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Stravinsky and Balanchine

Stravinsky and Balanchine: A Journey of Invention

Charles M. Joseph
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    Stravinsky and Balanchine
    Book Description:

    Igor Stravinsky and George Balanchine, among the most influential artists of the twentieth century, together created the music and movement for many ballet masterpieces. This engrossing book is the first full-length study of one of the greatest artistic collaborations in history.Drawing on extensive new research, Charles M. Joseph discusses the Stravinsky-Balanchine ballets against a rich contextual backdrop. He explores the background and psychology of the two men, the dynamics of their interactions, their personal and professional similarities and differences, and the political and historical circumstances that conditioned their work. He describes the dancers, designers, and sponsors with whom they worked. He explains the two men's approach to the creative process and the genesis of each of the collaborative ballets, demolishing much received wisdom on the subject. And he analyzes selected sections of music and dance, providing examples of Stravinsky's working sketches and other helpful illustrative materials. Engagingly written, the book will be of great interest not only to music and dance historians but also to ballet lovers everywhere.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12934-2
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. Chapter 1 Commonalities and Contrasts: A Meeting of Minds
    (pp. 1-29)

    In reviewing the 1972 Stravinsky Festival of the New York City Ballet, Andrew Porter wrote in theNew Yorkerthat ballets likeStravinsky Violin Concerto, Orpheus,andAgonseemed “almost to flow from a single mind; an entity called Stravinsky-Balanchine.” No conjoining of two artists’ names was ever more appropriate. Beginning with their initial meeting in 1926, a binding covenant quickly developed, a union that would connect them personally and professionally for the rest of their lives. In Balanchine’s eyes, Stravinsky was a colossus, the “Orpheus of the twentieth century.” Along with Mozart and Tchaikovsky, no composer inspired him more....

  6. Chapter 2 At the Crossroads: The Intercession of Diaghilev
    (pp. 30-54)

    Like the central panel of an ancient Russian triptych, Serge Pavlovich Diaghilev stands at the intersection of the Stravinsky-Balanchine union. In retracing the origins of the composer and choreographer’s collaborations, the knotted relationship of the two men with the baronial director of the Ballets Russes must be considered. The contradictions so evident in the tangled web of Diaghilev’s bigger-than-life image have provided the grist for numerous important biographical studies.¹ Little wonder, for his elusive personality as well as his heated interchanges with contemporaries, especially Stravinsky, reads like a romantic novel. Beyond the ambiguity and impenetrability to which Nabokov refers, an...

  7. Chapter 3 An Early Encounter: Le Chant du Rossignol
    (pp. 55-72)

    The checkered history of the 1925Chant du Rossignolprovides an early landmark. It was the first Stravinsky opus Balanchine prepared for the Ballets Russes as well as the first ballet Diaghilev entrusted to him. Its genesis, however, occurred sixteen years earlier, long before the choreographer began his formal study of dance. The composer himself was still a student when, in 1908 , while still under Rimsky-Korsakov’s tutelage, he began composing his first opera in Ustilug, his family’s summer home. Rimsky seems to have heard the preliminary sketches for the work, and according to Stravinsky at least, signaled his approval....

  8. Chapter 4 From Delos to Paris: The Voyage of Apollo
    (pp. 73-93)

    Apollon Musagèteembodies the essence of classicism. At one level, the ballet is an achievement of sheer visual beauty, asking little beyond what our senses instantly tell us. At another, the work’s lyrical music and classically steeped dancing represent the purest of Stravinsky and Balanchine’s neoclassic masterpieces. Free of ethnicity, preexisting tunes, or an explicit narrative, the composer deemedApollo(the title he came to prefer) the least “contaminated” of his compositions up to that point. He admitted to seeking a melodic style that would not betray his folkloristic past—a crucial about-face from his earlier Russian ballets. Moreover, he...

  9. Chapter 5 The Evolution of Apollo: Poetry, Musical Architecture, and Choreographic Equilibrium
    (pp. 94-123)

    More than a hundred pages of compositional sketches provide a window on the evolution ofApollo’smusical structure. Also retained in the Basel archives is Stravinsky’s instructive 1927 piano reduction, which is useful for outlining the ballet’s initial staging specifications. For example, the composer changed his mind, perhaps in consultation with Balanchine and Diaghilev, about the opening curtain (rideau). Originally it was to have risen at an earlier juncture of the Prologue’s opening music. The keyboard score is also filled with Stravinsky’s own piano fingerings—not at all unusual inasmuch as the tactilely oriented composer-pianist frequently drafted ideas arising from...

  10. Chapter 6 A New Beginning: Kirstein, America, and Jeu de Cartes
    (pp. 124-155)

    With Diaghilev’s death in Venice on 19 August 1929, everything changed. For all of the internal squabbling and political posturing dividing their house, the Ballets Russes had been home. Its now devastated members knew that Diaghilev had built careers and forged otherwise unexplored pathways. His demise struck a fatal blow to the company’s bold, risk-taking imagination. As Lincoln Kirstein wrote in his novelFlesh Is Heir,“It was the end indeed, the end of youth for a distinguished company of human beings, the end of power and endeavor, the end perhaps, of the first quarter of the twentieth century.” The...

  11. Chapter 7 The War Years
    (pp. 156-177)

    America’s postwar euphoria touched everyone. Upon his military discharge in late 1945, Kirstein rekindled his wide-eyed 1933 dream with resurgent optimism. With an unswayable, noblesse-oblige mission of bringing classical ballet to the people, Kirstein proposed to capitalize upon the lessons learned from the troubled American Ballet affiliation with the Metropolitan Opera. Yet whatever Kirstein’s “reckless” aspirations for the future, his recent past had nothing to do with what Balanchine had been experiencing back in the United States. Kirstein had clung to his dream while serving the war effort in Europe; but the vicissitudes of Balanchine’s artistic endeavors in New York...

