COMPOSED BY

Igor Stravinsky (Jun 1882 - Apr 1971) in 1923

DURATION

Approximately 15 minutes (total 3 movements)

Instrumentation

Flute, clarinet in B♭ and A, two bassoons, trumpet in C, trumpet in A, tenor trombone, and bass trombone

SUMMARY OF THE COMPOSITION

The Octet was widely regarded as Stravinsky’s first truly neoclassical pieces. According to Stravinsky, this odd combination of instruments appeared to him in a dream. Stravinsky published an article on the Octet entitled “Some Ideas About My Octuor” in a 1924 issue of the American journal “The Arts”. This was Stravinsky’s first published writing on his music and his most famous writing on the interpretation of his music. 

Stravinsky: Some Ideas about My Octuor

1

Sinfonia (Lento – Allegro moderato)

The Sinfonia opens with a sonata form, which was a comparatively rare example of Stravinsky’s work, to reflect a defiant and satirical act of mockery. Served as a classical introduction, the opening Lento section presents a background tonal structure that also governs the main Allegro section. The Allegro section itself creates a contradiction of two formal balances – the parallel restatement of themes, and the symmetrical arrangement of themes and events on different structural layers.

2

Tema con variazioni (Andantino)

This movement sets the tone for many later variations. It incorporates a hybrid of rondo and variation form that resembles the slow movement of Mozart’s E♭ major Piano Concerto.

The identical Variations 1, 3 and 6 serve as introductions to Variations 2, 4 and 7, which is referred to as the “ribbons of scales” variation. Meanwhile, Variations 2, 4, 5 and 7 assume the characters of a march, a waltz, a can-can and a solemn fugue respectively. Though the theme is scarcely recognisable and does not look promising as the subject for a fugue, the sound character of the variation that emphasises slow-moving harmonic masses is unearthly and unconventional, with the subject occurring only four times.

3

Finale (Sempre, Tempo giusto)

The finale movement yields a stately coda – cool, jazzy and syncopated – based on a rhythm reflective of Stravinsky’s earlier works (such as The Firebird and The Rite of Spring) and incorporated with khorovod, the Russian circle-dance. The refrain material in the A sections occurs one time fewer in each successive repetition, with the khorovod-like element becoming progressively less evident. In the intervening couplets, the element increases in clarity – from a disguised augmentation in the solo trumpet in section B, to a flute solo built on the original rhythmic shape in C, to the chordal accompaniment in D, and finally followed by the round dance transforming into an instrumental rondo with a main theme resembling a baroque fugue subject.

WHO IS ... Igor Stravinsky?

Suprising fun facts

  • Stravinsky has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • Towards the end of his life, he became especially fond of the Scrabble game.
  • Delivered several lectures at Harvard University
  • Stravinsky’s father was a singer with the Imperial Orchestra, and his mother was a skilled pianist.
  • The premiere of Rite of Spring was met with a protest from the audience. It was so loud that it drowned out the music.

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