|Premiere||June 13, 1923|
|Original ballet company||Ballets Russes|
Les noces (French; English: The Wedding; Russian: Свадебка, Svadebka) is a ballet and orchestral concert work composed by Igor Stravinsky for percussion, pianists, chorus, and vocal soloists. The composer gave it the descriptive title: "Choreographed Scenes with Music and Voices." Though initially intended to serve as a ballet score, it is often performed without dance. It premiered under the musical direction of Ernest Ansermet at the Ballets Russes with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska on June 13, 1923, in Paris. Several versions of the score have been performed, either substituting orchestra for the percussion and pianos or using pianolas in accordance with a version of the piece that Stravinsky abandoned without completing.
Stravinsky first conceived of writing the ballet in 1913 and completed it in short score by October 1917. He wrote the libretto himself using Russian wedding lyrics taken primarily from songs collected by Pyotr Kireevsky and published in 1911. During a long gestation period its orchestration changed dramatically. Stravinsky first planned to employ an expanded symphony orchestra similar to that of The Rite of Spring. His thinking went through numerous variations, including at one point the use of synchronised roll-operated instruments, including the pianola, but Stravinsky abandoned that version when only partially completed because the Parisian piano firm of Pleyel et Cie was late in constructing the two-keyboard cimbaloms, later known as luthéals, that he required.
Stravinsky settled on the following forces: soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass soloists, mixed chorus, and two groups of percussion instruments: pitched percussion, including four pianos, and unpitched percussion. This orchestration exemplifies Stravinsky's increasing proclivity for stripped down, clear and mechanistic sound groups in the decade after The Rite, although he never again produced such an extreme sonic effect solely with percussion.
Reminiscing in 1962, Stravinsky recalled "When I first played Les Noces to Diaghilev ...he wept and said it was the most beautiful and the most purely Russian creation of our Ballet. I think he did love Les Noces more than any other work of mine. That is why it is dedicated to him."
The work was premiered on June 13, 1923, at the Théâtre de la Gaîté in Paris, by the Ballets Russes with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska. The instrumental ensemble of four pianos and percussion was conducted by Ernest Ansermet. The work is usually performed in Russian or French; English translations are sometimes used, and Stravinsky used the English one on the recordings he conducted for Columbia Records in 1934 and 1959.
At the 1926 London premiere the piano parts were played by composers Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric, Vittorio Rieti and Vernon Duke. When Stravinsky conducted a recording using the English libretto in 1959, the four pianists were composers Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, and Roger Sessions.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic commissioned an arrangement by Steven Stucky for symphony orchestra and premiered it under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen on May 29, 2008, at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The arrangement retains Stravinsky's percussion parts while replacing the four pianos with a large orchestra.
The version including pianola that Stravinsky left unfinished was completed with permission from Stravinsky's heirs by the Dutch composer Theo Verbey and performed in the Netherlands in 2009.
Critical Reception and Legacy
Les Noces received a mixed reception to its early performances. While its premiere in Paris in 1923 was welcomed with enthusiasm, the London performance three years later received such a negative response from critics that, according to Eric Walter White, “The virulence of this attack so exasperated [the novelist] H. G. Wells that on June 18, 1926, he wrote an open letter.” Wells’ letter, quoted by White, said: “I do not know of any other ballet so interesting, so amusing, so fresh or nearly so exciting as Les Noces…That ballet is a rendering in sound and vision of the peasant soul, in its gravity, in its deliberate and simple-minded intricacy, in its subtly varied rhythms and deep undercurrents of excitement, that will astonish and delight every intelligent man or woman who goes to see it.” The pious reaction of Soviet critics such as Tikhon Khrennikov was no surprise: “In Petrushka and Les Noces Stravinsky, with Diaghilev’s blessing, uses Russian folk customs in order to mock at them in the interests of European audiences, which he does by emphasizing Asiatic primitivism, coarseness, and animal instincts, and deliberately introducing sexual motives. Ancient folk melodies are intentionally distorted as if seen in a crooked mirror.” However, in 1929, Boris Asafyev, a musicologist less inclined to stick to the "party line" made a shrewd prediction: “The young generation will find in the score of Noces an inexhaustible fountain of music and of new methods of musical formulation – a veritable primer of technical mastery.”
The passage of time has indeed shown Les Noces to be one of Stravinsky’s finest and most original achievements. Writing in 1988, Stephen Walsh said “Although others among Stravinsky’s theatre works have enjoyed greater prestige … The Wedding is in many respects the most radical, the most original and conceivably the greatest of them all.”
Howard Goodall has pointed out the influence of the distinctive sonorities of Les Noces: “To other composers, though, as they gradually came across Les Noces, its peculiar faux-primitive, fierce sound proved irresistible… The sound world of Les Noces is, quite simply, the most imitated of all twentieth-century combinations outside the fields of jazz and popular music.” Goodall lists composers that have fallen under its influence such as Orff, Bartók, Messiaen and many others, including film composers.
In her memoir of working as Stravinsky’s agent during the final decade of his life, Lilian Libman recalls the composer’s particular fondness for the work: “Still, did he have a favorite as a father has a favorite son?...I think it was Les Noces… It drew him, it would seem, as no other work of his had done. During the time I knew him, the mention of Les Noces never failed to produce the same smile with which he greeted those for whom he felt great affection.”
