Composers Datebook®

Buzzing Stravinsky

Composers Datebook - Feb. 6, 2024


In St. Petersburg, Russia, on today’s date in 1909, Alexandre Siloti conducted the first performance of a new orchestral work by a 26-year-old composer named Igor Stravinsky. The work was billed as Scherzo Fantastique, but Stravinsky’s original title was Bees.

Stravinsky had just completed his studies with the great Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose Flight of the Bumblebee was already a famous musical depiction, so perhaps he wanted to impress his teacher — or try to outdo him.

In 1907, Stravinsky wrote to Rimsky-Korsakov, “Just now [my wife] Katya and I have read Maeterlinck’s Life of the Bees, a partly artistic, partly philosophical book that pleased me, as they say, down to my toes.”

Maeterlinck’s book offered an anthropomorphized description of the life cycle of bees describing “the innumerable agitations of the honeycomb, the perpetual, enigmatic and crazy jiggling of the nurses on the brood chamber … the invading spirals of the queen, the various and incessant activities of the crowd … the comings and goings overwhelmed with ardor.”

Stravinsky’s scoring includes three harps and multiple woodwinds, but omits timpani, trombones and tuba, resulting in a light, nimble and air-born orchestral sound for his busy bees.

Music Played in Today's Program

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) Scherzo Fantastique; Montreal Symphony; Charles Dutoit, cond. Decca 414 409

On This Day


  • 1941 - American composer Stephen Albert, in New York;


  • 1497 - Flemish composer Johannes Ockeghem, age c. 76, in Tours;


  • 1724 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 144 ("Nimm, was dein ist, und gehe hin") performed on Septuagesimae Sunday as part of Bach's first annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24);

  • 1727 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 157 ("Ich lasse dich nicht, du segnest mich denn") for a funeral service in Leipzig;

  • 1813 - Rossini: opera "Tancredi," in Venice at the Teatro La Fenice;

  • 1851 - R. Schumann: Symphony No. 3 ("Rhenish"), in Düsseldorf, conducted by the composer;

  • 1930 - Roussel: "Petite Suite" for orchestra, in Paris;

  • 1933 - Henry Brant: "Angels and Devils" for solo flute and flute ensemble, at a Pan-American Association of Composers concert at Carnegie Chapter Hall in New York City, with the famous French-born flautist Georges Barrère as the soloist; On the same program, Brant accompanied soprano Judith Litante at the piano in the premiere performances of three songs by Charles Ives: "Afterglow," "Ann Street," and "Like a Sick Eagle";

  • 1941 - Hindemith: Cello Concerto, at the Sanders Theater (Cambridge, Mass.) by the Boston Symphony conducted by Serge Koussevitzky, with Gregor Piatigorsky the soloist;

  • 1944 - Schoenberg: Piano Concerto, by the NBC Symphony conducted by Leopold Stokowski, with Eduard Steuermann as soloist;

  • 1959 - Poulenc: opera "La voix humaine" (The Human Voice), in Paris at the Opéra Comique;

  • 1976 - John La Montaine: opera "Be Glad, Then, America," at University Park, Pa.;

  • 1996 - Stephen Paulus: "Dramatic Suite," for flute, viola, cello and piano, in St. Cloud, Minn., by members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center;


  • 1838 - Mendelssohn finishes his String Quartet in Eb, Op. 44, no. 3.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®