22 Aug 2011

Stravinsky – Suite 1 and 2 for Small Orchestra

Written by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (2nd doubles piccolo), oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, horn, 2 trumpets, trombone, tuba, timpani, snare drum, cymbals, bass drum, piano, strings.

Duration: 6 minutes in four movements (No. 1) and 7 minutes in four movements (No. 2).

THE COMPOSER – IGOR STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) – Stravinsky spent the years immediately following The Rite of Spring (1914-1920) exiled in Switzerland. The War had necessitated a temporary pause in the Paris operations of the Ballet Russes, the composer’s primary source of income but he remained productive. He concentrated mainly on works for smaller ensembles and used the time wisely to further refine his compositional voice and delve more deeply into the language and folk heritage of his homeland.

THE MUSIC – The two Suites for Small Orchestra were orchestrated in 1921 and 1925 but date originally from the Swiss period. The source material was from the two little-studied sets of piano duets Stravinsky wrote as “teaching pieces” for young musicians. Three Easy Pieces was completed in 1915 and each short movement includes an affectionate dedication to a colleague (composers Alfredo Casella and Erik Satie as well as Ballet Russes impresario Serge Diaghilev) which indicates the composer’s desire to also entertain adults with his delightful miniatures. The companion Five Easy Pieces (1917) were designed specifically for the education of Stravinsky’s two older children with simple melodies that were to be played by the youngsters and more difficult accompaniments meant for skilled hands, presumably the composer’s. It is tempting to view these eight duets as little more than the dashed-off curiosities of an extremely fertile musical mind, but closer scrutiny reveals much about what Stravinsky had become and would become as a composer. Beyond the obvious charm, wit and winning “personalization” of the included dance forms, what is offered here (particularly in the orchestrated versions) is a premonition of Stravinsky’s approaching Neo-Classical period. The leanness of the instrumentation, the infectious rhythmic drive and the always perfect instinct for dramatic timing – each a hallmark of the coming years – are all present in the music of the Suites. More than mere caricatures, these eight “Easy Pieces” are vintage Stravinsky, and nothing less.

THE WORLD – 1921 saw the death of legendary tenor Enrico Caruso but also the birth of future legendary tenor Mario Lanza. In 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby and The New Yorker magazine released its first issue.

THE CONNECTION – These concerts mark the Utah Symphony premieres of both Suites for Small Orchestra.