Re-discovering Igor Stravinsky’s Chant funèbre after its disappearance over 100 years ago

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Igor Stravinsky

From The American Scholar by Sudip Bose:

In July 1914, just before the First World War began, Igor Stravinsky took a hasty trip to his estate in the village of Ustyluh, very near the Polish border in western Ukraine. This was his beloved summer home, a rural escape from bustling St. Petersburg that provided him the perfect conditions in which to compose. With war imminent, and the possibility of easy transit between Stravinsky’s two home countries—Russia and Switzerland—growing unlikelier by the day, the 32-year-old composer wanted to rescue as many of his belongings as he could before settling in Switzerland full time. He took with him what he could, but he abandoned a good deal—and not just in Ustyluh, but in St. Petersburg, as well.

One of those items left behind was the score of an early composition, the Chant funèbre, or Funeral Song, Stravinsky’s opus 5. He had composed the piece in tribute to his teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who had died in June 1908. Rimsky had entered Stravinsky’s life at a time when some uncertainty existed about the direction the young man’s life would take. Stravinsky’s parents had urged him, in no uncertain terms, to undertake a career in the law; he wanted to pursue music, an interest that Rimsky cultivated, taking him on as a private student in 1905. Those lessons continued until the master’s death. Stravinsky loved Rimsky dearly, and his feelings of crushing grief informed every bar of the orchestral elegy that he then composed, in a white heat of merely a few weeks. This Chant funèbre received its premiere at the Great Hall of the St. Petersburg Conservatoire on January 17, 1909, at a memorial concert for Rimsky. It would be the only performance of the work in Stravinsky’s lifetime.

Read the rest of the article at The American Scholar

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Categories: Music History, Russian History

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