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Symphonies of Wind Instruments

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920)

In 1920, Stravinsky moved from Switzerland to France, living in Brittany initially, before moving to Paris. The majority of the work on the Symphonies of Wind Instruments was undertaken in Carantec, Brittany, but the work was not completed until he had moved to Garches, in Paris. That same year he had sent a short instrumental chorale to a special edition of the Revue Musicale issued in memory of Debussy, and this went on to become the last section of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments. Following on from this, Stravinsky decided to dedicate the Symphonies of Wind Instruments to Debussy’s memory.

The work is not a symphony in the traditional sense of the word, rather, Stravinsky has used the title to imply a collection of different instruments playing together, and whilst there are four movements in the work, there is no recognizable classical formal schema. The movements are comprised of material derived from contrasting themes of different speeds, and employ both tonal and bitonal elements.

The first section is based around two popular Russian melodies, and is presented by the flutes, oboe, cor anglais, bassoon and tuba. The material is notable in that it is one of the few sections in the work that is written in a regular metre. A dialogue between the clarinet and flute then ensues, and is quickly followed by a very fast, fortissimo section, with strongly accented staccato chords. The time signatures in this section undergo frequent changes that contribute to a general sense of unease. The work concludes with a more regal section, a slow, legato instrumental chorale, which is initially presented by the brass section, then expands to include the winds as the work draws to a close.

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