On 18 January 1962, the celebrity couple Igor and Vera Stravinsky were invited by US President John F Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to a gala dinner at the White House. Less than two years later, Kennedy had been assassinated. Stravinsky wrote this brief elegy for baritone and three clarinets to specially commissioned lyrics from W H Auden: five short verses, each a 17-syllable haiku. Its serial construction gives the music a stark intensity. The three clarinets seem to act almost like a Greek chorus.
Repertoire note by Jonathan Cross
Anticipating "the albatross of 'epic' poetry and symphonic sentiment that the event [would] surely give rise to and for a certain time excuse," Stravinsky obtained from Auden a "very quiet little lyric" with which to commemorate the assassination.
Repertoire note by Joseph Horowitz