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ClassicsOnline Home » STRAVINSKY, I.: Histoire du Soldat Suite / Renard (Craft) (Stravinsky, Vol. 7)
This is a unique collection of mostly short works that Stravinsky re-worked in different arrangements to suit the occasion. Pastorale, transcribed here for a quartet of oboe, clarinet, English horn, and bassoon, is one of Stravinsky’s most popular pieces, as well as his own favourite among his pre-Firebird creations. The Soldier’s Tale, scored for only 7 players, is based on a Russian folk-tale of the soldier who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for a violin. Stravinsky’s comic masterpiece, Renard, also based on a Russian folk-tale, is heard here in an amended version of his own English translation. Scherzo à la Russe is the original, scored for the Paul Whiteman band of six saxophones, eight strings, harp, piano, assorted brass, woodwinds, and percussion.
By Malcolm Hayes
By Geoff Brown
By David Denton
As Naxos has progressed through Robert
Craft's extensive survey of Igor Stravinsky's music, I have commented at length
on his unique place as confidant and conducting assistant during the composer's
later years in the United States. It gave a singular insight into his final
thoughts, though Craft is anxious to stress that these are his own performances
based on the experience of their years together. The present disc is a sweeping
up exercise of shorter works and comes from previously released material on the
Music Masters and Koch labels to which is added a recent recording of Renard.
To detail the vast array of performers in such a compilation would make for an
extremely lengthy heading, so I am contenting myself with the orchestras
involved. I should point out that L'Histoire du Soldat contains just the
instrumental parts; Pastorale comes in the composer's arrangement for
violin and woodwind quintet, while the Scherzo a la Russe is played in
the original jazz band score. So now I have to resort to a generalisation in
commenting that the performances are of the high standard we have come to
expect in the series. Highpoints are certainly Charles Neidich's excellent
playing of the Three Pieces and Sarah Narucki's perfectly focused singing of
the Two Belmont Songs and Three Japanese Lyrics. As we move around several
recording locations and widely separated dates, the bringing together has been
achieved with minimal feel of change between tracks. If you want this unusual
coupling to fill some gaps, go for it.
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Pastorale • Histoire du Soldat Suite • Three Pieces for Clarinet
Pribaoutki • Berceuses du chat • Renard
Two Balmont Songs • Three Japanese Lyrics
Composed in 1908 as a vocalize for soprano and piano, the Pastorale was first sung by Natasha Rimsky-Korsakov, the composer's daughter, with Stravinsky at the keyboard. In the 1920s he arranged the vocal for violin, thereby extending the range an octave higher and permitting him to double the length of the piece. In 1924 he transcribed the piano part for a quartet of oboe, clarinet, English horn, and bassoon, the version recorded here. It is one of Stravinsky's most popular pieces, as well as his own favorite among his pre-Firebird creations.
The ten pieces of incidental music for Stravinsky's and C. F. Ramuz's play The Soldier's Tale are: The Soldier's March; Music to Scene I; Music to Scene II (Pastorale); Royal March (Pasadoble); Little Concert; Three Dances: Tango, Waltz, Ragtime (played without pause); The Devil's Dance; Petit Chorale, Grande Chorale, and Triumphal March of the Devil.
In The Soldier's Tale, Stravinsky's "jazz" Faust, the Devil is identified with the percussion, the Soldier with the violin. The last pages of the score portray the victory of the former over the latter quite literally as the wind instruments and double bass gradually drop out and, after a few final splutters, the violin as well, leaving the percussion to conclude the drama alone. The Devil's motive at the beginning of this march to Hell, a note repeated on four beats followed by an ascending five-note scale in doubly fast note values, is first introduced near the end of the "Royal March" (violin, clarinet), then repeated in the "Little Concert" (trombone), and made the principal theme of "The Devil's Dance." But the interweaving of motives throughout The Soldier's Tale is a large subject, in, for example, the recurrence in the "Little Concert" of thematic material from the "Soldier's March" and "Music to Scene I"; a motive from "Music to Scene I" in the "Tango"; and of the two-note figure in the bass in "Music to Scene I" at the end of "Music to Scene II" (bassoon).
The present performance restores the leather-headed mallet (mailloche), and a cane stick with head of handspun felt (capoc) for the bass drum. Both of these mallets, specified in the manuscript score, have become obsolete.
