Composers Datebook®

Made-to-order music by Stravinsky

Composers Datebook - March 25, 2024


On today’s date in 1946, Igor Stravinsky's Ebony Concerto was premiered at Carnegie Hall by the Woody Herman jazz band. It was Stravinsky’s most extended foray into the world of jazz — and he was a bit worried how it would turn out.

A few months before the premiere, Stravinsky wrote to Nadia Boulanger in Paris that the new score would be tailor-made for Herman’s jazz band — and the two sides of a 78-rpm record.

“I am composing a short concerto for the Woody Herman Band,” Stravinsky wrote.

“Herman will record the music under my supervision,” he continued, “and it will be done on two sides of one record: first side, moderato (two and a half minutes) and andante (two minutes); second side: theme and variations (three minutes). The orchestra will consist of clarinet, oboe, five saxophones, five trumpets, horn, three trombones, double bass, harp, piano, guitar and percussion. I am somewhat unnerved by my lack of familiarity with this sort of thing.”

He needn’t have worried. The fusion of the odd sonorities of Herman’s jazz band with Stravinsky’s neoclassical inclinations resulted in a work that sounds a little like a swing-era version of one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.

Music Played in Today's Program

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971): ‘Ebony Concerto’; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Columbia Jazz Combo; Igor Stravinsky, cond. Sony 64136

On This Day


  • 1699 - German opera composer Johann Hasse, in Bergedorf, near Hamburg

  • 1867 - Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, in Parma

  • 1881 - Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, in Nagyszentmiklós

  • 1882 - English composer Haydn Wood, in Slaithwaite


  • 1918 - French composer Claude Debussy, 55, in Paris


  • 1724 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 182 (Himmelskönig, sei willkommen) performed on the Feast of the Annunciation as part of Bach's first annual sacred cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24)

  • 1725 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 1 (Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern) performed on the Feast of the Annunciation as part of Bach's second annual sacred cantata cycle in Leipzig (1724/25)

  • 1734 - Handel: anthem This is the day which the Lord hath made (Julian date: March 14)

  • 1874 - Brahms: 13 Variations on a Hungarian Song for piano, in London

  • 1875 - Gilbert & Sullivan: one-act operetta Trial by Jury at the Royalty Theatre in London

  • 1879 - Dvorák: Symphony No. 5, in Prague

  • 1881 - Dvorák: Symphony No. 6, with Prague Philharmonic, Adolf Cech conducting

  • 1939 - Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 for soprano and eight cellos, in Rio de Janeiro

  • 1943 - Edward Joseph Collins: Piano Concerto No. 3, by the Chicago Symphony with Frederick Stock conducting and the composer as soloist

  • 1946 - Stravinsky: Ebony Concerto at Carnegie Hall, with the Woody Herman orchestra conducted by Walter Hendl

  • 1960 - Elliott Carter: String Quartet No. 2, in New York City, by the Juilliard String Quartet

  • 1965 - Jack Beeson: opera Lizzie Borden, in New York City


  • 1938 - American premiere of Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf, by the Boston Symphony, conducted by the composer

  • 1949 - Shostakovich (accompanied by KGB "handlers") arrives in New York for his first visit to America, for the Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace, held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel; His anti-western statements and criticism of Igor Stravinsky embarrassed his American sponsors, including Aaron Copland, and later provided political fodder for the notorious Red-hunter, Senator Joseph McCarthy

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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®