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Divertimento from Le baiser de la fée (The Fairy’s Kiss) (1928/1934)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)  

In 1928, Ida Rubinstein, the Russian actress, dancer, and patronness who had captivated the Parisian arts scene, approached Stravinsky to commission a ballet. She had left Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes and formed her own ballet company, with Nijinsky as its choreographer. For the company’s inaugural season, she planned Ravel’s Boléro, Massine’s David, and a new work from Stravinsky. Alexandre Benois, the set designer of Stravinsky’s earlier Diaghilev ballet Petrushka and now a collaborator for the Rubenstein company, wanted to make its season an homage to Tchaikovsky, as it would be the 35th anniversary of the composer’s death in November of that year. Stravinsky welcomed the idea: he had cherished the memory of attending Tchaikovsky’s ballets at the Mariinsky Theater as a young boy. Also, the memorable occasion of catching a glimpse of Tchaikovsky at a theater in St. Petersburg would be treasured until Stravinsky’s later life. Although the decision of which Tchaikovsky’s works to include was mostly made by Benois, it was entirely Stravinsky’s aesthetic choice to render Tchiakovsky’s some dozen piano pieces and five songs utterly abstract, to parse their melodies and instrumental combinations and weave them into the vibrant orchestral fabric trickled with the mild dissonances and nonchalance typical of Stravinsky’s neo-Classical style. The score, naturally, was dedicated to “the memory of Pyotr Tchaikovsky.”

Le basier de la fée, or in its full English title, “The Fairy’s Kiss, Allegorical Ballet in Four Tableaux, Inspired by the Muse of Tchaikovsky,” was inspired in its literary domain by the fairytale “The Ice Maiden” by Hans Christian Andersen, whom Stravinsky admired greatly. Stravinsky’s own synopsis of the story goes as follows: “A fairy imprints her magic kiss on a child at birth and parts it from its mother. Twenty years later, when the youth has attained the very zenith of his good fortune, she repeats the fatal kiss and carries him off to live in supreme happiness with her ever afterward.” Stravinsky later established an allegorical correlation between the relationship of the fairy and the child and the artistic kinship between Tchaikovsky (the “muse”) and himself.

Into the 1930s, Stravinsky began authorizing performances of excerpts of The Fairy’s Kiss as an orchestral suite. In 1934, he resolved on a concert suite of some 25 minutes, calling it Divertimento; it was also transcribed for the piano and violin for his own performances with violinist Samuel Dushkin. Stravinsky made important revisions to the Divertimento in 1949. The first movement, Sinfonia, includes most of Scene One of the ballet, in which the fairy separates the boy from his mother and kisses him. The second movement, Danses Suisses, takes the entirety of Scene Two, where the fairy, in disguise as a gypsy, lures the young man during the village festival; the music contain traces of Petrushka and a Gipsy music by Tchaikovsky. The sound of the Scherzo (Au Moulin), a shortened version of Scene Three, is a mix of Stravinsky’s characteristic emotional coolness and the delicate lyricism of Tchaikovsky’s ballets. The Pas de deux, which includes only the last three of the original sequence—Adagio, Variation, and Coda—perhaps most ostensibly displays Tchaikovsky’s legacy with its colorful orchestral palette. It is first scored for an exquisitely beautiful and warm blending of the solo cello, clarinet, and harp, with a touch of glimmer added by the flute. The delightful flute duet (sometimes trio) is followed a lively Coda, heralded by the timpani. The dance is quickly brought to a close suitable for a concert ending.

- Jung-Min Mina Lee, Duke University, Music Department