No 01: Introduction: Andante
No 02: Danses 'Corps de ballet': Moderato
No 03: Variation 'Ballerina': L'istesso tempo
No 04: Pantomime: Lento
No 05: Pas de deux: Adagio
No 06: Pantomime: Agitato ma tempo giusto
No 07: Variation 'Dancer': Risoluto
No 08: Variation 'Ballerina': Andantino
No 09: Pantomime: Andantino
No 10: Danses 'Corps de ballet': Con moto
No 11: Apothéose: Poco meno mosso
After a brief, arresting Introduction, typically Stravinskian in its alternation of loud chords and gentle oscillations, the corps de ballet enters and performs a set of dance Variations, the last and quickest of which (more like Glazunov, perhaps, than Adam) is allocated to the ballerina in her guise, so to speak, of ex-Giselle. There then follows a he-and-she Pantomime, with hints of Tchaikovsky, leading to a Pas de deux with a sultry melody for solo trumpet which Desmond Shawe-Taylor once wrote ‘sounds like a tune played outside a celestial pub’. A second Pantomime is followed by solo Variations for the two dancers in turn, the ballerina’s exquisitely accompanied by a pair of solo cellos straight out of some no-less celestial Palm Court. Then, after a final corps de ballet, the work ends with a mock-apotheosis suitable to accompany curtain calls for a show whose pretensions are perhaps slightly greater than its substance.
This score, so typical of Stravinsky in its unwavering perfection in the face of grotesque provocation, must have cut a bizarre figure among the Seven so-called ‘Lively Arts’, which were not necessarily the ones Diaghilev dreamt of combining in the early days of the Ballets Russes. Rose’s line-up included stand-up comic turns and sketches, songs by Cole Porter (including Every time we say goodbye and Easy to love), Benny Goodman and his band, and a big set-piece called ‘Billy Rose Buys the Metropolitan Opera House’. Rose noticed (with surprise?) that Easy to love was punctuated by bursts of applause, whereas the Stravinsky piece was heard out in silence—a contrast which sums up the problem for American impresarios who wanted to tap Stravinsky’s fame but preferably without the disadvantages of his music. After the pre-Broadway run in Philadelphia, Rose tried (unsuccessfully) to get Stravinsky to rescore parts of the work, and he did succeed in persuading him to cut the opening dance, whose five-in-a-bar had proved to be beyond the comprehension of the ‘hoofers’ who made up the corps de ballet. In return, Stravinsky made Rose bill the performance as ‘excerpts’. In this form the show ran for 183 performances at the Ziegfeld, which—though the music is today among Stravinsky’s least familiar—must at the time have made it one of his most-performed ballets, apart from the famous three early ones. In fact it was still running in early February 1945 when Stravinsky himself conducted the first concert performance in Carnegie Hall. So on that day, a Saturday (with, therefore, a Billy Rose matinée as well), a true enthusiast might have heard the work, more or less complete, three times.
from notes by Stephen Walsh © 2010