal Guest
Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and has conducted major orchestras
throughout Europe, in Japan and in Canada. Alexander Rahbari is now a citizen of Austria.
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STRAVINSKY: Sacre du Printemps (Le) / Jeu de Carte...