Violin Online String Class: 20th Century Violin Music


"Overture" from Pulcinella Ballet
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"Moderato" from Sonata No. 1 in G Major
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Fig. 5.2 Igor Stravinsky

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (1882-1971) composed Pulcinella, a ballet, in 1919-20. Stravinsky was a Russian composer who experimented with a wide range of compositional styles. His innovative musical ideas have caused many music scholars to regard Stravinsky as one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. He was raised in a musical family with a mother who played piano, and a father who was a highly acclaimed bass baritone, and sang with the Imperial Opera in St. Petersburg. Although Stravinsky was very interested in music (he studied piano and theory lessons from well-known teachers), he followed a traditional path towards a career in civil service and enrolled in law school at the St. Petersburg University. While he was still in law school, he continued his music studies and began studying music composition privately with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. Stravinsky was influenced by Rimsky-Korsakov's nationalistic views on music, and many of Stravinsky's early compositions were nationalistic and reflected Stravinsky's interest in his Russian heritage.

Stravinsky's music attracted the attention of Sergey Diaghilev (1872-1929), a Russian impresario (similar to a producer) of Ballet Russe. Diaghilev commissioned Stravinsky to write music for five ballets. As an example of Stravinsky's impact on the music world, the third ballet he wrote for Diaghilev, The Rite of Spring, caused a near riot at its premiere in Paris in 1913. Stravinsky's primitivistic music, extreme dissonances, driving, unpredictable rhythms and loud orchestral effects were more than many in the audience could tolerate (contributing factors to the audience's shocked response included the primitive, angular moves of the dancers, and a plot which revolved around spring festivities in pagan Russia, ending with the violent sacrifice of a young girl to the god of spring). Interestingly enough, Stravinsky's music received a very positive response a year later, when The Rite of Spring was presented as an orchestral concert in Paris. Instead of fighting and booing as the audience did during the premiere of the ballet, the audience stood and cheered at the conclusion of the concert. [1] Since then, The Rite of Spring has become a regular and popular part of orchestral concerts and dance performances, and is widely regarded as a masterpiece of innovation.

Following the outbreak of World War I, Stravinsky moved to Switzerland, and when the Russian Revolution took place, Stravinsky moved to France (while there, he became a citizen of France. In later years, he also became a citizen of the United States). In 1919, Diaghelev approached Stravinsky with an idea for a another ballet: a ballet using music and dance traditions from the past, based on the music of an eighteenth century composer named Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Diaghelev said he had collected copies of Pergolesi's music while visiting Italian music conservatories, and asked Stravinsky to orchestrate some of this music for the new ballet.

Stravinsky used the music Diaghelev gave him, and went to the British Museum to acquire additional Pergolesi music for the ballet. Stravinsky's finished work, music for the ballet Pulcinella, was composed in a Neo-Classic style. Neoclassicism may be defined as a 20th century compositional style which utilizes styles and forms of pre-Romantic music, especially those by composers from the eighteenth century such as Haydn, Bach, and Mozart. Instead of simply reorchestrating the Pergolesi pieces he'd been given, Stravinsky reshaped and recreated the music in a style uniquely his own. He scored it for a chamber orchestra of 33 players (comparable to the small size of orchestras used during the Classical period), and intertwined the existing melodies and bass lines with modern harmonies, rhythmic modifications (such as off-beat accents), and creative orchestration. His insertion of slight dissonance into the harmonies gave it an ironic touch, and the resulting work apparently was not what Diaghilev expected. [2] Stravinsky described Diaghilev's reaction to his music for Pulcinella: "A stylish orchestration was what Diaghilev wanted, and nothing more, and my music so shocked him that he went about for a long time with a look that suggested the Offended Eighteenth Century." [3]

Pulcinella premiered at the Paris Opera House in May, 1920, and it was very well received by the public. Critics, however, were divided in their reaction to the music. The younger generation of musicians loved it, but some of the more traditional musicians and academics questioned Stravinsky's tampering with Pergolesi's original music by adding new harmonies and effects such as metric displacements. Stravinsky later extracted eleven movements from Pulcinella and arranged them as a concert suite. The resulting work, Suite from Pulcinella, was first performed in Boston in 1922, and was an immediate success. Suite from Pulcinella continues to be widely performed by major orchestras today. [4]

Since the time that Stravinsky composed Pulcinella, musicologists have determined that out of the 21 movements in Pulcinella once attributed to the music of Pergolesi, only 9 of these pieces were actually composed by Pergolesi. [5] For example, Stravinsky's Overture to Pulcinella was once thought to have been based on Pergolesi's "Sonata No. 1 in G" from Twelve Sonatas for Two Violins and a Bass. Scholars have now determined that this instrumental music was actually composed by a mid-18th century Italian composer and violinist named Dominico Gallo, therefore Stravinsky's Pulcinella Overture was based on the first movement from Gallo's "Sonata No. 1 in G." As a note of explanation, it is likely that Pergolesi's name was applied to Gallo's compositions to enhance sales of the music (Pergolesi was a better known composer than Gallo). [6]

One scholar analyzed the likely Pergolesi music Stravinsky would have had access to, and concluded that the 21 movements in Pulcinella were based on the music of 5 composers: Domenico Gallo (7 pieces); Carlo Monza (2 pieces); Alessandro Parisotti (1 piece); Count Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer (1 piece); and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (10 pieces—note this differs from the research of other Pergolesi scholars who determined that only 9 movements in Pulcinella were by Pergolesi). [7] Pergolesi scholars have also found that over ninety percent of all music attributed to Pergolesi was written by others. [8] For example, the most complete edition of Pergolesi's works was once was considered to be a collection of 148 works by Pergolesi entitled G. B. Pergolesi: Opera omnia, edited by F. Caffarelli, and published in Rome 1939-42. Pergolesi scholars have found that only 30 of the 148 works in Opera omnia were actually composed by Pergolesi. Contemporary research on Pergolesi's works is ongoing, and a research coalition (The Pergolesi Research Center), dedicated to publishing a complete and accurate collection of Pergolesi's compositions, has already compiled several volumes of his actual works. [9] [10]

Stravinsky moved to the United States in 1939, and began experimenting with more compositional styles including older forms of music (Medieval and Renaissance music), and abstract forms such as twelve-tone music (serialism). Towards the end of Stravinsky's life, he frequently used a complex system of composition that utilized rotation grids of various twelve-tone row combinations, and combined the music with sacred texts. Stravinsky's creative innovations in music continued until his death at the age of 89. [11]

TECHNIQUE TIPS: This arrangement of Stravinsky's "Overture" from Pulcinella is based on Stravinsky's 1920, London publication of his vocal score: Pulcinella Ballet in One Act for three solo voices. If you would like to see and hear for yourself some of the ways Stravinsky reshaped Gallo's original work, an arrangement is also provided of Domenico Gallo's first movement from his Sonata No. 1 in G Major (Stravinsky based his overture on this movement). As mentioned earlier, although this trio sonata was originally attributed to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, it is now known to have been composed by Gallo, a mid-18th century Italian composer and violinist. Although there are very few differences between the melodies of the two pieces (Stravinsky made minimal changes to Gallo's melody), see if you can tell the differences between these two arrangements as you play the melody along with the piano accompaniment or recording of each piece. Some of the variations Stravinsky used to change the feel of Gallo's original trio sonata included minor changes in the rhythm and meter, and slight dissonances in the harmony.

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