Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Sinfonia (Overture): Allegro moderato
Serenata: Larghetto -
Scherzino - Allegro - Andantino -
Gavotta con due variazioni: Allegro moderato
Minuetto: molto moderato -
Finale: allegro assai
The most significant developments in musical history are not necessarily inspired by the most significant composers - or even by composers at all. The neo-classical taste, which had a strong influence on music for twenty years or more, was formed as much by Diaghilev, ballet impresario and no musician, as any one else. It was he who sensed how public taste would change after the first world war, and it was he who commissioned Tommasini to arrange Scarlatti's music for The Good-Humoured Ladies, Respighi to arrange Rossini's for La Boutique Fantasque, and Stravinsky to arrange Pergolesi's for Pulcinella. With choreography by Massine for all three ballets and designs by (respectively) Baskt, Derain, and Picasso they could scarcely fail to arouse the interest of the public.
As for Stravinsky, he would surely not have thought of creating a ballet score from music by (or attributed to) Pergolesi if Diaghilev had not asked him. He provided Stravinsky with the Pegolesi scores and with an early eighteenth-century comic libretto, based on the commedia dell'arte character of Pulcinella, to go with them. The several months of concentrated work on Pergolesi in 1919 and 1920 had a profound influence on Stravinsky and on the development of his music up to The Rake's Progress and beyond. Pulcinella was, he said, "my discovery of the past". The instrumentation of the ballet is an indication of how much he had absorbed even at this stage - no clarinets, not one of the percus¬sion instruments so prominent in his wartime scores, the strings divided in concerto grosso style into concertino and ripieno groups. The sound he wanted is no pastiche, however, even if some of his methods are characteristically eighteenth-century. The Overture is a delightful example of Stravinsky's use of the neo¬classical orchestra, with blocks of tutti sound alternating with a series of differently coloured solo groups.
In the ballet the curtain rises on a Neapolitan serenade from Pergolesi's II Flamino, sung by a tenor in the orchestra pit. In the suite, the principal vocalists are solo oboe and violin, set against a remarkably delicate and nocturnal texture of strings and wind harmonics, trills, and repeated notes. The Scherzino accompanies a scuffle on the stage between the two unwelcome serenaders, Florindo and Coviello, and the father of one of the ladies. It leads directly into the Allegro, to which Pulcinella enters playing a virtuoso violin. The violin solo, which is Stravinsky's addition to the Pergolesi original, succeeds where the serenade failed and attracts the two ladies (Prudenza and Rosetta) out into the street where, in the Andantino, they make amorous advances to Pulcinella.
The middle part of the ballet, in which Pulcinella is apparently killed by his two rivals, is omitted from the suite. The next movement, the Tarantella, in which the apparently dead Pulcinella is brought back to life, must have been comparatively easy for Stravinsky to arrange, since it comes from a work for string orchestra. The Toccata, on the other hand, is a brilliant realisation of a harpsichord piece. Similarly, the Gavotte and the two variations, in which the two ladies dance with the two lovers only because both the latter are disguised as Pulcinella, is a highly imaginative and attractive rescoring for wind instruments of what was originally harpsichord music. The section marked vivo is from a sinfonia for cello and double bass. Stravinsky retains the solo double bass but pairs it with a loud trombone, which is both witty and dramatically effective - for this is the scene in which Pulcinella gets his own back on Florindo and Coviella by ducking them in the fountain.
However, all the problems are settled in the Minuetto, which comes from the opera Lo Frate Innamorato and is obviously a song rather than a dance. Florindo and Coviello are united with Prudenza and Rosetta, and Pulcinella is reunited with his own Pimpinella - to the general rejoicing indicated in the racy Finale.
© Gerald Larner
Programme note to follow.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Symphony No 4 in A major, Op 90, 'Italian' (1833)
Andante con moto
Con moto moderato
Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ symphony was the major product of his second ‘grand tour’ of Europe, undertaken at the age of 21. Savouring, as he put it, the “supreme delight in life” displayed by the Italians, he vowed to pay symphonic homage to their vivacity. The result, he declared, was the most cheerful piece of music he had yet composed, though he insisted that it was far from being a piece of nineteenth-century musical landscape painting.
Be that as it may, its Italian features are unmistakable and remain part of its charm. Though the theory that his ‘Scotch’ symphony was interchangeable with his ‘Italian’ no longer cuts much ice, there seems no doubt that the slow movement has nothing to do with Italy but was intended to commemorate Goethe and Zelter (Mendelssohn’s teacher, whose Goethe-inspired Konig in Thule it quotes), both of whom had recently died. What the ‘Scotch’ and ‘Italian’ symphonies do quite strikingly have in common are aspects of the key of A, the ‘Scotch’ beginning in A minor and ending in A major, the ‘Italian’ beginning in A major and ending in A minor. In this respect the one could be called the obverse of the other, though whether this was intentional is hard to say.
What is easier to identify is the instant sunshine of the first movement of the ‘Italian’ and the southern swirl of the finale, which Mendelssohn took pains to entitle Saltarello, in tribute to the leaping Italian dance it relentlessly evokes. In comparison, the source of the slow movement is surely the allegretto of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, another study in the relationship between A minor and major. As for the elfin grace of the third movement – a Mendelssohnian evocation of a classical minuet – its poetic trio section, filled with magical horn calls, could easily come from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Strangely, Mendelssohn never really liked his Italian symphony and substantially revised three of its four movements, changing the colouring of the andante, adding fresh touches of poetry to the third movement, and considerably extending the finale. But if these were his last thoughts, they were never acted upon and have only recently been issued in an optional performing version. Though they seem unlikely to replace the original – which, as usual, is what we shall hear tonight – they shed interesting light on a masterpiece which Mendelssohn himself, because of his incomprehensible lack of faith in it, conducted only once.
© Conrad Wilson
“James MacMillan’s new Oboe Concerto is a corker…” – The Times’ verdict at its premiere. Even if contemporary music is not really your thing, we urge you not to miss this Scottish premiere given by the sensational François Leleux. Framing it, two perennial favourites: visits to Italy in the company of a distinguished Russian and a youthful German.