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Suite No.1

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Suites Nos.1 and 2 for Small Orchestra

Suite No.1 - Andante - Napolitana - Española - Balalaika

Suite No.2 - March - Waltz - Polka - Galop

These two very short suites are Stravinsky’s orchestral versions of the eight Easy Pieces which he composed in Switzerland between 1914 and 1917 for piano duet. The orchestrations were made between 1917 and 1925.

The four pieces in the first suite and the Galop in the second were originally written as enjoyable piano exercises for the composer’s children, having an easy part for the children and a more difficult one for their father to play. The Andante was written last to provide a charming little prelude to the exercises. Napolitana and Española were composed after visits to Naples and Spain, and Balalaika, Stravinsky’s own favourite among these pieces, is a souvenir of his native Russia. All three are caricatures, and the orchestration further points up the humorous intent.

Alfredo Casella, the Italian composer, was enthusiastic about the polka in the second suite when he heard Stravinsky play it to the ballet impresario, Serge Diaghilev. So Stravinsky promised to write a piece for him and produced the March that opens the suite. Valse was homage to another composer, the eccentric Erik Satie, prompted by a visit to him in Paris. Stravinsky later described this as an ‘ice cream wagon’ waltz; its style recalls the hurdy-gurdy music in the ballet Petrushka. Polka is a caricature of Diaghilev, whom the composer imagined as a circus animal trainer cracking a long whip. The great impresario was not sure at first whether to feel offended or not, but eventually had a good laugh over it. Long afterwards Stravinsky remembered how astonished Diaghilev and Casella had been to hear such a trifle from the composer of The Rite of Spring. The Galop was inspired by a Russian equivalent of the Folies Bergères, which Stravinsky remembered seeing in ‘a semi-respectable nightclub’ in St.Petersburg.

© Eric Mason

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