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Four Studies

 

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Four Studies for Orchestra

Dance - Eccentric - Canticle - Madrid

Looking for a new direction to take after The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky composed three short experimental pieces in the summer of 1914, scoring them for string quartet. He orchestrated these in 1917 and published the orchestral versions in 1929, adding as a fourth piece a new orchestration of a 1917 pianola study. Each study reflects a different aspect of the composer’s creative personality.

The first study is a brief, stylised Russian dance for woodwind instruments, which continually repeat permutations of the same four notes in different rhythmic groupings over a drone accompaniment. A descending phrase is injected as a refrain at irregular intervals.

The second piece was inspired by the famous English clown, Little Tich, whom Stravinsky saw in London in 1914. Deeply impressed by his eccentric movements, the composer made a musical portrait from disjointed melodic fragments in humorously jerky motion.

Canticle, which Stravinsky said could equally have been entitled Hymn, is so called because it evokes religious choral music. Moving by narrow melodic steps, it suggests the ritual chant of Russian monks and is finally concentrated harmonically to a cool, remote stillness.

The pianola study on which Madrid is based was composed shortly after Stravinsky’s visit to that city. Spanish elements are easily spotted, but the melodic contours and rhythms are refracted through the prism of Stravinsky’s re-creative mind.

© Eric Mason


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