  12. Chapter 8 Passage to Orpheus
    (pp. 178-210)

    As Lincoln Kirstein pleaded his case for contemporary classical dance in the competitive ballet world of New York, he too looked over his shoulder. A well-backed competitor was approaching. Using the press as a bully pulpit, John Martin and his disciples were vocally proclaiming that Lucia Chase’s new company, Ballet Theatre,wasNew York ballet. Debuting on 11 January 1940, Chase’s new troupe (performingLes Sylphides, with Chase herself dancing) virtually overnight became “the finest company as [has] yet been seen in America,” wrote Martin. “The Ballet Theatre,” he continued with a well-aimed barb, “whether by accident or design, has...

  13. Chapter 9 Agon: Recaturing the Past and Confronting the Future
    (pp. 211-227)

    Lincoln Kirstein’s vision of a Greek trilogy all but evaporated during the interregnum separating Ballet Society’s 1948OrpheusfromAgon’s1957 New York City Ballet premiere. He would never receive the third act of his once hoped-for “great lyric-drama.” Although at least nominally Greek,Agonhardly represents a dramaturgical culmination of what had begun nearly thirty years earlier withApollo.In almost every imaginable way—musically, theatrically, choreographically, even spiritually—Agon‚the last of Stravinsky and Balanchine’s epochmaking full-length ballets, stands a world apart fromOrpheusandApollo.And while Denby’s memorable description captures the Olympian spirit of one of...

  14. Chapter 10 The Evolution of Agon’s Musical Structure
    (pp. 228-254)

    TheApologie de la danse(1623) by François de Lauze constitutes the most substantive dance treatise of the seventeenth century. When Kirstein mailed a copy to Stravinsky, he sent the 1952 British reprint of the book, which had been greatly supplemented by its editor, Joan Wildeblood. The manual addressed the instruction, history, and function of several period dances, at least “the most advantageous” ones, as de Lauze concludes. But most important, Wildeblood offered detailed explanations of several popular dance patterns.

    Given Stravinsky’s immersion in the music of the Renaissance, Kirstein could not have sent the manual at a more propitious...

  15. Chapter 11 Choreography or Carpentry? Assembling a Visual Complement to the Music of Agon
    (pp. 255-276)

    The inviolable principles of order, discipline, symmetry, control— abstract but abiding ideas that ally Stravinsky to Ockeghem, Josquin, Mersenne, de Lauze, Arbeau, and Webern in a common protocol— can quickly be lost in the labyrinthine maze ofAgon’sintricate pitch language. In musical terms alone,Agon‚though written at age seventy-five, is one of the composer’s freshest, most puissant works. But although musicians may not wish to admit it, were it not for Balanchine’s arresting visualization, audiences probably would not have responded to Stravinsky’s score as enthusiastically as they did. “One thing is clear to me,” wrote Stravinsky and Balanchine’s...

  16. Chapter 12 Tevevision, The Flood, and Beyond
    (pp. 277-304)

    WithAgon’sstunning success, the Stravinsky-Balanchine partnership appeared poised for more triumphs. Yet during the early 1960s, one publicly aired stumble occurred. The 14 June 1962 CBS premiere ofThe Flood(orNoah and the Flood‚as it was first advertised) was telecast as a network special on Breck Shampoo’sGolden Showcase.History has never known quite what to do with the piece, stigmatizing it as artistically muddled and ambivalent. Albert Goldberg of the LosAngeles Timespanned the production as an “inglorious flop—an all-time dud.” Was the harsh criticism that quickly spread across the country’s newspapers really fair? Was...

  17. Chapter 13 After Stravinsky
    (pp. 305-323)

    Igor Stravinsky died in New York on the morning of 6 April 1971, at the age of eighty-eight. His health had been deteriorating for many years, but his tenacity and resilience had always allowed him to rally. Although he had attempted to compose a little and to orchestrate some of his favorite music, it was clear that physically, at least, he could not continue much longer. For many, the extinguishing of his creative spirit was difficult to witness. Yet long after others abandoned the failing composer during those final years, claiming that his decline was too much to bear, Balanchine...

  18. Chapter 14 Unity and Balance in Stravinsky Violin Concerto
    (pp. 324-349)

    Observing Balanchine choreograph part of their jointly conceived 1959 ballet,Episodes‚Martha Graham remarked, “It was like watching light pass through a prism. The music passes through him, and in the same natural yet marvelous way that a prism refracts light, he refracts music into dance.” Nowhere is the refraction more evident than inStravinsky Violin Concerto.Dance critics applauded the 1972 ballet as a brilliant exemplar of Balanchine’s keen sense of musical visualization. But what exactly does this mean? What is “musical visualization?” If Balanchine truly channels Stravinsky’s score through the dancers’ bodies, and his physical handling of the ensemble...

  19. Epilogue
    (pp. 350-352)

    Following the unparalleled achievement of the 1972 Stravinsky Festival, Balanchine continued his own journey, producing a string of new ballets. Much has been made of the fact that he did not choreograph any new Stravinsky works between the 1972 and 1982 festivals. Theories abound to explain this almost decade-long hiatus. Had he run out of scores worth choreographing? Had City Ballet’s offerings become saturated by too much Stravinsky? Or could it be that he simply had had enough of his old friend’s music? Whatever the speculation, Balanchine now turned his attention to other scores and other programmatic themes, including eight...

  20. Appendix: The Stravinsky-Balance Ballets
    (pp. 353-356)
  21. A Notes on Sources
    (pp. 357-360)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 361-418)
  23. Credits
    (pp. 419-420)
  24. Index
    (pp. 421-440)