Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra
Presto Andante rapsodico Allegro capriccioso
ma tempo giusto
Stravinsky was no mean pianist, and the Capriccio
which he began at the end of 1928 and completed the following September was composed for
himself to play on concert tours. He gave the first performance on 6 December 1929 in
Paris with Ernest Ansermet conducting. The score was revised in 1949, mainly to correct
In adopting the title Capriccio the composer had in
mind its definition by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) as synonymous with the fantasia, a
free form, and he constructed the work by juxtaposing episodes of various kinds. He
thought Webers piano sonatas might have exerted a spell while he was writing it, and
although one should not expect this music to sound like anything but Stravinsky one might
recognise Webers influence in the lightness and brilliance of the piano writing.
Another influence is that of Bach, and the orchestra contains, as might a baroque concerto
grosso, a concertino quartet of violin, viola, cello and double-bass separated
from the other strings. The violins are not divided into firsts and seconds. The three
movements are directed to be played without breaks.
Quick rising scales on the full strings contrasted with a
slow descent by the concertino group make an introduction and coda to frame the
first movement. The main body of this movement is a sort of moto perpetuo, at least
from the pianists point of view. Variants of the introductions scales are
added, then the key changes from G minor to G major for a passage with piano and flutes in
partnership. A short episode for clarinet, bassoon, horn and piano marks the mid-point of
the movement, after which an elaborated reprise of the G minor music leads to the coda.
Stravinsky was fond of the cimbalom (the dulcimer much used
in Hungary and Romania) and kept one in Paris. He gave up writing for it because good
players were hard to find, but he conceived some of the piano part in the slow movement of
the Capriccio in cimbalom style. The principal F minor theme given out by the
woodwind calls Bachs arias to mind, the piano supplying an obbligato. A new
theme is introduced by the soloist in the F major middle section. Then the first is
recapitulated and a cimbalom-type cadenza (Stravinsky called it a kind of Romanian
restaurant music) leads to the finale.
This is another moto perpetuo and is remarkable for
its zest and wit. The piano succeeds at its third attempt to get the music going, then
leads the orchestra to a loud chord which launches the G major Allegro proper. The
pianos lively theme is accompanied by and then exchanged with a closely related one
for the orchestra. The development is brilliant, light and rhythmically pointed, and the
playfulness is maintained to the end.
© Eric Mason