70 Years On…

stravinskysymph3mvtsI didn’t actually have any plans to put out a posting today — but something passed across my screen earlier on that has left me feeling that there is something I ought to share with people…

What happened was that, this afternoon, I saw a message online which pointed out that today is the 70th anniversary of the first performance of Stravinsky’s ‘Symphony in Three Movements’ — composed in the US between 1942 and 1945, and premiered on 24 January 1946 with the 63-year-old Stravinsky himself conducting.

And it just so happens that the ‘Symphony in Three Movements’ has been on my mind recently — not least since I’ve been looking at a video of a pretty good performance by an orchestra in far-off Canada. The Victoria Symphony may not be ‘world famous’ — but they and conductor Tania Miller certainly throw themselves into this tough piece, and whoever is directing the filming makes some helpful vision-mixing decisions in spite of under-using one of the cameras. And what better excuse could there be for putting it all in a posting than an anniversary…?

There are bound to be people reading this who’ve never come across the piece before, so I’m going to present two clips in a misleading order so that I can introduce folks to aspects of ‘the Stravinsky sound’ without including ‘spoilers’. Here’s the first:

And here’s the second:

If anyone had ever asked me about what it is that ‘makes Stravinsky Stravinsky’ — and no-one ever has, so I don’t know why I’ve even bothered thinking about it — I’d probably have pointed to quite a few things that are apparent in those clips. There’s his love of ‘punchy’ attacks and staccato articulation over smooth, ‘legato’ movement; there’s his ‘clipped’ melodic language, without romantic extension; there’s his fondness for ‘clean’, transparent textures rather than full and blended sonorities; there’s the way he intensifies by using ‘hemmed-in’ repetitions rather than by piling up tension-building ‘sequences’; and there’s his method of building a structure by cutting between ‘musical blocks’, rather than by fashioning gradual transitions between contrasting statements…

All of which is rather interesting, it seems to me, in view of the fact that there was a time when Stravinsky wasn’t Stravinsky — or, at any rate, was only occasionally himself. You see, as is demonstrated by another work I’ve been listening to recently — the ‘Symphony No. 1 in E flat for Large Orchestra’ (1905-7; rev. 1913) that is his official ‘Op. 1’ — you can find every one of those ‘opposite’ characteristics in his music if you go back far enough. Here’s a clip from the 23-year-old student’s work which I think will make my point — and, indeed, another point in addition, which is that while Stravinsky’s recognisable personality is hardly in evidence (there is a moment that recalls — or ‘precalls’ — L’Oiseau de feu from 1910; but is that ‘mature’ Stravinsky?), you can detect quite a few other people. Critics who write about this piece diagnose the influence of Tchaikovsky, Glazunov and Wagner, as well as Stravinsky’s actual teacher Rimsky Korsakov; I myself hear odd echoes of Rachmaninoff, Grieg and Delius in addition. See what you think on the basis of this little clip… (Anyone with any additional names to offer is invited to put them in the ‘Comments’ section…)

Now, I’m only writing any of this in order to be a ‘shop window’ for a terrific piece which, as far as its performance history is concerned, turns 70 this evening. So let me simply end by saying that if you want to hear the entire ‘Symphony in Three Movements’ in our Canadian performance, you’ll find it here…

… and that if you then want to hear what the pre-natal Stravinsky was up to 40 years earlier, then you can listen to this…

How time flies…!


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