Program Notes
feb 20, 21, 22
adagio sostenuto.
A soft chorale for muted strings
introduces the second movement, but in a wonderful
touch the solo flute sings the main theme as the pianist
accompanies. The theme is repeated, first by the clarinet
and then the strings, growing more elaborate as it
proceeds, and only then is the piano allowed to take the
lead. A brief but spectacular cadenza leads to a recall of
the tolling bells from the very beginning and a quiet close.
allegro scherzando.
The final movement begins quietly
as well, but in a march-like manner full of suppressed
rhythmic energy. Rachmaninoff makes effective contrast
between the orchestra’s opening—powerful but controlled
with an almost military precision—and the piano’s
entrance, which explodes with an extraordinary wildness.
The second theme, broadly sung by the violas, has
become one of those Big Tunes for which Rachmaninoff
was famous. This wonderful melody would become
an inspiration for countless Hollywood composers
and, many years later, would be used to set the words
“Full moon and empty arms.” If one can escape such
associations and listen with fresh ears, this lovely music
is an excellent reminder of Rachmaninoff’s considerable
melodic gift. The concerto rushes to its conclusion
on a no-holds-barred coda (another Rachmaninoff
specialty) that resounds in every measure with the young
composer’s recently restored health.
Instrumentation:
solo piano with orchestra comprising
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets,
3 trombones, tuba, bass drum, cymbals, timpani and strings
of the Firebird. They decided to take a chance on an
unknown young composer named Igor Stravinsky.
Recognizing that this was his big chance, Stravinsky set
to work in November 1909 and finished the score the
following spring. The first performance, in Paris on
June 25, 1910, was a huge success. Though Stravinsky
would go on to write quite different music over the
remainder of his long career, the music from
The
Firebird
remains his most popular creation. Of the three
concert suites Stravinsky drew from the ballet score, the
1919 revision heard here is performed most often.
a tale of enchantment
The Firebird
tells of a young prince, Ivan Tsarevich,
who pursues the magic Firebird—part woman, part
bird—into the garden of the ogre Kashchei, who
imprisons maidens in the castle and turns all knights
who come to rescue them to stone. Ivan captures
the Firebird, who gives him a magic feather when he
releases her. The prince sees 13 princesses playing with
golden apples, and when at dawn they hurry back to
Kashchei’s castle, he follows them. The monsters there
capture him and he is about to be turned to stone
himself when he waves the magic feather—and the
Firebird returns, puts the ogres to sleep and shows him
where a magic egg is hidden. When Ivan smashes the
egg, Kashchei and his fiends disappear, the petrified
knights return to life, the maidens are freed, and Ivan
marries the most beautiful of the princesses.
magical music
The
Introduction
brings one of Stravinsky’s most striking
orchestral effects: a series of rippling string arpeggios
played entirely in harmonics. The composer wanted to
create here a Catherine-wheel effect, that of fireworks
spinning and throwing off light. The music proceeds
into the shimmering, whirling
Dance of the Firebird
,
Stravinsky’s own favorite music from this score.
In
the
Dance of the Princesses
Stravinsky uses the old
Russian folk tune “In the Garden.” The
Infernal Dance
of King Kashchei
begins with one of the most violent
orchestral attacks ever written. Sharply syncopated
rhythms and barbaric growls depict the fiends’ efforts
to resist the Firebird’s spell.
In its aftermath, solo bassoon sings the gentle
Berceuse
with which the Firebird lulls Kashchei and his followers
to sleep, and this leads through a magical passage
for tremolo strings into the
Finale
. Here solo horn
n 1909, following a successful visit of the Ballets
Russes to Paris, the Russian impresario Serge
Diaghilev and his choreographer Michel Fokine made
plans for a new ballet to be presented in Paris the
following season and based on the old Russian legend
Igor Stravinsky
Born:
June 17, 1882, Oranienbaum
Died:
April 6, 1971, New York City
Suite from
The Firebird
(1919 revision)
i
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