Agon (1957) is a ballet for twelve dancers, with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by George Balanchine. Composition began in December 1953 but was interrupted the next year; work was resumed in 1956 and concluded on April 27, 1957; the music was first performed on June 17, 1957 in Los Angeles conducted by Robert Craft, while the first stage performance was given by the New York City Ballet on December 1, 1957 at the City Center of Music and Drama, New York (White 1979, 490). The composition's long gestation period covers an interesting juncture in Stravinsky's composing career, in which he moved from a diatonic musical language to one based on twelve-tone technique; the music of the ballet thus demonstrates a unique symbiosis of musical idioms. The ballet has no story, but consists of a series of dance movements in which various groups of dancers interact in pairs, trios, quartets etc. A number of the movements are based on 17th-century French court dances – saraband, galliard and bransle. It was danced as part of City Ballet's 1982 Stravinsky Centennial Celebration.
Stravinsky laid out the ballet in a duodecimal form, with four large sections each consisting of three dances. A Prelude and two Interludes occur between the large sections, but this does not fundamentally affect the twelve-part design because their function is caesural and compensatory (White 1979, 490–91):
Pas-de-quatre (4 male dancers)
Double pas-de-quatre (8 female dancers)
Triple pas-de-quatre (4 male + 8 female dancers)
II. (First pas-de-trois: 1 male, 2 female dancers)
Sarabande-step (1 male dancer)
Gailliarde (2 female dancers)
Coda (1 male, 2 female dancers)
III. (Second pas-de-trois: 2 male, 1 female dancers)
Agon was not the first composition in which Stravinsky employed serial techniques, but it was the first in which he used a twelve-tone row, introduced in the second coda, at bar 185. Earlier in the work, Stravinsky had employed a seventeen-tone row, in bars 104–107, and evidence from the sketches suggests a close relationship between these two rows (Smyth 1999, 121, 126–27). The Bransle Double is based on a different twelve-tone series, the hexachords of which are treated independently (Straus 2001, 143–45). Those hexachords first appear separately in the Bransle Simple (for two male dancers) and Bransle Gay (for solo female dancer), and are then combined to form a twelve-tone row in the Bransle Double. These three dances together constitute the second pas-de-trois (Smyth 1999, 133).
Smyth, David. 1999. "Stravinsky's Second Crisis: Reading the Early Serial Sketches". Perspectives of New Music 37, no. 2 (Summer): 117–46.
Straus, Joseph N. 2001. Stravinsky's Late Music. Cambridge Studies in Music Theory and Analysis. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80220-2 (cloth); ISBN 0-521-60288-2 (pbk).
White, Eric Walter. 1979. Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works, second edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03985-8 (pbk).