Let the APO take you on a musical journey through time…

In APO’s upcoming Baroque & Beyond concert, two chamber works by J.S. Bach are paired with two by Igor Stravinsky. But what’s the connection? Let’s delve deeper...

APO’s Baroque & Beyond concert series juxtaposes complementary chamber orchestra works from different periods, revealing musical connections and paths of inspiration spanning centuries.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), widely considered one of the most significant and influential composers of the 20th century, it known as a revolutionising force behind modernism in music. Early 20th century orchestral music was largely impressionist and Romantic in style (think Debussy’s La Mer (1905) or Strauss’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1912–17)) which Stravinsky broke away from, pushing towards a more dissonant, angular sound.

APO’s Baroque & Beyond concert series juxtaposes complementary chamber orchestra works from different periods, revealing musical connections and paths of inspiration spanning centuries.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), widely considered one of the most significant and influential composers of the 20th century, it known as a revolutionising force behind modernism in music. Early 20th century orchestral music was largely impressionist and Romantic in style (think Debussy’s La Mer (1905) or Strauss’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1912–17)) which Stravinsky broke away from, pushing towards a more dissonant, angular sound.

And yet, Stravinsky was also famously fascinated with music of the past. Looking to what has come before for inspiration is hardly a new creative concept, but Stravinsky really took things up a notch – so much so that nearly half of his profoundly varied 70 year career is considered by many to be ‘neoclassical’.

In music, neoclassicism was understood to be a reaction against the excessive emotion of late Romanticism, and a return to the balance and order found in music of the Baroque and early Classical periods. Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony (1917) can be viewed as an early example of this trend. Prokofiev described his motivations behind writing the work as imagining what would result if Haydn had “kept his own style, while absorbing… what was new in music.”

The ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev of the Ballets Russes could be considered a catalyst for Stravinsky’s own stylistic shift, in suggesting Stravinsky remodel music attributed to Italian Baroque composer Giovanni Pergolesi (1710–36) as the starting point for a new ballet. Stravinsky later described the resulting ballet Pulcinella (1920) as “my discovery of the past [and] the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible.”

His Octet, premiered in 1923 and now considered a neoclassical masterpiece, hints at Bach, Haydn, draws on contrapuntal melodies and sonata form – and mingles them with a healthy dose of jazz. Thus the influence of pre-romantic forms and keys are present, but cut and manipulated, showing themselves to be firmly re-invented and rooted in Stravinsky’s own artistic voice.

Similarly, when Stravinsky sat down to write his ‘Dumbarton Oaks’ Concerto (1937-38), it was Bach’s music that was fizzing in his head. It sounds at first like one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, but distorted through a prism, before Bach’s concepts are quickly unravelled and reconstructed, to reveal a distinctly modern composition.

Interestingly, Stravinsky’s Eight Instrumental Miniatures began as piano exercises titled Les Cinqs Doigts (The Five Fingers) in 1921, and so has its origins at the very onset of Stravinsky’s swerve into neoclassicism. Although he finished orchestrating the pieces four decades later in 1962, they clearly show his predilection for order and structure.

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