The Three Pieces for Clarinet, respectively dated 19 October, 24 October, and 15 November 1918, were composed for Werner Reinhart, an industrialist, a patron of both Stravinsky and Schoenberg, and an amateur clarinettist who had sponsored the first staged production of Histoire du Soldat in Lausanne in 1918. Reinhart founded a music library of Stravinskyana at his home in Wintherthur, Switzerland, which is world-renowned for its splendid gardens.
The first piece is confined to the chalumeau register of the instrument, its highest note being the F sharp above middle C. The second piece dispenses with bar lines and divides into three parts, a fast, high-range first section, ending with a fermata, a low-range middle section, distinguished by hiccoughing appoggiaturas, and a shorter section developing the fast music of the beginning. The first and third sections are rhythmically intricate in that the three notes of the triplet rhythm are succeeded by two notes equal to two of the three, then by quarters equal to six of the triplet notes, then by groups of seven and eight notes, each group equal to a quarter (crotchet). The jazz-style third piece recalls the "Ragtime" in Histoire du Soldat. The present performance follows the manuscript in concluding with a crescendo, rather than the diminuendo of the published score.
Stravinsky wrote his miniature clarinet piece, Pour Picasso, on an Italian telegram form while the two artists were in Rome together in April 1917. The manuscript suggests that the composer was alcoholically elevated at the time, since the lines of the staff weave uncharacteristically, since "Pablo" becomes "Paolo", and since the Italian for April is misspelled ("Apprile"). Moreover, the three notes before the last one were originally placed a major second too low (F–G–F), and the composer, recognising his mistake, broadened them to straddle the lines above, writing over them "Sol, La, Sol" for good measure. The music betrays no sign of inebriation, however, and the Spanish character of the embellished six-pitch melody is established in only 23 notes. Below the music is the legend:
pour la posterité
The last three words are apparently in Picasso's hand.
The word Pribaoutki denotes a form of popular Russian verse. Stravinsky chose the texts from the collection by Alexander Afanasiev.
A vivid appreciation of the music is found in a December 1919 letter to Stravinsky from Sergey Prokofiev in New York, where he had coached the performers for the American première of the songs earlier in the month:
"Kornilo" I like most of all. The oboe and clarinet suggest the gurgle of an emptying bottle: you express drunkenness through your clarinet with the skill of a real drunkard; and the whole of "Natashka", but above all the delightful babbling of the winds in the last five bars; the "Colonel" entirely, but especially the oboe twitters and the climax on the words "pala propala"; in "The Old Man and the Hare," especially the coda: the clarinet's G and A natural, and the English horn's A flat are most insolent and most excellent.
Like T. S. Eliot, Stravinsky memorialized his love of cats and his observations of their ways in his art. He named his own pet felines in California years Pancho, Vaska (Vassily Vassilyevitch Lechkin), and Celeste. Edward Lear's Old Foss was the inspiration behind Stravinsky's last opus, his setting of Lear's The Owl and the Pussy-Cat (1966).
The first performance of Berceuses du Chat and of Pribaoutki, complete with their instrumental ensembles (as distinguished from piano accompaniment), took place in Vienna on 6 June 1919, under the auspices of Arnold Schoenberg's Society for Private Performances. Two days later, Anton Webern wrote to Alban Berg: 'The Stravinsky was wonderful. These songs are marvellous, and this music moves me wholly and beyond belief. I love it, and the lullabies are indescribably touching. How these clarinets sound! And Pribaoutki! Ah, my dear friend, it is something really glorious.'
The composer himself wrote the libretto for his comic masterpiece, Renard, basing it on a Russian folk-tale from Alexander Afanasiev's collection of them. A rooster crows from a barnyard perch, boasting of his harem of hens. A fox approaches, disguised in religious habit, and tricks the rooster into coming down and confessing his sins ("you have wedded, you have bedded too many wives"). The bird complies and is caught. A cat and a goat respond to the fowl's calls for help and chase the fox away. The rooster returns to his perch, the fox reappears, this time offering grain and fresh green peas as an inducement to descend, and the action is repeated, the bird descending and being caught, the cat and goat again coming to the rescue. They turn the tables on the fox, taunting him about the uncertainty of "Mrs. Foxy's" fidelity and that of his four daughters, "Smooth as Silk," "Butter Belly," "What Have You," and "Cinnamon Browny." Finally they "tear Renard to bits" (seven howls from the four singers), and the pantomime ends with the embroidered unison first part of the opening march, completing the symmetry of the two dramatic episodes.
