Igor Stravinsky

Ode, elegiacal chant for orchestra

    Description by Blair Johnston

    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.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Eulogy
    2. Eclogue
    3. Epitaph

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2016
    Praga / Praga Digitals
    PRD 250330
    2015
    Sony Classical
    88875026162
    2015
    Deutsche Grammophon
    B002398272
    2012
    Melodiya
    MYD 1001604
    2008
    Él
    153
    2007
    Sony Classical Essential Classics
    103112
    2007
    Guild
    2321
    2004
    Andante
    1140
    2001
    Gmn.com
    102
    1999
    Sony Music Distribution
    64136
    1999
    Chandos
    CHAN241-8
    1997
    BMG
    68865
    1997
    Deutsche Grammophon
    449 205
    1996
    Melodiya
    332202
    1994
    MusicMasters
    67110
    1991
    Sony Music Distribution
    46290
    Pan
    510069
    Sony Music Distribution
    46300