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Pulcinella Suite (1920, 1922)

1. Sinfonia (Ouverture)

2. Serenata

3a. Scherzino

3b. Allegro

3c. Andantino

4. Tarantella

5. Toccata

6. Gavotta con due variazioni

7. Vivo

8a. Minuetto

8b. Finale

Igor Stravinsky's life is often categorized by phases in his compositional interest that form a Beethoven-like early, middle, and late period. Following the success of his early national period, an era that saw The Firebird (1909-10), Petrushka (1910-11), and The Rite of Spring (1911-12), works heavily influenced by Russian themes, his late period explored the avant-garde with serial procedures and further adventures into atonality.


During the middle period, Stravinsky began experimenting with writing in the Baroque and Classical styles while adding newer developments with dissonances and rhythmic complexity. This perspective of viewing earlier music with a contemporary lens was hardly new. Tchaikovsky had imitated Mozart, and Prokofiev’s contributions with his Symphony No.1 spoofed the Classical style. But Stravinsky would stretch the meaning of neo-classical much further than simple imitation. Pulcinella jump-starts the composer's neo-classical journey; as Stravinsky explains, "Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late 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."


In 1917, after the First World War, Sergei Diaghilev, the Russian Impresario behind Stravinsky's early ballets, had just produced The Good-Humoured Ladies (Le donne de buon umore) with Vincenzo Tommasini's arrangements of Baroque music by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). With its success, the impresario approached Stravinsky for a new ballet using the music of 18th-century Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736). One can imagine that such a proposal is not a flattering or enticing offer to any composer. However, after looking over the Pergolesi manuscripts (many incorrectly attributed to the composer), Stravinsky was charmed and taken with them.


Stravinsky selected the subject of Pulcinella from a manuscript found at Naples, dating from 1700, containing several comedies portraying the traditional character of the Neapolitan stage. The episode selected for the story of this ballet is entitled ʻFour Identical Pulcinellas’ (Quatre Polichinelles semblables).


The plot is convoluted and would find welcome in any Christopher Nolan film. The story stems from jealousy. Pulcinella, much loved by all the young girls in the neighborhood, draws ire from two young men in town and eventually his love, Pimpinella. The men disguise themselves as Pulcinella and stab him dead. However, this is all a ruse to win Pimpinella's forgiveness. Pulcinella had changed places with a double who pretends to die. Disguised as a magician, the real Pulcinella appears and brings his double back to life. Pulcinella and the magician switch places again, paving the way for a miraculous resurrection. Pulcinella eventually finds brides for the two men and weds Pimpinella.


In neo-classical works post-Pulcinella, Stravinsky composed original music in the style of early music. With Pulcinella, Stravinsky's role was more an arranger, retrofitting the original music with cosmetic changes, meatier orchestration, rhythmic and harmonic alterations, and adding subtle timbral color. Pablo Picasso designed the sets and costumes with choreography by its title role dancer, Léonide Massine. The ballet premiered in Paris on May 15, 1920. The suite, which condenses the 18 movements to 11, runs 22 minutes. The score calls for 33 players, flute, piccolo, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, trumpet, trombone, and strings.

Igor Stravinsky was born on June 17, 1882, in Oranienbaum, Russia, and died on April 6, 1971, in New York City. © MTF

(Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai)


Invention, inspiration, and re-imagination unite in a program journeying through memory, time, comedy, and the new and ancient sounds of the Gamelan. Violinist Kristin Lee and conductor Andrew Gram join your Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra in the Hawai’i premiere of Vivian Fung’s Bali-inspired Violin Concerto No.1, Haydn’s Symphony No. 60, and Stravinsky’s gateway to musical time travel, Pulcinella Suite. © MTF

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