At the beginning, the rooster is impersonated by all four singers, but in the dialogues the first tenor is identified with the former, the second tenor with the fox. The bass voices are associated with the cat and the goat, the upper bass mocking Renard's seduction of the rooster by singing in falsetto ("foxy, dearest foxy"). The fox's unctuousness and false piety are parodied by a chant-like vocal line, and the mockery of the Russian Orthodox Church returns when the rooster, caught by the fox a second time, prays to sundry saints. Instrumental parallels to the vocal onomatopoeias - the rooster's "chuck, chuck", the squeals in the upper bass part, the moaning ("oh") - include the cimbalom's imitation of the rooster's clucking and cock-a-doodle-do-ing, and a squawk of high English horn notes that evoke its wing-flapping. Other barnyard noises are suggested by chirping string harmonics and pizzicati, by the croaking upper register of the bassoon, and by a variety of percussion noises (cymbals, tambourine, drums), but the principal sonority of the work as a whole is that of the bright, bouncy cimbalom, whose rapid arpeggiated flourishes match the acrobatic movement on stage.
The bawdy wit, farcical fun, high spirits and high speed - the nonsense syllables in the final free-for-all - are uniquely Stravinskyan; no other composer since Mozart possessed genius in the comic dimension comparable to that of the witty Russian, and, indeed, most attempts at humour in music are heavy-handed. Renard also bespeaks keen observation of, and love for, avians and animals both domestic and wild, as The Cat's Lullabies, composed the year before, and the songs about ducks, doves, drakes, geese, swans, magpies, "merry larks", rooks, ravens, jackdaws, cuckoos, owls, a nightingale (the subject of a whole opera), and the bestiary of the Ark.
Stravinsky wanted the verbal as well as the musical jokes of Renard to be understood, and he insisted that the work be sung in the language of its audience (i.e., Russian only in Russia); he prepared his own English translation for a performance in Los Angeles in March 1953. The text of the present recording is based on this but is emended in several places by Fred Sherry, Philip Traugott, and the present writer.
Stravinsky's settings of two short lyrics by the Russian Symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont are his first works to dispense with key signatures. Composed in Ustilug, Russia, in 1911, immediately after Petrushka and before The Rite of Spring, they continue the exploration, in the latter part of "The Dove", of bitonality begun in the former and anticipate the rhythmic and harmonic density in the Introduction to the latter. But for the most part the songs are extremely simple, and among the most graceful Stravinsky ever wrote.
Concertizing in Japan in the spring of 1959, Stravinsky told an interviewer:
I came into contact with Japan in the course of my work many years ago. In 1913 I composed a small work which used three short Japanese poems for its texts. I was attracted at the time by Japanese woodblock prints, a two-dimensional art without any sense of solidity. I discovered this two-dimensionality in some Russian translations of poetry, and attempted to express it in my music. [Note (1)]
The music critic Hans Pringsheim, Thomas Mann's nephew, who acted as Stravinsky's interpreter during his stay in Japan, elaborated in another article published at the time:
Stravinsky spent more than one hour at an exhibition of Ukiyo-e masterpieces which was being held in Osaka in coordination with the International Festival of the Arts, after which he had the following to say: "I have long been fond of Japanese art, and about fifty years ago I owned some prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige. In fact I have the feeling that some of those prints are included amongst the views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai and the Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido by Hiroshige which I have seen here today. Unfortunately, many of my most treasured possessions disappeared during the First World War. [Note (2)]
The Three Japanese Lyrics are respectively dedicated to the composers Maurice Delage, Florent Schmitt, and Maurice Ravel. Delage, who had visited Japan in the spring of 1912, kindled Stravinsky's enthusiasm for its art.
Stravinsky set the texts in the Russian translations of A. Brandt. The poems are known as "Waka" (literally, "Japanese songs"), or "Tanka" (literally, "short songs"), poems of thirty-one syllables arranged in five lines with a syllabic morpheme of 5–7–5–7–7. They first appear in Japanese literature in the eighth century and therefore considerably predate the Haiku form that arose in the fourteenth century and developed through the Edo period.
