Stravinsky's Renard (1915-1916) belongs to a genre perhaps best described as "ballet hybrid." In addition to the expected dance elements, Renard is also a burlesque, a musical story that is sung and played. The text was written by Stravinsky himself, after stories of the Fox from the famous collection of Russian folk tales by Alexander Afanasiev. Renard is scored for small orchestra, percussion, timpani, cimbalom, a solo string quintet, two tenor soloists, and two bass soloists.
The story is a farmyard tale in which the Cock is twice tricked and captured by the Fox , only to be rescued each time by the Cat and the Goat. After the Cock's second rescue, the Cat and the Goat strangle the Fox, and the three friends dance and sing. Stravinsky employs the singers as part of the orchestra, and though there are exactly as many singers as characters, the vocal parts are not identified with specific characters. (The composer followed this practice in subsequent works of the same type, most notably in Les noces of 1914-1917.)
The players remain onstage at all times, without the kind of choreography one associates with traditional ballet. Rather, as the prefatory note in the score indicates, the various characters should be played by "clowns, dancers, or acrobats" who perform in front of the curtain. Stravinsky makes prominent use of the cimbalom, a stringed instrument played with mallets, to imitate the sound of a guzla, a similar Russian folk instrument. Stravinsky knew that finding good guzla players (or even the instrument itself) would be difficult, and settled on the cimbalom after hearing it played in a nightclub in Switzerland. According to the composer, most of Renard was actually composed on the cimbalom rather than on the piano that was more usual for Stravinsky. The cimbalom, an instrument on which rapid repeating notes and broad arpeggios are highly idiomatic, contributes significantly to the work's linear texture. Stravinsky employs the other instruments in an almost soloistic manner, further contributing to the work's polyphonic textures. Renard's melodies are wide-ranging and disjunct, while the mixture of modes connects it to the polytonal/polymodal harmonic style of earlier works like Petrushka (1910-1911). Renard's relative rhythmic and metric simplicity contrasts sharply with the richly complex rhythmic language of nearly contemporaneous works like The Rite of Spring (1911-1913).