Even for Stravinsky, the Symphonies of Wind Instruments is strikingly original, grounded not in the "symphonic" genre but – as the musicologist Richard Taruskin has shown – in the Russian Orthodox service for the dead. It began as a serene and archaic chorale composed in memory of Debussy. Stravinsky then expanded this "Fragment" with music more popular in flavor. The chorale, at the close, became an apotheosis sublimating an eclectic wealth of material. The ensemble eschews strings in favor of colorful, chanting winds. According to Stravinsky, in 1936: "I did not, and indeed I could not, count on any immediate success for this work. It lacks all those elements that infallibly appeal to the ordinary listener, or to which he is accustomed. . . . It is an austere ritual which is unfolded in terms of short litanies . . . This music is not meant to 'please' an audience, nor to arouse its passions." More than half a century later, the religious elan of the Symphonies of Wind Instruments seems both pleasing and arousing.
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to Boosey & Hawkes/Joseph Horowitz.
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