STRAVINSKY - Concerto in E flat 'Dumbarton Oaks' (12')
Whilst Stravinsky was in America in 1937, he received a commission to write a concerto for chamber orchestra from Mr and Mrs Robert Woods Bliss of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D C - "a little something" in celebration of their forthcoming thirtieth wedding anniversary. Stravinsky responded with, in his own words, "a concert in the style of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos" scored for flute, clarinet, bassoon, two horns and ten strings. The influence of Bach and of the Baroque concerto grosso is very evident, most particularly in the work's highly contrapuntal texture and in the way in which all fifteen of the players function both as soloists and as members of the full ensemble.
"I studied and played Bach regularly during the composition", Stravinsky later recalled, "and I was greatly attracted to the Brandenburg Concertos, especially the third, which I have also conducted. The first theme of my Concerto is, of course, very like Bach's in that work, and so is my instrumentation - the three violins and three violas, both frequently divisi a tré, though not chordally as in Bach. I do not think, however, that Bach would have begrudged me the loan of these ideas and materials, as borrowing in this way was something he like to do himself." The three short movements are performed without interruption. The first movement is predominantly polyphonic in texture, with characteristic brief motives intertwining and turning into a kind of fugue. The graceful slow movement, built up of the merest fragments of melody, provides a serene interlude between the more robust outer movements. Despite its marchlike character the finale, like the first movement, builds to an exhilarating fugato climax.
Unfortunately, in the May of 1938, when the premiere was due to take place, Stravinsky was undergoing a cure for tuberculosis and was unable to conduct. At his express wish, Nadia Boulanger was invited to take his place. Mrs Bliss, who attended al the rehearsals and who subsequently heard many performances of the concerto all over the world, considered Boulanger's interpretation to the "the most subtly interesting of all".
© Stephen Strugnell