Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Pas de deux
Having settled in Hollywood at the beginning of the Second
World War, Stravinsky soon received invitations to compose film music. It was equally
natural that a local chamber orchestra would want him to write for it, and in 1941 he
accepted a commission from the Werner Janssen Orchestra of Los Angeles. The resulting work,
Danses concertantes, was given its first performance on 8 February 1942 with the
composer conducting. Stravinsky declared that the music was not conceived for the stage,
but it sounds like music for an abstract ballet and the movements have balletic titles, so
it is no surprise that the work has been used by dance companies. George Balanchine, the
first choreographer to mount a ballet on it, maintained that the composer always intended
his score to be used in the theatre.
Balanchine produced his version for the Ballet Russe de
Monte Carlo in New York on 10 September 1944. He reworked his choreography for the New
York City Ballets Stravinsky festival in 1972. Kenneth MacMillan choreographed a
ballet for Sadlers Wells Theatre Ballet in 1955, a version later performed by the
Royal Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. Other versions were seen in
San Francisco (1959) and Amiens, France (1968).
The orchestra consists of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon,
two horns, trumpet, trombone, timpani and 15 strings. Stravinsky deploys it in the concertante
manner he used four years earlier in the Dumbarton Oaks Concerto, and these two
works stand as prologue and postscript to the Symphony in C completed in 1940.
A bright march introduces the dances. The following Pas
daction is a kind of rondo with irregular accentuation disturbing the triple
metre. Flute and clarinet add brilliant figuration to the first episode; four solo violins
are employed in the more lyrical second. Thème varié presents four variations on
an expressive slow theme in G. The Pas de deux has oboe and clarinet as stars.
There are two quick sections for contrast in this composite number, as there would be in a
theatre; the first includes a reference to Schuberts Marche militaire. A
reprise of the introductory march and a brief coda round off the dances.
© Eric Mason