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 lifecycle of bees describing (quote) “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, Op. 3Montreal Symphony; Charles Dutoit, cond.Decca 414 409
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