Akahito refers to Akahito Yamanobe, a famous court poet of the Nara period (eighth century). His fifty most notable poems are included in the oldest known collection of Japanese poetry, the Manyo-shu. The title of the second piece, Mazatsumi, should be Masazumi - Stravinsky's misspelling - for Masazumi Miyamoto, who lived in the latter half of the ninth century. His poem likens the ice that melts in the wind blowing through the valleys in spring to the first blossoms of spring.
Tsaraiuki, correctly Tsurayuki Ki no, is one of Japan's most renowned poets and the compiler of the Kokin-shu, the earliest and most famous collection of Waka. He lived during the latter half of the ninth and first half of the tenth centuries. The image of cherry blossoms that bloom in the spring and are compared to white clouds appears in at least five of his poems. The one Stravinsky chose was Kokin-shu, number 59 in the Kokka Taikan.
According to the Japanese scholar Funayama, Akahito, moving softly in slow, steady eighth notes, "portrays an image of snow gently falling during spring". In the rapid tempo music of Mazatsumi, the instrumental Introduction is as long as the vocal part, which begins on four high, exclamatory slow notes at the exact mid-point. Among the novel instrumental effects are glissandos on open-string harmonics and a rapidly descending flutter-tongued chromatic scale in the flute. The tonal centre of the first half of the piece is D sharp, sustained ponticello in the second violin. A fast ostinato figure in the clarinet, sounded five times, is the feature of the introduction. The four dramatic slow notes of the voice are repeated by the piccolo six bars later in fast tempo and in music of a light, airy character.
The "fast passages" in Tsaraiuki, Funayama says, "reflect the colour of cherry blossoms seen on a distant mountain". There are no fast "passages", however, but only three iterations of a five-note embellishment figure in the clarinets and, in the last bar, a rapid-note recapitulation in the piccolo of the principal vocal melody. The vocal line is confined to eighth-notes (quavers), the accompaniment largely to two parts. The final chord is the first inversion of an F major triad, which must be said because of a mistakenly alleged influence of Pierrot Lunaire. Tsaraiuki, the only one of the Lyrics composed after Stravinsky heard Pierrot, in Berlin, 8 December 1912, is melodically, harmonically, and instrumentally remote from Schoenberg. Akahito was completed in full score in mid-October 1912 and the score-sketch of Mazatsumi between that date and the end of November, 1912, but both pieces were composed in piano-score form in August 1912.
The version of the Scherzo à la Russe recorded here is the original, scored for the Paul Whiteman band of six saxophones, eight strings, harp, piano, assorted brass, woodwinds, and percussion. It was first performed in a broadcast concert in October 1944, conducted by Whiteman. François Poulenc dubbed it "Petrushka 1944".
Hymn de la Nouvelle Russie is the title on the original, full-score manuscript of Song of the Volga Boatmen, which is in Ernest Ansermet's hand, on printed music paper. The manuscript of the piano reduction, on staves drawn by Stravinsky's stylus, is in his hand. After hearing the piece at rehearsal, he re-orchestrated the first four bars, transferring the four horns from harmonic parts to the principal melodic voice, doubling it in octaves, and saving the upper woodwinds for the second and fourth bars, rather than using them in all four. The beginning of the second part of the piece is confined to the brass and percussion (timpani, tam-tam, bass drum) alone, with the melody in the trumpets and trombones. They are relieved by the upper woodwinds. The full orchestra is used only in the final strophe. The première took place at the opening of the Ballets Russes programme in the Teatro Costanzi in Rome in April 1917. Picasso painted a red circle on the cover, in the name of the Revolution.
That Stravinsky could have chosen this music, the representative song of slavery and oppression so long associated with the recently abdicated Tsar, as a National Anthem for the new, Revolutionary regime is incomprehensible, and still more so that he continued to programme it, not only in New York in 1925 but also in Moscow in 1962, when the audience did not know how to respond.
The manuscript of an orchestration of the piano accompaniment to the song, as performed by Fyodor Chaliapin in 1910, was discovered in the Mappleson Library in New York in 2006 and has been attributed to Stravinsky.
(1) Report of a press conference, Mainichi Shimbun, April 8, 1959.
(2) H. Pringsheim, "Conversations with Stravinsky," Asahi Shimbun, May 5, 1959. A photograph of Stravinsky in his home in Ustilug in 1912 shows a Hokusai print on the wall of his living room.
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