Igor Stravinsky: Late Music – Sensual Musical Radicalism, 4CD Box Set


Words by Jason Guest

Remarking in his 1936 autobiography that “music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all”, Stravinsky may very well be correct. However, music can have a significant – even overwhelming – impact. Especially the music of Stravinsky. Admired by Frank Zappa, Ennio Morricone, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd, and many others, one of the most influential composers of the 20th century and a pivotal figure in modernist music, where does one begin with Stravinsky?

Described by Leonard Bernstein as “the most important piece of music of the 20th Century”, the near-riot-starting ballet The Rite of Spring (1913) that accompanies the depiction of the creation of the Earth and the dinosaurs in Disney’s 1940 animated film, Fantasia, is a common starting point for most. The ballets The Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911) are pretty popular too. But with a seven-decade career divided into three periods – his Russian period (1913–1920), his neoclassical period (1920–1951), and his serial period (1954–1968) – there’s a lot – a lot!­ – of music to choose from.

Stravinsky’s vast oeuvre could be considered rhizomatic: the listener can begin anywhere and find a connection to any other point, all that is required is the willingness to explore and find ever more connections. The rewards of Stravinsky’s oeuvre are endless. Where better, then, to begin than with this four-CD set? Far from an easy digest, one disc at a time, one piece at a time, one ballet at a time, one track at a time, it’s a collection to be studied, to be pored over time and again, to be savoured in every instance.

Disc One: Orchestral and Chamber Works

Whereas the selections from Orpheus (1947) perhaps show Stravinsky at his most melodious, Septet (1953) is one of three pieces included in this collection – along with Cantata (1952) on disc two and Three Songs from Shakespeare (1953) on disc three – that demonstrate his first experimentations with non-twelve-tone serial techniques in vocal and chamber works. The ballet Agon (1954-7) – two performances of which are included on this disc – is the first of his works to include a twelve-tone series that continues with the 1959 ten-minute five-movement work for piano and orchestra as well as the succinct Epitaphium “Raoul Dufy in Memoriam” and Double Canon (both 1959). And comprising a sort of fusion, Stravinsky’s (re)compositions of 16th century composer Gesualdo’s madrigals for Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD annum (1960) foregrounds his unapologetic fondness for dissonance, as ever, to devastatingly beautiful effect.

Disc Two: Choral Works

Exhibiting the austere, neoclassic, anti-Romantic aesthetic that characterized his work from 1923 to 1951, Mass (1948) opens disc two. Following the aforementioned Cantata (1952) is Canticum Sacrum (1955), its five movements, according to some critics, having strong structural similarities to Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, the five principal sections relating to the basilicas’ five domes. And the rhythmically challenging A Sermon, a Narrative and a Prayer (1960-1) and Anthem (1962), consisting of powerful musical gestures, though far from simple, are both simply extraordinary.

Disc Three: Vocal Choral Opera

Following Three Songs from William Shakespeare (1953) is In Memoriam Dylan Thomas (1954), composed upon the death the poet that Stravinsky had planned to work on an opera with, places the poet’s famed poem, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, between two dirges. His first and longest – and exclusively – dodecaphonic work, Threni (1958) has been described as amongst Stravinsky’s greatest works and threatens to overshadow the rest of this collection with its sheer power. Performed at the composer’s funeral, his last major work, Requiem Canticles (1966) – a moving adaptation of modern serial techniques to a personal imaginative vision that was deeply rooted in his Russian past – and The Flood (1962) complete this collection from Stravinsky’s serial period.

Disc Four: Stravinsky’s Orbit

Meeting 20-year-old music student Robert Craft in 1944 proved a decisive moment in Stravinsky’s musical direction. Encouraged by Craft to re-evaluate the possibilities of twelve-tone writing, Stravinsky was introduced to the likes of Schoenberg and Webern and several composers of whom he was scarcely familiar. A compilation of works including Ravel, Satie, Debussy, Cage, Varèse, etc., disc four is a bonus CD of sorts. On the one hand, in signposting a host of other composers worthy of further exploration, it’s a compilation that would be worth releasing by itself. But on the other hand, it gives the listener an insight into the influences that informed Stravinsky’s serial period, and – more excitingly – the opportunity to hear just how much further Stravinsky took their ideas.

Track Listing:

Disc One: Orchestral and Chamber Works

Selections from Orpheus: Ballet RCA Symphony Orchestra / Igor Stravinsky

  1. Orpheus Weeps for Eurydice – Lento sostenuto
  2. Air de danse

Septet: Columbia Chamber Orchestra / Igor Stravinsky

  1. Sonata Allegro
  2. Passacaglia
  3. Gigue

Agon: Ballet Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra / Hans Rosbaud

  1. Pas-de-Quatre
  2. Double Pas-de-Quartre
  3. Triple Pas-de-Quartre
  4. Prélude
  5. First Pas-de-Trois – Saraband Step
  6. Gailliarde
  7. Coda 1
  8. Interlude 1
  9. Second Pas-de-Trois – Bransle Simple
  10. Bransle Gay
  11. Bransle Double
  12. Interlude 2
  13. Pas-de-Deux
  14. Coda 2
  15. Four Duos
  16. Four Trios – Coda

Movements, For Piano And Orchestra: Columbia

Symphony Orchestra: Charles Rosen (piano) / Igor Stravinsky

  1. Eighth Note = 110
  2. Quarter Note = 52
  3. Eighth Note = 72
  4. Eighth Note = 80
  5. Eighth Note = 104

For the Tombstone of Prince Max Egon zu Fürstenberg

  1. Epitaphium “Raoul Dufy in Memoriam”
  2. Double Canon

Monumentum Pro Gesualdo Di Venosa Ad CD Annum, For Chamber Ensemble: Columbia Symphony Orchestra / Igor Stravinsky

