Stravinsky - the Firebird Suite: an Analysis

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  • Topic: The Firebird, Igor Stravinsky, Ballets Russes
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  • Published : May 17, 2007
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The Firebird Suite (1910; version from 1919)

Introduction - The Firebird and its Dance
Round of the Princesses (Khorovod)
Infernal Dance of King Kaschei

The first of Igor Stravinsky's three famous early ballets, The Firebird is the most traditional and derivative. While The Firebird, similar to Petrushka and The Rite Of Spring, is unquestionably one of Stravinsky's masterpieces, if considered strictly historically it can be, with some justice, viewed as warmed-over Rimsky-Korsakov (the device of contrasting a folkloristic, diatonic style representing human characters, with a highly chromatic style reserved for depicting the supernatural had its most conspicuous use in Rimsky's opera The Golden Cockerel) burnished with a patina of Debussy (the specifically colouristic orchestral opulence, although reflecting the influence of Stravinsky's teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, sometimes additionally suggests the Debussy of La Mer). For such reasons, the Young Stravinsky (who was twenty-seven when he wrote The Firebird) came to be thought by many contemporary musicians and critics as a traditionalist and a nationalist - as one said, "the direct descendant of Nicolas Rimsky-Korsakov". In fact, it would have been difficult to perceive the future anti-nationalist and Rite Of Spring revolutionist in The Firebird, or for that matter, in any other of Stravinsky's initial orchestral pieces. Stravinsky himself ultimately put the matter in best perspective when he wrote that The Firebird "belongs to the styles of its time. It is more vigorous than most of the composed folk music of the period, but it is also not very original. These are all good conditions for a success."

Once, when Stravinsky asked Debussy what he really thought of The Firebird, his first ballet, the older composer replied, "Well, you had to begin somehow, didn't you?" Stravinsky himself had an ambiguous attitude towards the work. Even in 1909, when he first...
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