Program Notes

By Jason Sundram

Concerto in D Basler for string orchestra (1946)

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Igor Feodorovich Stravinsky (June 17, 1882–April 6, 1971)

  1. Vivace
  2. Arioso: Andantino
  3. Rondo: Allegro

Stravinsky’s father sung bass at the major opera house of St. Petersburg. Through his father, Stravinsky absorbed Italian, French and Russian opera; he also studied piano, score-reading, and improvisation. He was not expected to be a musician; he studied law at the University of St. Petersburg. He didn’t study very hard, however, and through the friendship of Rimsky-Korsakov’s son, he obtained an apprenticeship with Rimsky-Korsakov which lasted from 1903 until Rimsky’s death in 1908. Rimsky-Korsakov warned Stravinsky about Debussy: “Better not to listen to him; one runs the risk of getting accustomed to him, and one would end by liking him.” By 1959, Stravinsky had far outgrown Rimsky’s influence. He said: “The musicians of my generation and I myself owe the most to Debussy."

Three ballets, Petrushka (1910), Firebird (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1912) are the result of Stravinsky’s collaboration with the celebrated ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, leader of the Ballets Russes. His successes with the ballet scores allowed him to be a professional composer: henceforth he played and conducted only his own music. Stravinsky became an American citizen in 1945, and was a “melting pot” composer if ever there was one. His myriad styles and faces exhibit the influences of Wagner, Debussy and Rimsky-Korsakov; later in life he incorporated Eastern and Russian elements into his music, along with rhythmic figurations uniquely his own. His versatility is legend; he could write as easily for jazz band as he could for liturgical choir. His music is marked by a pervasive sense of rhythmic imbalance.

The Concerto in D was commissioned in 1946 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Basler Chamber Orchestra. To distinguish it from Stravinsky’s earlier “Concerto in D” (the violin concerto), this is often given the title “Basler". This concerto is one of Stravinsky’s most bright and accessible works, though it is also one of his least known. Its characteristic musical texture and rhythm exemplify his genius. Shortly after the premiere, Stravinsky produced a revised version of the score, with substantial changes to the Rondo movement. A ballet version, The Cage, by Jerome Robbins, appeared in 1951 and was revived again in 1960. Other ballet versions have been mounted as well. That his music continued to be incorporated into the theatre is a testament to the theatre’s importance to Stravinsky.