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The Firebird



Storyguide
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
Press quotes
See what the critics thought The Firebird.
The history of The Firebird
Read more about the creation of the ballet
Introductory notes
Your first destination for information on one of Stravinsky's most popular ballets

Le Baiser de la fée



Introduction
Find out about this ballet, and the other versions that have preceded it.
Michael Corder
Read the biography of the choreographer
The Fairy's Kiss
Michael Corder discusses his new piece

Petrushka



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

The Acrobat and the Ringmaster (part two)



The huge success of the 1910 Ballets Russes season, and of The Firebird in particular, encouraged Diaghilev to set up his company on a more permanent footing, travelling around western Europe and also, in 1913, to Argentina. But the annual Paris season in early summer was the high spot, and almost every year Stravinsky provided a new work for the occasion: Petrushka in 1911, The Rite of Spring in 1913, and in 1914 the fairtyale opera The Nightingale, done in danced form, with the singers in the orchestra pit. During these years Diaghilev also commissioned scores from Ravel, Debussy and Richard Strauss, but Stravinsky's was the name most regularly on the playbills. It followed that he and Diaghilev, both now based outside Russia, were frequently together, whether attending rehearsals and performances or discussing new projects.

Then came war. Diaghilev was eventually able to resume his activities in regions away from the conflict - the Americas, Italy, Spain - but there were few new ballets. At the same time, Stravinsky's style was changing away from the grand scale of his pre-war ballets. His next project for Diaghilev, Les Noces, he began in 1914 in that manner but then put aside. Most of his war-time compositions were for smaller forces. The Song of the Nightingale, a straight ballet he created from his opera in 1916, was an exception, but it was not performed until the Ballets Russes had got going again in earnest after the war.

By now, with its roots cut off by the October Revolution, the company was much less exclusively russe. Diaghilev was commissioning the leading artists he met in Paris and Rome: Matisse was engaged for The Song of the Nightingale in 1920, and Picasso for another Stravinsky ballet the same year, Pulcinella. But, with The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite all revived alongside these new works, Stravinsky remained the house composer, and his contributions continued annually. He helped with preparing Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty score in 1921, offered two small-scale sung comedies, Renard and Mavra, in 1922, and at last, in 1923, brought Les Noces to fruition. This picture of a Russian peasant wedding he dedicated to Diaghilev, perhaps realising that their paths were diverging.

Stravinsky, into his 40s, may have felt he was getting too old to remain a protégé, too distinguished to keep on writing accompaniments for dancing, and too independent for Diaghilev's paternalist régime. After Les Noces he devoted himself exclusively to concert pieces for some years, until he was drawn back to commemorate his lovable but infuriating ally's 20th season in the theatre with the opera Oedipus Rex (1927). Diaghilev found the work, with its topic of parricide, 'a macabre sort of present', and though the two men worked together again on Apollon musagète (1928), choreographed by George Balanchine, their contacts were henceforth limited. Diaghilev died in the summer of 1929 in Venice, where he was buried on the cemetery island of San Michele. Stravinsky outlived him by 42 years, but did not forget. Ballet, which Diaghilev had taught him, remained one of his central concerns, and in his several collaborations with Balanchine he gave the Ballets Russes an afterlife. At the end, by his own wish, he was interred close to Diaghilev's grave.

Paul Griffith

This article was originally published in Entrechat, the magazine of the Friends of BRB. For further information on the Friends, Click here.



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The Acrobat and the Ringmaster (part two)

The huge success of the 1910 Ballets Russes season, and of The Firebird in particular, encouraged Diaghilev to set up his company on a more permanent footing, travelling around western Europe and also, in 1913, to Argentina. But the annual Paris season in early summer was the high spot, and almost every year Stravinsky provided a new work for the occasion: Petrushka in 1911, The Rite of Spring in 1913, and in 1914 the fairtyale opera The Nightingale, done in danced form, with the singers in the orchestra pit. During these years Diaghilev also commissioned scores from Ravel, Debussy and Richard Strauss, but Stravinsky's was the name most regularly on the playbills. It followed that he and Diaghilev, both now based outside Russia, were frequently together, whether attending rehearsals and performances or discussing new projects.

Then came war. Diaghilev was eventually able to resume his activities in regions away from the conflict - the Americas, Italy, Spain - but there were few new ballets. At the same time, Stravinsky's style was changing away from the grand scale of his pre-war ballets. His next project for Diaghilev, Les Noces, he began in 1914 in that manner but then put aside. Most of his war-time compositions were for smaller forces. The Song of the Nightingale, a straight ballet he created from his opera in 1916, was an exception, but it was not performed until the Ballets Russes had got going again in earnest after the war.

By now, with its roots cut off by the October Revolution, the company was much less exclusively russe. Diaghilev was commissioning the leading artists he met in Paris and Rome: Matisse was engaged for The Song of the Nightingale in 1920, and Picasso for another Stravinsky ballet the same year, Pulcinella. But, with The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite all revived alongside these new works, Stravinsky remained the house composer, and his contributions continued annually. He helped with preparing Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty score in 1921, offered two small-scale sung comedies, Renard and Mavra, in 1922, and at last, in 1923, brought Les Noces to fruition. This picture of a Russian peasant wedding he dedicated to Diaghilev, perhaps realising that their paths were diverging.

Stravinsky, into his 40s, may have felt he was getting too old to remain a protégé, too distinguished to keep on writing accompaniments for dancing, and too independent for Diaghilev's paternalist régime. After Les Noces he devoted himself exclusively to concert pieces for some years, until he was drawn back to commemorate his lovable but infuriating ally's 20th season in the theatre with the opera Oedipus Rex (1927). Diaghilev found the work, with its topic of parricide, 'a macabre sort of present', and though the two men worked together again on Apollon musagète (1928), choreographed by George Balanchine, their contacts were henceforth limited. Diaghilev died in the summer of 1929 in Venice, where he was buried on the cemetery island of San Michele. Stravinsky outlived him by 42 years, but did not forget. Ballet, which Diaghilev had taught him, remained one of his central concerns, and in his several collaborations with Balanchine he gave the Ballets Russes an afterlife. At the end, by his own wish, he was interred close to Diaghilev's grave.

Paul Griffith

This article was originally published in Entrechat, the magazine of the Friends of BRB. For further information on the Friends, Click here.