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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

Stravinsky, Bernstein ‎– Symphony In Three Movements • Symphony In C

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We usually take time in November to remember great artists we have lost, and it is in that context that we remember the thirtieth anniversary of the passing of Leonard Bernstein.

Further, this is also “Remembrance Week” (tomorrow being Remembrance Day) and the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. It is in that context that I am sharing a pair of works by Igor Stravinsky that were composed during the 1939-45 timeframe.

Stravinsky wrote a symphony at the very beginning of his career—it’s his op. 1—but he quickly became famous as the composer ballet scores, and he spent the next few years composing for the theater and the opera house. When, in 1920, he finally returned to writing music for an orchestra on the concert stage, he composed the Symphonies of Wind Instruments, which omits strings entirely and is no symphony in the conventional sense of the word. Throughout the ’20s, Stravinsky began to put his personal stamp on the traditional forms of orchestral music—these scores are the earliest of his so-called neoclassical period.

Stravinsky began the Symphony in C in Paris in the autumn of 1938 and completed the score on August 19, 1940, in Beverly Hills, California. Stravinsky admitted that he had scores of Haydn’s and Beethoven’s symphonies at his side when he began his own. Stravinsky’s understanding of symphonic style is very much his own. As he told a Boston interviewer:

My new symphony is going to be classical in spirit, more concise in its form than Beethoven […] Instead of all the chords gravitating toward one final tonic chord, all notes gravitate toward a single note. Thus this symphony will be neither a symphony in C major nor a symphony in C minor but simply a symphony in C.
The Symphony in Three Movements is considered as Stravinsky's first major composition after emigrating to the United States. It uses material written by Stravinsky for aborted film projects. Stravinsky, who rarely acknowledged extramusical inspirations for his music, referred to the composition as his 'war symphony'. He claimed the symphony as a direct response to events of the Second World War in both Europe and Asia. The first movement was inspired by a documentary on Japanese scorched earth tactics in China. The third movement deals with footage of German soldiers goosestepping and the Allied forces' mounting success.

Bernstein recorded extensively from the mid-1940s until just a few months before his death. His typical pattern of recording at that time was to record major works in the studio immediately after they were presented in the orchestra's subscription concerts. He recorded primarily for Columbia Masterworks Records, especially when he was music director of the New York Philharmonic between 1958 and 1971; his later recordings (starting with Bizet's Carmen in 1972) were mostly made for Deutsche Grammophon. Unlike his studio recordings for Columbia Masterworks, most of his later DGG recordings were taken from live concerts (or edited together from several concerts with additional sessions to correct errors). Today’s 1985 recording of the two Stravinsky symphonies follows that pattern, featuring the Israel Philharmonic.

Happy Listening!

Igor STRAVINSKY (1880 - 1971)

Symphony In C (1940)
Symphony In Three Movements (1945)

Orchestra – Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor – Leonard Bernstein
(Live recordings)

Deutsche Grammophon ‎– 415 128-1
Format: Vinyl, LP, Stereo (ADD)
Released: 1985

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