After he had premiered his Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments in 1924, Stravinsky had played that work about 40 times in Europe and America. By late 1928, he decided that he needed a new solo vehicle for his piano playing and Stravinsky began composing his Capriccio for piano and orchestra after Christmas of that year. The work was completed in September, 1929, and premiered in Paris with Ernest Ansermet conducting the Paris Symphony Orchestra and the composer at the piano.
The Capriccio was composed after Stravinsky had completed his "Tchaikovsky" ballet Le Baiser de la fée, a work whose music is based on the songs and piano piece of Tchaikovsky, and the same spirit of melodic refinement and rhythmic gracefulness permeates the three movements of the capriccio. Having written the Allegro capriccioso ma tempo giusto, the whole work took its title from that movement. Despite being scored for three each of flutes, oboes, and clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, and timpani plus ripieno and concertino strings without second violins, the capriccio is a much lighter and more self-consciously charming work than the weighty Piano Concerto. It is also a more stylish work; in his writings about the capriccio, Stravinsky mentions Weber and Mendelssohn, "the two Beau Brummels" of music and his writing for the piano has some of their effervescent spirit as well.
The opening movement of the Capriccio starts with a slow-sounding introduction which is integrated the Presto body of the movement. This introduction returns at the close of the movement to give the impression of a rounded ABA form. The central movement is marked Andante rapsodico, but the expressive indication has more to do with the apparent emotionality of the themes than the structure of the music which is in a clear ABA form. The Andante capriccioso finale is the lightest and fastest of the three movements and, again, the expressive marking has more to do with the cheerful and witty quality of the themes than with the form of the music which is in rondo form.
The Capriccio is a huge step forward in Stravinsky's writing for the piano. In place of the heavy rhythms and thick textures of the Piano Concerto, he wrote for the piano in a manner much more in line with his manner of composing for winds and brass -- that is, more gracefully and elegantly.