In November 1916, wealthy Parisian patroness Princesse Eugène Murat approached Stravinsky with an offer to engrave his Three Pieces for String Quartet. Stravinsky replied that the Three Pieces were not available for publication, but instead brokered a package deal for the publication of several short pieces, including Renard, the Berceuses du chat, and the yet unwritten Five Easy Pieces for piano duet. The Princesse accepted this hard bargain; publication was set up through the Geneva-based house run by the concert promoter Adolphe Henn. Stravinsky then returned to his home in Morges in order to complete the promised pieces. Work was delayed somewhat by an attack of nerves that left Stravinsky practically paralyzed. On January 4, 1917 however, Stravinsky was well enough to proceed with the Andante that opens the set. All of the pieces were written in one day, Balalaika on February 6, Napolitana on February 21, and the Galop on February 28. The Española was added on April 3, literally one day before the manuscript was shipped off to Henn in Geneva. Publication occurred later in the year, and the work was premiered in Paris on February 9, 1918.
The pieces are designed for teacher and student, the "easy" part being in the Primo and the more difficult texture in the Secundo, as in the Three Easy Pieces of 1914-1915 that were published separately at the same time. The whole work is sufficiently easy that a single pianist can play both parts without requiring much adaptation. The opening Andante is a portrait of Erik Satie and owes something to his style; its rainy day melancholy is simply stated and directly communicative. Española may hearken back to Stravinsky's visit to Spain the previous summer. Balalaika, a fond keepsake of Russian reminiscence, is characterized by its strummed accompaniment. Napolitana was written prior to Stravinsky's first visit to Italy, and draws from surface elements of Neapolitan style. A clever, wrong-note snatch of the popular song "Funiculì, Funiculà" is heard, and just before the conclusion, Stravinsky incorporates an interesting innovation: he allows the Primo to drop out, leaving behind six bars of the rolling accompaniment in a "proto-minimal" texture. The concluding Galop has a prior history in that it is based on sketches made at the time of the 1914-1915 set. The older sketches are signified as a can can, and outside of its tonally wayward accompaniment, the piece is a sort of French music hall ditty with a Russian accent.
Stravinsky recast the first four of these Easy Pieces in orchestral garb as the Suite No. 1 for Orchestra (1925). Perhaps recalling the origin of the Galop, he split this orchestration off from the rest, adding it to the earlier set of Three Easy Pieces to form the Suite No. 2 for Orchestra (first performed in 1926). In their original form, however, these little works have gone on to delight several generations of piano students, teachers and amateurs, despite the rather canny circumstances behind their creation.