After settling in Hollywood in the early 1940s, Igor Stravinsky was offered the job of composer for Orson Welles' screen rendition of the novel Jane Eyre. While Stravinsky was at first enthusiastic about the project, his relations with the Hollywood moguls seem to have deteriorated and he eventually abandoned the project. During his brief period of involvement with the film, however, he composed some music for one of the novel's hunting scenes, and in 1943, feeling that the music was too good to lose, recycled it as the second movement of his Ode for orchestra. The Ode fulfilled a commission offered to him by Serge Koussevitzky. It was premiered in October 1943 with Koussevitzky himself leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
This "elegiacal chant," as the Ode is subtitled, is cast in three individual movements, the first and last of which are genuinely somber while the second is, to quote the composer, a "pleasant interlude" between the other two. The piece is written for a traditional orchestra minus the low brass. The actual scoring -- at least in the outer movements -- is more chamber-like than fully symphonic.
The first movement, called "Eulogy," opens with three brass chords that outline the lower neighbor-note figure of which Stravinsky was so fond. Fragments of pizzicati in the cellos and basses alternate with truncated versions of the opening horn/trumpet gesture before moving into the main body of the movement -- a lush melody treated by the strings in a fugal manner against light, repeated offbeat figures in the winds. After an episode for solo strings, the winds and string section exchange their previous roles in the fugato structure. The movement comes to a gentle close as the clarinets wind toward the glistening, modified G major cadence.
Stravinsky's Jane Eyre hunting music takes the shape of an energetic and lightly scored scherzo that the composer calls "Eclogue." The horn section introduces the main motivic substance of the movement, including a rapid repeated-note figure that soon works its way into almost every level of the musical detail. Eventually the initial contrapuntal gesture of the horn section returns, only to dissolve away into the solo tympani and one last descending arpeggio in the lower strings.
During the third movement, "Epitaph," the sustained A naturals of the flutes are made into a fixed point against which a whole series of gestures from elsewhere in the orchestra -- pungently dissonant oboes and bassoons, oscillating horns, and lush, melodic strings -- are offered. When the A naturals eventually dissipate, the horns and bassoons take over in thin, two and then three-voice harmony. After a brief pause, the formerly legato strings take up a more articulated manner. Throughout Ode, Stravinsky focuses on his remarkable ability to bend a traditional tonal, triadic framework into a new shape; nowhere is this more plain than in the second half of "Epitaph," as the basic F major undercurrent is undercut by the insistent A flats of the bass line. Eventually, these A flats work their way up into the violins, only to slide into one last circular array of octave A naturals in the three flutes.