Tchaikovsky’s voice is heard, but the chugging rhythms, precise articulations, spare orchestration – there is not a bar that is not pure Stravinsky.
Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
Le baiser de la fée (The Fairy’s Kiss) – Divertimento
Swiss Dances and Waltz
Pas de deux
Stravinsky became famous in the West with Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring, scores for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Towards the end of 1927, Ida Rubinstein, establishing a dance company of her own, asked Stravinsky’s publishers whether she might include his new ballet Apollon musagète in her repertoire. But the European rights rested with Diaghilev, so she submitted to Stravinsky two ideas for new works, one of which he liked immediately – a score inspired by the music of Tchaikovsky.
Tchaikovsky had been a childhood idol. Stravinsky had seen him in the foyer of the Mariinsky Theatre in 1893, two weeks before Tchaikovsky died. And in 1921, Stravinsky arranged two numbers for Diaghilev’s London production of The Sleeping Beauty. His arrangement of the ‘Bluebird pas de deux’ is included on CBS’s 1963 Stravinsky Conducts recordings.
For The Fairy’s Kiss, Stravinsky fashioned a storyline from Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Ice Maiden, and based his work mostly on Tchaikovsky’s piano and vocal works.
The scenario is intended to be an allegory of Tchaikovsky’s creative life. A child, separated from his mother, is found and kissed by a Fairy, then taken away to be looked after by villagers. At a fête some 18 years later, the young man is celebrating with his fiancée when the Fairy, disguised as a gypsy, enters and foretells good fortune for the young man. He and his fiancée dance by a mill, but when the fiancée goes away to put on her bridal dress, the Fairy appears, and lures the young man away. She bestows on him her fatal kiss, and encloses him forever in the land of Eternal Dwelling.
Stravinsky chose about half of this ballet for the Divertimento. In the Sinfonia, the Fairy kisses the child and disappears; Swiss Dances and Waltz is the village fair and young man’s betrothal. The Fairy leads the young man to his fiancée in the Scherzo, and the young couple dance together in the Pas de deux.
It could be said that the scenario reveals some ambivalence towards Tchaikovsky’s art – modernist Lawrence Morton pointed out that Stravinsky alters Tchaikovsky’s best-loved feature: his melody. But this work is the product of a deep immersion in an earlier countryman’s art. From a cadential figure from the Fifth Symphony to a mere whiff of None but the Lonely Heart, Tchaikovsky’s voice is heard, but the chugging rhythms, precise articulations, spare orchestration – there is not a bar that is not pure Stravinsky.
It has been claimed that a certain spirit went out of Stravinsky’s music once he severed links with Russia. In the 1920s, Stravinsky began to pare down his style and subscribe to the values of Classicism, but in The Fairy’s Kiss, there is a curious and moving warmth. In one sense, however, The Fairy’s Kiss signified a rupture. Diaghilev was furious that one of his protégés associated with the Ida Rubinstein Company, and the first performance at the Paris Opera on 27 November 1928 could be considered the end of their relationship.
Gordon Kalton Williams
Symphony Australia © 1998/20
Republished with the permission of Symphony Services Australia