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Program Notes: Mother Goose & Firebird - available until
Costa Mesa, California
Friday, 23 April 2021 - 7:00 PM
Presenter: Pacific Symphony
Ensemble: Pacific Symphony
Conductor: Carl St.Clair
Tonight’s program unfurls a magical mystery tour that sweeps us away to the mysterious innocence of childhood and French fairy tales and continues on to the magic and majesty of Russian folklore. Carl St.Clair has selected the final movements of Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite and Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” Both works are colorfully orchestrated special arrangements for chamber ensembles, rather than large orchestra. And—spoiler alert—both have deliriously happy endings.

This concert will be available for FREE streaming on our YouTube and Facebook channels from March 25 through April 23.


Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation Virtual Classical Series

Janet Curci Family Foundation

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Selections from “Mother Goose” (arranged by Paolo Fradiani)
Conversations Between Beauty and the Beast | The Fairy Garden
Scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, timpani, percussion, harp and strings
Duration: 8 minutes

Ravel wrote “Mother Goose” Suite as a piano duet for a young sister and brother team whose parents were friends of Ravel. These simple, melodic pieces evoke the delicate, magical world of youthful innocence and fairy tales. Ravel commented, “The idea of conjuring up the poetry of childhood in these pieces has naturally led me to simplify my style and clarify my writing.” There is a sense of fantasy and enchantment evident throughout the piece.

Along with the explicitly programmatic titles, Ravel annotated the score with brief descriptions and quoted extracts. For “Conversations between Beauty and the Beast,” he wrote: “Beauty enters. Taking her mirror, she powders herself. The Beast enters. Beauty notices him and remains petrified. With horror, she rejects the declarations of the Beast, who falls at her feet, sobbing. Reassured, Beauty makes fun of him coquettishly. The Beast falls down faint with despair. Touched by his great love, Beauty raises him up again and accords him her hand.”

Beauty is gracefully portrayed, as if dancing and talking, by the clarinet’s lilting waltz. The grotesque Beast bumbles about, played by the double bass (although Ravel’s orchestration for full orchestra uses a contrabassoon). Listen for the glissando in the harp, which marks the magical moment when Beauty’s love for the Beast breaks the evil spell and transforms him into a handsome prince, played by the violin and then the cello.

In the final movement, Ravel paints a delicate musical watercolor of an enchanting fairy garden, where everyone lives happily ever after. Ravel biographer Roland-Manuel wrote “the Ravel of ‘Mother Goose’ reveals to us the secret of his profound nature, and shows us the soul of a child who has never left the kingdom of Fairyland, who makes no distinction between nature and artifice, and who seems to believe that everything can be imagined.”

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Infernal Dance | Lullaby | Final Hymn
Scored for 2 flutes (2nd also piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano and strings
Duration: 12 minutes

Stravinsky was not the first choice of the Ballet Russes’ impresario Sergei Diaghilev to write the music for the “Firebird.” But one might say the young composer was fated to write it. Through an odd set of circumstances, four composers all turned down the commission—Nikolai Tcherepnin, Anatoli Liadov, Alexander Glazunov, and Nikolai Sokolov—leaving Diaghilev desperate enough to entrust an unknown 28-year-old composer with the task. The work made Stravinsky famous. From the moment “Firebird” premiered on June 25, 1910, it was an instant success and has been a favorite work of orchestral audiences ever since.

This Russian folk tale tells the story of a dashing Prince Ivan who stumbles upon the enchanted garden of King Kashchei, an evil monarch whose power resides in a mysterious egg hidden in an elegant box. The Prince admires the beautiful princesses held captive and is fascinated by a shimmering Firebird that he manages to capture. She begs him to free her, but in exchange he demands one of her colorful tail feathers for good luck. In the Infernal Dance, Kashchei violently chases the Prince, threatening to turn him into stone for eternity. Prince Ivan waves the magic feather and the Firebird appears. She casts a spell causing Kashchei and his ogres to dance themselves into exhaustion. Singing a Lullaby, the Firebird lulls them into an eternal sleep. With the Firebird’s guidance, Prince Ivan finds the secret of the King’s immortality—the egg—and smashes it, killing him and breaking all spells of enchantment. In the Final Hymn, the princesses and all of Kashchei’s stone victims are freed. The dazzling, triumphant music celebrates the happy ending.

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