Igor Stravinsky – Greeting Prelude
Written for the 80th birthday of the Stravinsky’s great friend (and conductor of the riotous premiere of the Rite of Spring) Pierre Monteux, the Greeting Prelude is essentially just a very Stravinskian remix of Happy Birthday, and has ever since been used by orchestras the world over to open birthday themed concerts. By Guy Jones
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ComSE (/strəˈvɪnski/; Russian: И́горь Фёдорович Страви́нский, IPA: [ˈiɡərʲ ˈfʲɵdərəvʲɪtɕ strɐˈvʲinskʲɪj]; 17 June [O.S. 5 June] 1882 – 6 April 1971) was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.
Stravinsky’s compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Serge Diaghilev and first performed in Paris by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). The latter transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure and was largely responsible for Stravinsky’s enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary who pushed the boundaries of musical design. His “Russian phase” which continued with works such as Renard, the Soldier’s Tale and Les Noces, was followed in the 1920s by a period in which he turned to neoclassicism. The works from this period tended to make use of traditional musical forms (concerto grosso, fugue and symphony), drawing on earlier styles, especially from the 18th century. In the 1950s, Stravinsky adopted serial procedures. His compositions of this period shared traits with examples of his earlier output: rhythmic energy, the construction of extended melodic ideas out of a few two- or three-note cells and clarity of form, and of instrumentation.
Stravinsky’s use of motivic development (the use of musical figures that are repeated in different guises throughout a composition or section of a composition) included additive motivic development. This is where notes are subtracted or added to a motif without regard to the consequent changes in metre. A similar technique can be found as early as the 16th century, for example in the music of Cipriano de Rore, Orlandus Lassus, Carlo Gesualdo and Giovanni de Macque, music with which Stravinsky exhibited considerable familiarity.
The Rite of Spring is notable for its relentless use of ostinati, for example in the eighth-note ostinato on strings accented by eight horns in the section “Augurs of Spring (Dances of the Young Girls)”. The work also contains passages where several ostinati clash against one another. Stravinsky was noted for his distinctive use of rhythm, especially in the Rite of Spring (1913). According to the composer Philip Glass, “the idea of pushing the rhythms across the bar lines […] led the way […]. The rhythmic structure of music became much more fluid and in a certain way spontaneous”. Glass mentions Stravinsky’s “primitive, offbeat rhythmic drive”. According to Andrew J. Browne, “Stravinsky is perhaps the only composer who has raised rhythm in itself to the dignity of art”. Stravinsky’s rhythm and vitality greatly influenced the composer Aaron Copland.
Over the course of his career, Stravinsky called for a wide variety of orchestral, instrumental, and vocal forces, ranging from single instruments in such works as Three Pieces for Clarinet (1918) or Elegy for Solo Viola (1944) to the enormous orchestra of The Rite of Spring (1913), which Aaron Copland characterized as “the foremost orchestral achievement of the 20th century.”
Stravinsky’s creation of unique and idiosyncratic ensembles arising from the specific musical nature of individual works is a basic element of his style.
Following the model of his teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky’s student works such as the Symphony in E♭, Op. 1 (1907), Scherzo fantastique, Op. 3 (1908), and Fireworks (Feu d’artifice), Op. 4 (1908), call for large orchestral forces. This is not surprising, as the works were as much exercises in orchestration as in composition. The Symphony, for example, calls for 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo); 2 oboes; 3 clarinets in B♭; 2 bassoons; 4 horns in F; 3 trumpets in B♭; 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, and strings. The Scherzo fantastique calls for a slightly larger orchestra but completely omits trombones: this was Stravinsky’s response to Rimsky’s criticism of their overuse in the Symphony.
The three ballets composed for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes call for particularly large orchestras:
- The Firebird (1910) requires winds in fours, 4 horns, 3 trumpets (in A), 3 trombones, tuba, celesta, 3 harps, piano, and strings. The percussion section calls for timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, tamtam, tubular bells, glockenspiel, and xylophone. In addition, the original version calls for 3 onstage trumpets and 4 onstage Wagner tubas (2 tenor and 2 bass).
- The original version of Petrushka (1911) calls for a similar orchestra (without onstage brass, but with the addition of onstage snare drum). The particularly prominent role of the piano is the result of the music’s origin as a Konzertstück for piano and orchestra.
- The Rite of Spring (1913) calls for the largest orchestra Stravinsky ever employed: piccolo, 3 flutes (3rd doubles 2nd piccolo), alto flute, 4 oboes (4th doubles 2nd cor anglais), cor anglais, piccolo clarinet in D/E♭, 3 clarinets (3rd doubles 2nd bass clarinet), bass clarinet, 4 bassoons (4th doubles 2nd contrabassoon), contrabassoon, 8 horns (7th and 8th double tenor Wagner tubas), piccolo trumpet in D, 4 trumpets in C (4th doubles bass trumpet in E♭), 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), 2 tubas. Percussion includes 5 timpani (2 players), bass drum, tamtam, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, antique cymbals, guiro, and strings. (Piano, celesta, and harp are not included.