Diaghilev had first encountered Stravinsky’s work in January 1909, at the premiere of Scherzo fantastique
. This brilliantly orchestrated work, the last Stravinsky composed under Rimsky-Korsakov’s supervision, was originally inspired by Maeterlinck’s Vie des abeilles
(Life of Bees): hence the swarming effect of the outer sections of the work, at the heart of which is a more impassioned, late-Romantic style episode which—Taruskin has persuasively argued—represents the queen bee’s “Nuptial Flight”. “Persuasively argued” since Stravinsky eventually suppressed not only the programme, but also—in the face of a threatened lawsuit from Maeterlinck—denied that the work bore any relation to the Frenchman’s literary work. Nevertheless, Stravinsky’s almost unrivalled mastery of instrumentation is already evident in the Scherzo
’s rich yet extraordinarily light-timbred orchestration, including three flutes, the second alternating with alto flute, the third alternating with second piccolo; cor anglais; three clarinets, the third alternating with a clarinet in B flat and in D; a contrabassoon; alto trumpet in F; celesta; and three harps. On the other hand there’s a total absence of heavy brass—either trombones, or tuba—so enabling gossamer textures throughout.
from notes by Daniel Jaffé © 2009