Stravinsky’s breakthrough to fame arrived when he embarked on a string of collaborations with the ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev, whose Ballets Russes—launched in Paris in 1909—quickly became identified with the cutting edge of the European arts scene.
Petrushka 1911/1947 | 34 mins
When Stravinsky wrote the music to Petrushka (1911/1947), he imagined “a distinct picture of a puppet, suddenly endowed with life, exasperating the patience of the orchestra.” The vibrancy of this spirited score captures this to a T. LISTEN FOR: The puppet’s mad flurry provokes the orchestra to “retaliate with menacing trumpet blasts . . . resulting in a terrific noise that reaches its climax and ends in the sorrowful and querulous collapse of the poor puppet.”
Violin Concerto 1931 | 22 mins
Samuel Dushkin, who commissioned and premiered Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto (1934), recalled that one day at lunch, Stravinsky wrote down [a] chord and asked me if it could be played. I had never seen a chord with such an enormous stretch . . . and I said ‘No.’ Stravinsky replied sadly, Quel dommage [What a pity].” When Dushkin went home and realized that it actually could be played, he immediately called the composer, who completed the concerto in six months. LISTEN FOR: The chord that was so casually brought up at lunch begins each of the work’s four movements—Stravinsky called it his “passport” to the music.
Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) 1913/1947 | 35 mins
The events of May 29, 1913—the premiere of Le Sacre du printemps (1913/1947) and the infamous audience riot that followed—catapulted Stravinsky, and modern music, onto a path from which there was no turning back. He described this controversial piece as a representation of pagan Russia, insisting that “it is unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of creative power of spring.” LISTEN FOR: There are many connections to folk music, including a Lithuanian tune that is the basis of the incredibly famous, astonishingly difficult high-pitched bassoon solo that opens the piece.
JEANETTE YU is Editorial Director at the San Francisco Symphony.