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Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Firebird

The Firebird, Scene 2 (1910 version) by Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971).

Originally written to accompany a ballet by the same name. This roughly three minute piece is the final scene of the work. It repeats one melody over and over, creating contrast through changes of dynamics, tone color, and rhythm.  The most beautiful creation of music I have heard in the shortest duration - using repeated segments, increasing grandeur, and finally, leading to a brilliant concluding section.

The Firebird, in Slavic folklore, is known as a bringer of both blessings and doom to its captor.  The strings around duration 1:30, accent very softly, in a random chromatic aberration, almost out of key with the tonal center of the piece.  This seems to bring a taste of doom to the listener.  The strings quickly crescendo, a hard timpani hit is heard, and we are back into the main rich and expressive theme.

You can absorb the magical sense of the song, in a verse from A Winter's Journey, by Yakov Polonsky, which inspired The Firebird ballet:
And in my dreams I see myself on a wolf's back
Riding along a forest path
To do battle with a sorcerer-tsar
In that land where a princess sits under lock and key,
Pining behind massive walls.
There gardens surround a palace all of glass;
There Firebirds sing by night
And peck at golden fruit.

Reading into the work, we learn during this scene the hero triumphs and becomes engaged to a princess.  The slow triumph is heard.  A skillful crescendo creates spirit as instruments are added to the piece.  The melody is repeated at higher and higher pitches.  Use of dynamics ranging the entire gamut, from pianissimo to fortissimo, can be heard.  The repeated effect is further outlined by the timbre of each instrument.  A critical listener can hear English horns, oboes, french horns, harps, piccolos and more.  This tone color contributes to continuity; as it is easier to recognize the return of the melody when the same instruments repeat the main theme.

What an excellent piece of music.

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