Though usually known by its French title, “Les Noces” (The Wedding), this piece is ‘wedded’ so strongly to Stravinsky’s native tongue that I prefer to think of it by its original Russian title.

Stravinsky’s apotheosis of his Russian-folk style gave birth to almost as many developments as the iconoclastic Rite of Spring. The Rite was an amazing achievement, coming only thirty years after Brahm’s second Piano Concerto; but the novel rhythms, form, harmonies were still mostly clothed in the symphonic and balletic traditions of that earlier time. Just a few years later in Svadebka (1923, though the piece was musically complete by 1917) even this was chucked: the all-percussion and piano ensemble, counterpointed with soloists and chorus sharing the pit with the instruments; the whole piece one non-stop, carefully-geared motor; the cut/paste/overlay/interlock of the musical structure; the intensly emotional singing and playing presented without the slightest trace of sentimentality; the folk idiom morphed into simply raw material for the highest abstraction… All these have been picked up and run with, from the piece’s premiere all the way to the “downtown” folk of our own generation.

This YouTube video shows a Royal Ballet production, that recreates the original 1923 Bronislava Nijinska choreography. It’s in three parts and rather than start at the beginning I’ll just plop you down in the middle of the piece, when things are really bubbling away (parts 1 and 3 are easily found on the right sidebar at the YouTube page).

9 Responses to “Svadebka!”
  1. Steve Layton says:

    I had some of these other versions on LP and tape back in the 80s. The one for full “Rite”-sized orchestra was virtually complete, and I used to enjoy it about as much as the final 4 piano / percussion.

  2. Stravinsky himself made around 12 to 15 other instrumental settings of Svadebka, some of them incomplete. Some of these have been recorded by Columbia Records. by Robert Craft.

  3. Columbia records recorded it in english in1963, with Stravinsky conducting and Sam Barber, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss and Roger Sessions playing pianos. This tradition of using four composers dates back to the first French and Engkish recordings in the 1930s(?).

  4. Chee says:

    Yes, there has been an English recording, it’s part of Sony’s Stravinsky Edition and has the composer himself at the podium.

  5. randi3001 says:

    its really strange how you work simultaneous on two languages but both are magnificent works

  6. Steve Layton says:

    The French versions of the ‘Russian’ works do seem to be born at the same time (after all, Stravinsky lived in, and fully expected, his works to be premiered in France or Switzerland). Then and now, it was hard outside Russia to come up with performers who had extensive experience singing in Russian. And the French version of Svadebka is convincing; it’s certainly how I first heard and appreciated the piece for some years.

    But the original texts and composition are based on Kireyevsky’s 19th-century collection of Russian folk lyrics, and there are all kinds of salient compositional details that arose precisely because of the prosody of these. Richard Taruskin’s “Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions”, p. 1319 on, gives an awful lot of background about this.

    As to a version that works in English, Richard, if there is I’ve never heard it!

  7. Has “Les Noces'”/”Svadebka” EVER worked in English? Please somebody say Yes, and then tell me when, where, and how.

  8. “Appalachian Spring” has been described as a sort of American equivalent to “Les Noces”/”Svadebka.”

    Is it, sort of? I wouldn’t say definitely not, but then again …

  9. Bratislava Gogenevich says:

    Stravinsky wrote ‘Les Noces’ simultaneously in French and Russian, thus either language could be considered the original. This frequent misconception should be ‘annulled’!