- A 1934 recording conducted by Stravinsky using the English libretto has been reissued on CD by EMI as part of their "Composers in Person" series.
- Robert Craft recorded the early versions of Les noces in the early 1970s on a Columbia LP, with pianos instead of pianolas.
- The Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble issued a recording with much of the piano writing sequenced via MIDI through Macintosh computers.
- The BBC's recommended recording is that made in 1990 by the Voronezh Chamber Choir, New London Chamber Choir, Ensemble, James Wood (director) HYPERION CDA 66410.
- Leonard Bernstein conducted the English Bach Festival Orchestra and Chorus on a recording for Deutsche Grammophon in 1977, with Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman, Cyprien Katsaris, and Homero Francesch as the pianists.
- Radio France recorded the work in 2011 on a SACD, with Virginie Pesch, Katalin Varkonyi, Pierre Vaello, and Vincent Menez; Percussions de l'Orchestre National de France & de la SMCQ de Montréal; Chœur de Radio France; René Bosc, conductor; HARMONIA MUNDI - Musicora; ASIN: B00699QPNM. This recording uses the 1923 version by Stravinsky, but replaces the pianos with 2 cimbaloms, a harmonium and a pianola, the instruments specified in the 1918/19 version of the score.
Nijinska's choreographic interpretation of Les noces has been called protofeminist. Les noces deserts the upbeat nature of a typical wedding, and instead brings to life the restrictive nature of a woman's duty to marry. The dark and somber set provides the backdrop to the simple costuming and rigid movements. The individuality of the dancer is stripped away in Nijinska's choreography, therefore displaying actors on a predetermined path, as marriage was regarded as the way to maintain and grow the community. The choreography exudes symbolism as, huddled together, the women repeatedly strike the floor with their pointe shoes with rigid intensity, as if to tell the tale of their struggle and ultimate reverence. The Russian peasant culture and the dutifulness it evokes in its people is represented in Nijinska's piece.
- The idea that it is impossible or difficult to synchronise a pianola with other instruments is quite erroneous. There have been hundreds of concerts in which the pianola has accompanied chamber music, or been used as the solo instrument in concertos, beginning in 1900, when Luigi Kunits, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, was accompanied by the early pianolist, Charles Parkyn. One example is the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto with the Flemish Radio Orchestra in Brussels, with newly arranged rolls, perforated in March 2007.
- History of the Pianola - Pianolists.
- Stravinsky, I. and Craft, R. (1962, p.118) Expositions and Developments. London, Faber.
- Walsh, Stephen. "Stravinsky, Igor (Fyodorovich)" in Sadie, Stanley, editor; John Tyrell; executive editor (2001). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition. London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-56159-239-5. OCLC 419285866 (eBook).
- White, Eric Walter (1966). Stravinsky, the Composer and His Works. University of California Press. p. 260. Retrieved June 2, 2015.
- Jowitt, Deborah (2004). Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance. Simon & Schuster. p. 362. Retrieved June 2, 2015.
- Craft, Robert. "Stravinsky Pre-Centenary." Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 19, No. 1/2 (Autumn, 1980 - Summer, 1981), pp. 464–477 doi:10.2307/832606
- "The Village Wedding". Svadebka. Retrieved June 2, 2015.
- Walsh (1999, p.366), Igor Stravinsky, a Creative Spring. London, Jonathan Cape.
- White, E.W. (1947, p.74-75) Stravinsky, a Critical Survey. London, John Lehmann.
- Khrennikov, T. (1948, pp58-9) “Za tvorchestvo, dostoinoe sovetskogo naroda” [For creative arts which Soviet people deserve], Sovetskaia Muzyka (1948), no. 1.
- Asaf’yev, B. (1929, trans. 1982, p.153) A Book about Stravinsky. Ann Arbor, UMI Research Press.
- Walsh, S. (1988, p84), The Music of Stravinsky. London, Routledge, p.84.
- Goodall, H. (2013, p.272) The Story of Music. London, Chatto and Windus.
- Libman, L. (1972, p.227) And Music at the Close, Stravinsky’s Last Years. London, MacMillan.
- Building a Library, May 6, 2000
- René Bosc conducts "Les noces" by Igor Stravinsky (1923). Retrieved 28 January 2012.
- Dance Kaleidoscope on same-sex marriage. Nuvo, 15 May 2013. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
- Stravinsky, Igor. Les noces in Full Score. Dover Publications (June 25, 1998) ISBN 0-486-40413-7.
- Antolini Electrifies Stravinsky's Multimedia Masterpiece. Bowdoin College. Retrieved July 13, 2007.
- Dance Pages: Les noces. Retrieved September 5, 2005.
- Clements, Andrew. "Stravinsky: Les noces". Guardian Unlimited. November 2, 2001. Retrieved September 26, 2015.
- Brendan McCarthy. Les noces and its performance history. Retrieved 9 November 2005
- Reviews of Les noces in versions by different choreographers and ensembles.
- Stravinsky and the Pianola, on the Pianola Institute's website.