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32. Stravinsky's Final Period Works



Historians have been only too ready to accept the neat formula that Stravinsky's career fell into three broad phases: the 'Russian' period (up to Les Noces); the 'Neo-Classical' period (from Pulcinella through to The Rake's Progress); and the final 'Serial' period (including Agon and ending with The Owl and the Pussycat). Each new phase came as a surprise and challenge to even his most devoted followers, which is perhaps why so few of them have been able to accept the works of his truly final period, those written between 1966 and his death (1971). For many, these represent not so much a radical progression, or even a U-turn, as an inexplicable regression.

Ironically enough it was The Owl and the Pussycat that, indirectly, heralded this final 'Flowering of Old Age'. For Stravinsky was so intrigued by the English texts that he began taking an interest in all things English. It was in this way that he discovered and fell in love with the English Pastoral School of composers. He was particularly drawn to works such as Vaughan Williams Pastoral Symphony and Gerald Finzi's Dies Natalis. Of the latter, he confessed to Robert Craft, 'In this sublime work, I feel that I have discovered the final goal of my own musical journey' (More Conversations, 1999). This led to a spate of compositions, foremost amongst which was the song-cycle Wayside Blossoms (settings of poems by Wordsworth, John Clare, Walter de la Mare and W. H. Davies) and his 'Cotswold' Symphony. Gone are the serial intricacies of Requiem Canticles, the formality of the Symphony in C, the primitive nationalism of The Rite of Spring: instead we have gentle, pastoral idylls, with hardly a dissonance to ruffle the lyrical calm. The old Igor does occasionally put in an appearance, in the pounding chords in the central movement of the 'Cotswold' Symphony or the angular vocal line to his setting of W. H. Davies's 'Leisure', but this is, mercifully, brief and soon submerged by the prevailing rich, dreamy textures...


Copyright © 21 December 2000, Trevor Hold, Peterborough, UK



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