In the Wings

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Neoclassicism: Order, Clarity, Balance, Economy

Mar 9, 2017 11:39:27 AM
By John Conklin

Neoclassicism in music was an important and striking 20th-century trend…and Stravinsky has often been portrayed as its most eloquent proponent and The Rake’s Progress as its culmination. Neoclassicism was not so much an organized movement with manifestos and such, but rather an expression of a sensibility in which many composers sought to return to a past aesthetic. connected to a concept of classicism and imbued with the virtues of order, balance, clarity, economy, emotional restraint.

In part, this can be see as a reaction against the unrestrained emotionalism of the pre-war world (and indeed the whole highly charged Romantic farrago of the 19th century), the brutal nihilistic chaos of the war itself, and the experimental ferment of the first decades of the 20th century. In this sense Stravinsky was reacting against himself (his Rite of Spring, which premiered in 1913,  being the preeminent example of such devastating innovation). Indeed Stravinsky’s whole artistic career is a succession of such stylistic revolutions and recreations. After the writing of The Rake’s Progress (and at the age of 70), he turned to a whole new aesthetic based on serialism and 12-tone composition.

The Rake’s Progress is deliciously and wittily imbued with elements of Mozart, Bach, and Handel…to say nothing of Monteverdi. But it is neither parody nor pastiche but a piece that exists wholly on its own brilliant and unique terms.

Let us listen to some Stravinsky and glance at the same time at some music that seems to relate to it:

Two “baroque” concertos:

Stravinsky – Dumbarton Oaks concerto (1937)


Bach – Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 (1721)


Two haunting songs of consolation:

Stravinsky – Anne’s lullaby from The Rake’s Progress (1951)


Handel – From Rinaldo (1711)


Two fanfares:

Stravinsky – Opening of The Rake’s Progress


Monteverdi – Opening of L’Orfeo (1607)


Two finales:

Stravinsky – The Rake’s Progress


Mozart – Don Giovanni (1787)


JOHN CONKLIN is an internationally-recognized set designer and dramaturg. He has designed sets on and off -Broadway, at the Kennedy Center and for opera companies around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Bastille Opera in Paris, the Royal Opera and the opera houses of Munich, Amsterdam, and Bologna, among many others. Mr. Conklin is on the faculty of New York  University’s Tisch School and has served as the Artistic Advisor to BLO since 2009.


March 12 - 19 at Emerson / Cutler Majestic



Topics: BLO, #BLO40, #RakesBLO, Stravinsky

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