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Read the fairy-tale story of the Firebird
Children's activity sheet
Click here for a printable colouring and puzzle sheet featuring the Firebird herself
See what the critics thought The Firebird.
The history of The Firebird
Read more about the creation of the ballet
Your first destination for information on one of Stravinsky's most popular ballets
Le Baiser de la fée
Find out about this ballet, and the other versions that have preceded it.
Read the biography of the choreographer
The Fairy's Kiss
Michael Corder discusses his new piece
Introduction to Petrushka
Find out about the creation of the ballet, and one of the few narrative scores in Stravinsky's career
Behind-the-scenes: the shoe supervisor
A behind-the-scenes interview with Michael Clifford, Birmingham Royal Ballet's shoemaster, where he explains why Petrushka demands more work than Sleeping Beauty.
The Acrobat and the Ringmaster
Read about the prolific partnership of Stravinsky and Diaghilev
Stravinsky autumn 2008
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|Paul Griffiths looks at the careers of Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Diaghilev. |
'Diaghilev cannot exist without Stravinsky, nor Stravinsky without Diaghilev.' That was the view of someone who knew the two of them, and who had good reason to feel at once gratitude and wariness towards them both: Vaslav Nijinsky, writing in his diary in February 1916. He was right.
The fame of Diaghilev's company, the Ballets Russes, rested largely on the spectacles for which Stravinsky had provided scores: The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Meanwhile the composer, besides depending on Diaghilev's performances for an income, owed the great showman his career and, in large measure, his creative self. When Diaghilev discovered him, in 1908, he was a gifted but minor member of the Rimsky-Korsakov school. It was Diaghilev who, by commissioning The Firebird for Paris, gave him not only entry to circles including Debussy and Ravel but also an inkling of how music might be revitalised by a new gearing to the rhythms of the body.
Curiously, Diaghilev had also studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov, but he was ten years older than Stravinsky, and by the time of their meeting he had long given up hope of the life of an artist; painting, too, he had studied and abandoned. Not destined to practise these arts, he would instead facilitate them. His genius turned out to be for persuading artists to work for him - and for persuading wealthy patrons to meet the cost, for he was not a rich man himself.
His first venture was an illustrated magazine, The World of Art, which he founded in 1898, when he was 26, with the intention of introducing Russian readers to what was happening in painting and design in western Europe. In 1907 he switched both art form and direction, now taking Russian music to the west, and specifically to Paris, where he mounted five concerts. The following year he was back in Paris with an opera, Boris Godunov, starring Fyodor Chaliapine, and the year after that came his first ballet season in the French capital, effectively a display of recent repertory from the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. The selection included the first staging outside Russia of Les Sylphides, with two of the Chopin numbers orchestrated by Stravinsky in his first task for the impresario, but what sent the Paris audience wild was the exotic splendour - not to mention the erotic thrill - of Cléopâtre and the Polovtsian Dances (from Borodin's opera Prince Igor), boldly choreographed by Michel Fokine, designed by one of Diaghilev's World of Art allies, Léon Bakst, and danced by a company that included Tamara Karsavina and Anna Pavlova as well as Nijinsky.
Diaghilev determined he would return the next year, this time with a ballet made specially for his company. It would be based on The Firebird, a Russian folktale with a special relevance as a parable of rebirth. Fokine would provide the choreography, Bakst the designs.
And the music? Diaghilev first tried two senior St Petersburg composers, Anatoly Lyadov and Nikolay Tcherepnin, and only then gave the task to the young man he had used for some retouching of Les Sylphides. In May 1910 Stravinsky left for the première in Paris, and for what turned out to be a new life in the west.
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