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Danses concertantes

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Danses concertantes

Marche-Introduction

Pas d’action

Thème varié

Pas de deux

Marche-Conclusion

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 Ballet’s Stravinsky festival in 1972. Kenneth MacMillan choreographed a ballet for Sadler’s 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 d’action 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 Schubert’s Marche militaire. A reprise of the introductory march and a brief coda round off the dances.

© Eric Mason


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