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Stravinsky's The Firebird Essay

1122 words - 5 pages

Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, The Firebird, premiered on June 25, 1910. Stravinsky was just twenty-seven years old at the time. Stravinsky was hired by Sergei Diaghilev, the founder of the Ballets Russes Company of Paris, France, to compose the ballet. Michel Fokine was in charge of the choreography used in The Firebird. This work is an example of how tradition and innovation can come together to create a piece, which has withstood the test of time. Such aspects as its use of melody, harmony, and rhythm create a sound which is distinctly Russian.
In general, the music follows traditions set by past composers, but at the same time it is able to bring originality. The biggest influences on The ...view middle of the document...

These themes are based on the interval of a tritone, although the intervals used inside of the tritone varies, often alternating between major and minor thirds. This use of motive to tie the work together channels the music of Tchaikovsky. The use of chromaticism or non-diatonicism was not all that uncommon for the time. Rimsky-Korsakov used chromaticism to add a colorful, exotic effect, while Richard Wagner used chromaticism to add complexity and depth to such works as Tristan und Isolde. The harmony could be viewed as in the style of Claude Debussy due to its use of chromaticism, extended chords, dissonant sounds, and modulations. All of these concepts are used to provoke imagery in the listener, thus allowing them to have a better chance to follow the storyline of the ballet.
The rhythm of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, were more elevated than was common for the time period. Some dancers in the ballet commented on how this posed difficulties for them, and the Firebird role was even turned down originally because of the challenges presented by the music. Stravinsky worked one on one with dancers, such as Tamara Karsavina, who ended up taking the role of the Firebird, to help them learn the rhythmic patterns of his music. At times, the lack of a driving rhythm proved to be just as demanding as the more complex rhythms for the dancers, for they did not have that element to latch onto in the music. It is evident that Stravinsky’s use of rhythm was not typical of the time period; because otherwise, the dancers and musicians would have been more accustomed to performing the complexities presented in The Firebird already.
Another interesting feature of The Firebird is Stravinsky’s use of orchestration. The score called for 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 3 harps, piano, strings, and an array of percussion. In addition, 3 trumpets, 2 tenor tubas, and 2 bass tubas were used onstage for added effect. This was a total of nearly one hundred musicians. Due to this unusually large orchestration, Stravinsky had an increased number of options for featuring a specific, selected group of instruments at any one time. Stravinsky was also able to explore the effects that were possible on various instruments. Some of these effects match what...

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