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Current time:0:00Total duration:14:51

Discovering Stravinsky's "Firebird" : The story and the music

Video transcript

the story of the Firebird involves just a few characters so the Firebird ivan the prince Kosh i the monster 13 princesses and some other monsters that the Qashqai has created he's immortal and he petrifies people it's a terrible thing and ivan arrives in front of the monsters castle and he sees it's it's dark but he hears and sees a Firebird he captures her he was hunting not for Firebirds but he captures her and she begs for her release he releases her and she says whenever you need help I will be there for you next 13 princesses come out of the castle and do a round dance he falls in love with one of them they returned to the castle then the next day Ivan goes to this monster this Qashqai sorcerer and says I'd like to marry one of these princesses will you give me permission they get into a quarrel and the monster gets all of his monstrous friends to run after Ivan at this moment the Firebird comes back to repay the freedom that she received and to help him she gets all of those monsters to do an infernal dance and they do this infernal dance at the end of the infernal dance they all fall asleep because they're all so tired this is a chance for Ivan to get away gosh I wakes up she gets him once again to engage in a dance tells Ivan how to go about breaking the spell and how to kill this monster he does he marries the princess all the petrified people become normal and everybody's happy and life goes on wonderfully after that the premiere was in 1910 the first Swede was in 1911 the suite that we play is from 1919 it's in six basic sections the introduction to the Firebird sets the mood tone of Ivan arriving in front of this castle the mood is set by muted strings viola cellos playing unison together the bass is also playing with them but the bass is divided half of them are playing what we call Arco with the bow and half of them to play pizzicato plucking the string you can also notice that the bass drum is the only other instrument playing a role underneath again to create the suspension in short order the woodwinds come in and this is Ivan's entrance into that that meadow in front of the castle besides the low woodwinds in the horn you have trombone - trombones also just creating the image of what Ivan is feeling in the forest a little Sandow on the harp just little little gestures that set the moon in an extraordinary way next thing we find is all of a sudden there's a shimmering section of the strings they play a quick note loud and then they do a tremolo to create a kind of activity without any specific musical gesture the sound of melody it does relate to the harmony but it's not significant then the upper strings and the woodwinds come in in a very skittery way and you know that this is obviously the Firebird and then we get to the first solo for the Firebird as you look at it you'll see that it's all Woodward's its piccolo flutes clarinets and then eventually the string was come in and add a little something but again it's repeated it's very clear it's short and it's the first solo for the Firebird these variations [Music] next comes the the round dance of the princesses this has a introduction and woodwinds beautiful oboe solo accompanied by the harp [Music] it's not really part of the main body of the movement yet that comes when the strings play this folk like tune and that's clearly where the body of the dance begins [Music] as Stravinsky develops this that material that he had just used now and the strings he does in the woodwinds this is a very common of all composers but especially in the 20th century you take material first played by the strings and you take the exact same material and just changed the orchestration in other words put it in different instruments in this case he puts it in the woodwinds lit by the flutes and it it has a new sound and we call that a different color [Music] eventually this movement comes to an end and abruptly there's this loud chord sounded by the whole Orchestra the percussion and this is of course the infernal dance this is the dance where the monsters are being in a sense led by the Firebird to this wild dance and she's hoping that they'll tired and fall asleep at the end of course they do it's interesting because what he does is he he has that court it startles one if you're not expecting it you'll jump out of your seat and then the basis had this very fast figure going on that doesn't really do much except create an agitated feeling then the low horns the bassoon tuba come in with this syncopated melody syncopated simply means it's not on the beat it's so if you'd expect it to be Bom Bom Bom Bom Bom the status is all off the beat we call that syncopated and it adds to the tension that this whole beginning creates [Music] this is the infernal dance evil pants it's wild and it's fun and when it comes to an end Stravinsky has just a few chords sound muted trumpets by the harp by the piano and he uses that material as a transition so from this loud aggressive material very colorful percussion and bass drum and everybody beating and blaring away and it just stops and again it's suspended suspended with just a little harmonic movement done by the oboz eventually the violas as a transition into the basis this beautiful lullaby [Music] the lullaby is played by the bassoon and a way to kind of think that if you were doing a lullaby you'd have it replay by the food or by the clarinet or violence but Stravinsky rice is absolutely exquisite solo for the solo bassoon one of the most famous solos and all the literature for the bassoon [Music] [Music] [Music] if anyone ever takes an audition for an orchestra this solo is inevitably on it because it shows sound and and the depth of understanding Stravinsky himself does not write any dynamics he doesn't say make a crescendo make a decrescendo emphasize this note emphasize that note he just writes the notes and if you think of singing a lullaby you certainly wouldn't sing it in a monotone or in a single level and so the bassoon player has to create something special with this gorgeous melody this sum of course puts the monsters to sleep the melody gets developed and it leads to the finale what Stravinsky does is he has the strings play this this tremolo just back and forth on single notes which create a harmony again it's very suspended which brings us to this song of deliverance it's a song sung by the horn again among the most famous one souls ever written and it's soft and it's beautiful [Music] [Music] and with a little blue Sandow in the harp we have the violin section play the same melody quite softly [Music] you and eventually this beautiful melody develops war instruments are added the brass added and we have a glorious moment for the swing out in fact you could end it here you could just at this big great moment you could end it now Stravinsky he what a brilliant composer he was and he wanted to have a more exciting and not an ending of deliverance but an ending of success that we have we have killed the monster we have we have made all these stone people into human beings again and the prince is gonna marry the princess so he takes the same melody that the horn played and he makes it significantly faster played by the brass so the son of a slow melody becomes a fashion everyone joins in that has its own rhythmic propulsions being pushed forward in a very unusual way again in his genius he doesn't want it to end in this aggressive way he does want to bring back the solemnity of that finale so at one point after repeating the theme a number of times and again increasing the orchestration of doublings of the strings in the winds he once again brings it back to a slower tempo [Music] and it ends that way with a big brass Corral [Music] [Applause] [Music] the complete Firebird is about fifty minutes each suite that he's created from this he created three of them are about 20-25 minutes each I believe that they stand up musically now I would say it'd be more difficult to have the whole ballet stand up musically because you have great music but then there are those moments where things happen for stage changes for dramatic purposes that really have no musical reason or no musical value at that moment but when someone like Stravinsky takes the essence of a great ballet and makes it into a suite musically it just stands on its own and if you knew nothing of the story there's no question you would enjoy this music cause it is magnificent certainly Stravinsky was one of the great geniuses of all time and you can really see that not only in hearing the complete Firebird but seeing how he distilled it and made it into this gorgeous little suite