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Classical 101

Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Pulcinella

[DRAFT: I CAN'T FIND THIS PERFORMANCE IN THE PROGAM AND IT NEEDS TO BE BROKEN UP, EDITED, ETC] The Columbus Symphony performs Igor Stravinsky's Pulcinella (suite) in concerts this Friday and Saturday nights at the Ohio Theatre; George Frideric Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, Johann Sebastian Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major; and Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D. The Saturday night performance will be broadcast live on WOSU 89-7. Music director Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducts. The ballet Pulcinella had four godfathers. It was a collaboration between Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, Leonid Massine and Sergei Diaghilev, the impresario who brought them all together. Diaghilev (1872-1929) is the subject of a new biography by Sjeng Sceijen. I've only paged through it so far, but I can't image there to be a dull word in this book, since Diaghilev led such a creative, and wild, life. His collaborators, in addition to those listed above further included Nijinsky, Pavlova, and Bakst. Flush or broke, in good times and bad, it was Diaghilev who triumphantly exported the ballet out of Russia to Paris,  Monaco, London, New York and the world with his Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. It was Diaghilev's idea for a ballet based on old music re-worked by a young composer. The focus would be the Italian commedia dell'arte. This aspect of the Italian theater flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was defined by a group of traveling players-including women, then considered scandalous.  There are three groups in the commedia: servant, master and lovers of the inamorati. The servants have names like Arlecchno (Harlequin) Scaramuccio, Brighella and the saucy young ingenue, Columbina. The performs are often masked. The plays were simple. Commedia dell'arte began as popular entertainment.  For the country side, not the nobility.  Love, jealousy, cuckolds, pretty girls with old husbands and buff boyfriends, everything we see on TV today. Stravinsky by 1918 was turning away from the wild rhythms and abandon of The Rite of  Spring (which had also been commissioned by Diaghilev). He was entering a more orderly neo-classical period.  He was intrigued by working with music from the Italian baroque. The composers Pergolesi, Domenico Galli and Carlo Monza. Diaghilev predicted that Stravinsky, not yet forty would turn in an elegant and spicy score for Leonid Massine's choreography.  Massine and Diaghilev loved the puppet shows which were the remnants of the live commedia dell'arte they had seen in the villages of Southern Italy. Picasso signed on but came up with operetta like sets and costumes, not what Diaghilev had in mind.  Author Scheijen tell us  "Eventually Picasso produced new, abstract designs that were received with great enthusiasm.  The ballet critic Cyril Beaumont described the decor as a 'cubist study in black, blue-gray and white, admirably conveying with remarkable economy of means a moonlit street overlooking the Bay of Naples. The premiere of Pulcinella was on May 15, 1920, in Paris. It was a decent success.  Stravinsky said "Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my later work became possible.  It was a backward look, of course, the first of many love affairs in that direction.  But it was a look in the mirror, too." The party after the premiere got heated. Prokofiev was a guest.  He reported "Stravinsky and Diaghilev almost came to blows.  Stravinsky said the curtain came down too slowly at the end of Pulcinella, to which Diaghilev responded that's because you made a mess of the end! Stravinsky went for Diaghilev and said that Pulcinella was a work of genius and Diaghilev knew nothing about music.  Diaghilev responded by saying that composers had been saying he understood nothing about music for twenty years". Stravinsky was right. Pulcinella became a smash. You can see Balanchine and Jerome Robbins's choreography at the New York City ballet to this day. The orchestra suites Stravinsky fashioned for concert hall use in later years show us a modern composer embracing the past while going forward. There are rhythms and combinations of instruments-colors-in Stravinsky that Pergolesi would not have known.  Not forgetting what Diaghilev himself was all about:  ENTERTAINMENT.  Whether or not he understood music, Diaghilev understood an audiences thirst for spectacle and he understood talent. When you get to heaven,  just ask Stravinksy, Picasso, Massine, Nijinsky and Pavlova. --Christopher Purdy