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Apollon musagète

'Stravinsky: Apollon musagète & Pulcinella' (CKD330)
Stravinsky: Apollon musagète & Pulcinella
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'Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex & Apollon musagète' (LSO0751)
Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex & Apollon musagète
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Movement 01: Naissance d'Apollon
Movement 02: Variation d'Apollon
Movement 03: Pas d'action
Movement 04: Variation de Calliope
Movement 05: Variation de Polymnie
Movement 06: Variation de Terpsichore
Movement 07: Variation d'Apollon
Movement 08: Pas de deux
Movement 09: Coda: Apollon et les Muses
Movement 10: Apothéose

Apollon musagète
Apollon musagète must surely be the apogee of what became known as Stravinsky’s ‘neoclassicism’. Commissioned by the American patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, Stravinsky chose, as he explains in his autobiography, ‘to compose a ballet founded on moments or episodes in Greek mythology plastically interpreted by dancing of the so-called classical school’. He wanted to create what he termed a ‘ballet blanc’, a score of great blanc’ purity and unity, in which violent contrasts were avoided and all elements were pared down to their simplest. Hence it is scored for strings alone and makes almost exclusive use of diatonic harmony (the equivalent of the ‘white notes’ on the piano keyboard). For Georges Balanchine, choreographer of the 1928 European premiere, the work was a revelation: ‘In its discipline and restraint, in its sustained oneness of tone and feeling … [Apollon] seemed to tell me that I could dare not to use everything, that I, too, could eliminate’. The result was the perfect union of music and dance in the expression of pure, classical beauty.

And how did Stravinsky achieve this sense of order as symbolised by the Greek god Apollo? One means was to look to poetry. Each dance explores a basic iambic (short–long) pattern; the ‘Variation of Calliope’ (the muse of poetry) is headed by two lines from Boileau and takes the twelve-syllable lines of the alexandrine as its rhythmic model. Another means was to allude to the stateliness of French Baroque dances, such as the ouverture style of the opening ‘Birth of Apollo’ or the pavane-like second ‘Variation of Apollo’. The closing ‘Apotheosis’, Apotheosis’ in which Apollo leads the three Muses towards Parnassus, brings together the various rhythmic elements of the work in music that is not just serenely beautiful but also seems to speak of something deeper and darker, something beyond reason and order. Stravinsky looks back to ancient Greece, but is ultimately only able to see the reflection of his own tragic age. Even when at his most classical, we hear, once again, the voice of Stravinsky the exile.

from notes by Jonathan Cross © 2009

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