announces the main theme, based on another Russian
folksong, “By the Gate.” Beginning quietly, this noble
tune drives
The Firebird
to a magnificent conclusion on
music of general rejoicing.
2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (1 doubling English horn),
2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets,
3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, bass drum, tambourine,
triangle, xylophone, harp, piano (doubling celesta) and strings
woman in gypsy dress mounts a table in a smoky tavern
and begins to dance. Men surround the table and begin
to pound out the bolero rhythm as her dance grows in
excitement. The climax brings an explosion—knives are
drawn—but trouble is avoided and everyone vanishes
with the last chord. So exciting was the premiere in
Paris on November 22, 1928, that the audience rushed
the stage and Rubinstein herself barely escaped injury
in the resulting tumult.
Originally, a bolero was a moderately-paced Spanish
dance in triple-time in which the dancers sang and
accompanied themselves with castanets. Ravel excludes
the sound of voices and begins with the simplest of
openings: a snare drum lays out the two-measure
rhythmic pattern that will repeat throughout
Solo flute plays the languorous main idea, a lilting,
winding melody that is repeated and extended by other
wind instruments. And then Ravel simply repeats this
material, subtly varying its orchestration as it gradually
grows louder. The music is full of striking effects that
make use of uncommon instruments (two kinds of
saxophone, E-flat clarinet and oboe d’amore) or set
instruments in unusual registers. At the close, he makes
one harmonic adjustment, shifting from C major
to E-flat major, and in this context even so simple
a modulation seems a cataclysmic event. Grinding
dissonances drive
to a thunderous close on a
great rush of sound.
Even before its use in the movie
, Ravel’s
was one of the most famous works ever written for
orchestra, familiar to millions around the world and a
favorite even with those who claim to dislike classical
music. Yet this dazzling piece is remarkable for the
utter simplicity of its material. Ravel himself described
it as “17 minutes of orchestra without any music” and
said that it was “one very long, gradual crescendo.”
But it is the “non-musical” materials—the hypnotic
rhythms, subtle shifts of instrumental color, avoidance
of any kind of development, cumulative expressive
power—that make
such an exciting experience.
2 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), piccolo, 2 oboes
(1 doubling oboe d’amore), English horn, 2 clarinets,
bass clarinet, E-flat clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon,
soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, 4 horns, 4 trumpets,
3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, 2 snare drums,
tam-tam, bass drum, harp, celesta and strings
Program notes by
Eric Bromberger
hough it is most often heard today in the concert
hall, Ravel’s
began life as a ballet—the dancer
Ida Rubinstein asked the composer for a ballet with
a Spanish atmosphere, and he wrote this score for
her in 1928. In Rubinstein’s choreography, a young
Maurice Ravel
March 7, 1875, Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées
December 28, 1937, Paris
feb 20, 21, 22
Program Notes
Léon Bakst's 1910 costume design for the title character
The Firebird.
1...,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26 28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36,37,...40