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Stravinsky Fest

Stravinsky Fest: Ragtime Riffs

by Seth Colter Walls

Stravinsky Fest: Ragtime Riffs


With the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky's riot-starting 1913 ballet The Rite of Spring now upon us, there's no better time to do a deep dive into the composer's glorious catalog. And so, every day this week we're offering a new playlist highlighting a different aspect of his enduring genius. Enjoy.

When news of jazz moved beyond America, Igor Stravinsky -- a fan of rhythmic exuberance -- was one of the first composers to be intrigued. He snagged some sheet music, imported to Russia from the U.S.A., and got to work -- before he'd actually had a chance to hear jazz properly played by musicians schooled in the tradition.

That's why Stravinsky's early jazz-inflected efforts don't much sound like jazz as we know it, even when they betray the influences of ragtime. While there isn't much in the way of blues feeling or consistent swing, that doesn't mean Stravinsky's first pieces after learning about jazz -- like the simply named "Piano-Rag Music" (played by the composer himself in our playlist), "Ragtime for Eleven Instruments" and some parts of Histoire du Soldat -- don't have a bouncy, syncopated charm.

During the 1940s, with more time in the U.S. under his belt, Stravinsky wrote his great jazz-classical masterwork. Titled "Ebony Concerto," it was first conceived as a vehicle for clarinetist Woody Herman. But the canonical version -- memorably presented on the key Columbia LP Stravinsky Conducts Music for Chamber and Jazz Ensembles -- features Benny Goodman as the soloist. Fittingly modern jazzbos find inspiration in Stravinsky: The Bad Plus are known to cover parts of The Rite of Spring, while Branford Marsalis has taken on the short feature "Pastorale" as part of his classical repertoire. Catch the sharp, thrilling mixing of worlds in the appended playlist.

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