  1. Asciugate I Begli Occhi Madrigale XIV, Libro Quinto
  2. Ma Tu, Cagion Di Quella Madrigale XVIII, Libro Quinto
  3. Belta Poi Che T’Assenti Madrigale II, Libro Sesto

Agon: Ballet Los Angeles Festival Symphony Orchestra / Igor Stravinsky

  1. Pas-de-Quatre
  2. Double Pas-de-Quartre
  3. Triple Pas-de-Quartre
  4. Prélude
  5. First Pas-de- Trois – Saraband Step
  6. Gailliarde
  7. Coda 1
  8. Interlude 1
  9. Second Pas-de-Trois – Bransle Simple
  10. Bransle Gay
  11. Bransle Double
  12. Interlude 2
  13. Pas-de-Deux
  14. 45 Coda 2
  15. 46 Four Duos
  16. 47 Four Trios – Coda

Disc Two: Choral Works

Mass: Columbia Symphony Woodwinds and Chorus / Igor Stravinsky

  1. Kyrie
  2. Gloria
  3. Credo
  4. Sanctus
  5. Agnus Dei

Cantata: St. Anthony Singers, English Chamber Orchestra / Colin Davis

  1. A Lyke-Wake Dirge – Versus 1
  2. Ricercar 1 ‘The maidens came’
  3. A Lyke-Wake Dirge – Versus 2
  4. Ricercar 2 ‘To-morrow shall be my dancing day’
  5. A Lyke-Wake Dirge – Versus 3
  6. Westron Wind
  7. A Lyke-Wake Dirge – Versus 4

Canticum Sacrum: Orchestra of the Domain Musical / Robert Craft

  1. Dedicato
  2. Part I, Euntes in mundum
  3. Part II, Surge, aquilo
  4. Part III, Ad Tres Virtutes Hortationes
  5. Part IV, Brevis Motus Cantilenae
  6. Part V, Illi autem profecti

A Sermon, A Narrative And A Prayer: The Toronto Festival Singers CBC Symphony Orchestra / Igor Stravinsky

  1. A Sermon
  2. A Narrative
  3. A Prayer
  4. Anthem (The Dove Descending Breaks the Air)

Disc Three: Vocal Choral Opera

Three Songs From William Shakespeare: The Toronto Festival Singers / Igor Stravinsky

  1. Musick to hear
  2. Full Fathom Five
  3. Spring

In Memoriam Dylan Thomas: Peter Pears (Tenor) Ensemble conducted by Hans Rosbaud

  1. Dirge-Canons (Prelude)
  2. Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night
  3. Dirge-Canons (Postlude)

Threni: Schola Cantorum, Columbia Symphony Orchestra / Igor Stravinsky

  1. Introduction: “Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae”
  2. De elegia prima: “Aleph. Quomodo sedet sola civitas” – Diphona I: “Plorans ploravit” – Diphona II: “Vide, Domino”
  3. De elegia tertia: I Querimonia: “Aleph. Ego vir videns” – II Sensus spei: “Heth. Misericordiae Domini” – III Solacium: “Res. Judicasti, Domine”
  4. De elegia quinta: “Oratio Jeremiae Prophetae”

Requiem Canticles: Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, Netherlands Chamber Choir / Bernard Haitink

  1. Prelude
  2. “Exaudi”
  3. “Dies irae”
  4. “Tuba mirum”
  5. Interlude
  6. “Rex tremendae”
  7. “Lacrimosa”
  8. “Libera me”
  9. Postlude

The Flood: A Musical Play Columbia Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Robert Craft

  1. Prelude
  2. Melodrama
  3. The Building of the Ark
  4. The Catalogue of the Animals
  5. The Comedy
  6. The Flood
  7. The Covenant of the Rainbow

Disc Four: Stravinsky’s Orbit

  • Maurice Ravel: Boston Symphony Orchestra / New England Conservatory Alumni Chorus / Charles Munch
  1. Invocation of the Nymphs from Daphnis et Chloé
  • Erik Satie:
  1. Sarabande No.2 Francis Poulenc (piano)
  • Claude Debussy: Orchestra of the Theatre National de l’Opera de Paris / Manuel Rosenthal
  1. Jeux (Games) – poème dansé
  • Arnold Schoenberg: Columbia Symphony Orchestra
  1. Vergangenes (The Past) from Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16
  • Anton Webern: Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10 Robert Craft Orchestra / Robert Craft
  1. Archetype
  2. Transformation
  3. Return
  4. Memory
  5. Soul
  • Alban Berg: Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra / Hans Rosbaud
  1. Präludium from Three pieces for orchestra, op. 6
  • Pierre Boulez: Instrumental selections from Le Marteau sans maître Conducted by Robert Craft
  1. Avant L’artisanat Furieux
  2. Commentaire II de Bourreaux de Solitude
  • Karlheinz Stockhausen: Ensemble conducted by Robert Craft
  1. Zeitmasse For Five Woodwinds
  • Luigi Nono: Orchestra of WDR Cologne / Bruno Maderna
  1. Il Canto Sospeso (The Suspended Song): Orchestra
  • Luciano Berio: Cathy Berberian (voice)
  1. Circles (excerpt)
  • John Cage: Maro Ajemian (prepared piano)
  1. Sonata 1 from Sonatas and Interludes
  • Edgard Varèse: Conducted by Robert Craft
  1. Density 21.5 for Flute