Igor Stravinsky Dumbarton Oaks Concerto

I’m including this work by my hero, Stravinsky today, which happened to be on the flip side of the work I discussed in my previous post–Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. Stravinsky wrote this piece in 1938 on a commission from the Bliss family in Washington, DC.

The Bliss family built a huge mansion above Georgetown in Washington, DC.  Now called Dumbarton Oaks, it sits on a wonderful piece of land which they had landscaped with Italian and English gardens containing arbors, topiary, fountains and a wonderful conservatory. They furnished their mansion with bits and pieces of plundered European castles and villas. In addition, the family also collected Byzantine, pre-Columbian and Greek and Roman objects. Among their treasures was what has turned out to be the best collections of Byzantine coins in the world. They willed their estate to Harvard University, who turned it into a center of study for Byzantine and Pre-Columbian scholarship.

Commissioned by the Bliss family, Stravinsky wrote Dumbarton Oaks Concerto at the height of what is called his “neo-classical” period. After composing his revolutionary ballets Petrushka and Rite of Spring, which revolutionized notions of harmony, rhythm and orchestration, Stravinsky returned to more traditional forms. He felt a certain affinity toward Bach, having been drawn to that composer by his own teacher Rimsky-Korsakov who taught him counterpoint. Though he imitates parts of the traditional concerto form (pre-solo instruments), he manages to blend in his own unique sense of rhythm and impressionistic coloring that in parts reminds me of his earlier ballets. This is a quaint piece, extremely listenable, and a nice addition to any classical library.

I have a special place in my heart for Dumbarton Oaks. I first learned of the place when I lived in the French House from 1975- 1976. One of the guys who lived there majored in art history and concentrated on the Byzantine era. He regaled us with stories about the Emperor Justinian and the depraved Empress Theodora. But what really caught my fancy was the high art form to which the Byzantine artisans had taken mosaics. They covered entire walls, the inside of domes, and every available surface with shimmering and vibrant tiny pieces of cut glass. The themes were religious and naturalistic and are amazing.

When I lived in Italy several years later, I made a special point of visiting the city of Ravenna, which was a major Byzantine port, which has scores of churches, tombs and monuments containing mosaics. You can still go there to learn the craft of mosaic making. I stopped by one on my visit and saw the students taking long rods of colored glass and with a special, bladed hammer and anvil chop off piece of glass, called tessera, that they would use to “paint” their pictures of glass.

I’m happy now that I live just about a mile from Dumbarton Oaks and from time to time, when I need refueling I go and wander around the museum, looking at amazing works from long ago.

Download MP3s or buy CD of Stravinsky: ‘Dumbarton Oaks’ Concerto

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

One Response to Igor Stravinsky Dumbarton Oaks Concerto

  1. Pingback: June 17. Stravinsky and Gounod’s Birthday | Kurt Nemes' Classical Music Almanac

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