Stravinsky goes to the Circus

January 13, 2017 at 3:48 pm

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons:

Igor Stravinsky is one of the most famous and influential composers of the 20th century. And yet, while nearly every concertgoer will have heard his Rite of Spring, Firebird, or Petrushka, relatively few know his later works. These three big works were written by the time he was 30, and remain his most performed pieces. But the man lived another 60 years, and kept composing the whole time. He managed to write a few more masterpieces, but none of them ever compared to his early triumphs.

So, what do you do when you give up? Er, rather, what do you do once you’ve passed your moment of glory, your 15 minutes of fame?

Easy. You run off and join the circus. Or better yet, compose some music for a circus.

Yes, folks, 30 years after the great Igor Stravinsky composed some of the finest ballets ever written, he wrote another ballet – this time, to be performed by elephants. Fifty elephants, to be exact (and no, this isn’t a sick joke about overweight dancers – I’m talking about the big gray pachyderms here.) I guess after the movie Fantasia featured a troupe of (cartoon) hippopotamus ballerinas, Ringling Brothers thought they’d take the whole idea one step further and do it in real life. And Stravinsky, who was essentially forced to include his music in Fantasia, was ripe for the task, I suppose.

an attentive ear will hear Schubert’s Marche Militaire quoted in this piece …