excerpt from 'Memories and Commentaries' pp. 77-79 (531 words)

excerpt from 'Memories and Commentaries' pp. 77-79 (531 words)

part of

Memories and Commentaries

original language

urn:iso:std:iso:639:ed-3:eng

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77-79

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I was flattered, of course, at the promise of a performance of my music in Paris, and my excitement on arriving in that city from Ustilug, towards the end of May, could hardly have been greater. These ardours were somewhat cooled at the first full rehearsal. The words ‘For Russian Export’ seemed to have been stamped everywhere, both on the stage and on the music. The mimic scenes were especially crude in this sense, but since Fokine liked them best, I could say nothing about them. I was also deflated to discover that not all of my interdictions on the musical performance were accepted as oracular. Gabriel Pierné, the conductor, even disagreed with me once in front of the whole orchestra. I had written non crescendo at several places, a sensible precaution, I thought, but Pierné said, ‘Young man, if you do not want a crescendo, do not write anything.’ / The first-night audience glittered indeed, but the fact that it was heavily perfumed is more vivid in my memory; the greyly elegant London audience, when I came to know it later, seemed almost deodorized by comparison. / I sat in Diaghilev’s loge, where, at intermissions, a path of celebrities, artists, dowagers, aged Egerias of the Ballet, writers, balletomanes, appeared. I met for the first time Proust, Giraudoux, Paul Morand, St John Perse, Claudel (with whom, years later, I nearly collaborated on a musical treatment of the Book of Tobit), though whether at the première or at subsequent performances I do not remember. I was also introduced to Sarah Bernhardt, who sat in a wheelchair in her private box, thickly veiled, and apprehensive lest anyone should recognize her. After a month of such society, I was happy to retire to a sleepy village in Brittany. / A moment of unexpected comedy occurred near the beginning of the performance. Diaghilev had wanted two real horses to cross the stage, a black one at the beginning, in step with the last six quavers of bar 8, and a white one near the end. The poor animals entered on cue all right, but when one of them began to whinny and capriole, and the other, a better critic than an actor, left a malodorous calling card, the audience tittered; Diaghilev did not risk a repetition in future performances. That he could have tried it even once seems incredible to me now, but the incident was forgotten in the general acclaim for the new ballet. (…) I was more proud of some of the instrumentations than of the music itself. The horn glissandi produced the biggest sensation with the audience, of course, but this effect did not originate with me. (The now famous trombone-slide nose-thumbing in Kastchei’s dance was added in 1919.) Rimsky had used trombone slides, I think in Mlada, Schoenberg used them in Gurre-Lieder and Pelleas und Melisande, and Ravel in L’Heure espagnole. For me, the most striking effect in Firebird  originated with Rimsky, the natural-harmonic string glissando  near the beginning, which the bass chord touches off like a Catherine wheel. I remember Richard Strauss’s astonishment when he heard it two years later in Berlin.

I was flattered, of course, at the promise of a performance of my music in Paris, and my excitement on arriving in that city from Ustilug, towards the end of May, could hardly have been greater. These ardours were somewhat cooled at the first full rehearsal. The words ‘For Russian Export’ seemed to have been stamped everywhere, both on the stage and on the music. The mimic scenes were especially crude in this sense, but since Fokine liked them best, I could say nothing about them. I was also deflated to discover that not all of my interdictions on the musical performance were accepted as oracular. Gabriel Pierné, the conductor, even disagreed with me once in front of the whole orchestra. I had written non crescendo at several places, a sensible precaution, I thought, but Pierné said, ‘Young man, if you do not want a crescendo, do not write anything.’ / The first-night audience glittered indeed, but the fact that it was heavily perfumed is more vivid in my memory; the greyly elegant London audience, when I came to know it later, seemed almost deodorized by comparison. / I sat in Diaghilev’s loge, where, at intermissions, a path of celebrities, artists, dowagers, aged Egerias of the Ballet, writers, balletomanes, appeared. I met for the first time Proust, Giraudoux, Paul Morand, St John Perse, Claudel (with whom, years later, I nearly collaborated on a musical treatment of the Book of Tobit), though whether at the première or at subsequent performances I do not remember. I was also introduced to Sarah Bernhardt, who sat in a wheelchair in her private box, thickly veiled, and apprehensive lest anyone should recognize her. After a month of such society, I was happy to retire to a sleepy village in Brittany. / A moment of unexpected comedy occurred near the beginning of the performance. Diaghilev had wanted two real horses to cross the stage, a black one at the beginning, in step with the last six quavers of bar 8, and a white one near the end. The poor animals entered on cue all right, but when one of them began to whinny and capriole, and the other, a better critic than an actor, left a malodorous calling card, the audience tittered; Diaghilev did not risk a repetition in future performances. That he could have tried it even once seems incredible to me now, but the incident was forgotten in the general acclaim for the new ballet. (…) I was more proud of some of the instrumentations than of the music itself. The horn glissandi produced the biggest sensation with the audience, of course, but this effect did not originate with me. (The now famous trombone-slide nose-thumbing in Kastchei’s dance was added in 1919.) Rimsky had used trombone slides, I think in Mlada, Schoenberg used them in Gurre-Lieder and Pelleas und Melisande, and Ravel in L’Heure espagnole. For me, the most striking effect in Firebird  originated with Rimsky, the natural-harmonic string glissando  near the beginning, which the bass chord touches off like a Catherine wheel. I remember Richard Strauss’s astonishment when he heard it two years later in Berlin.

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excerpt from 'Memories and Commentaries' pp. 77-79 (531 words)

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