Les noces

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This article is about Stravinsky's ballet choreographed by Nijinska. For Jerome Robbins' ballet, see Les Noces (Robbins).
Les noces
Choreographer Bronislava Nijinska
Music Igor Stravinsky
Premiere June 13, 1923
Original ballet company Ballets Russes
Genre Neoclassical ballet
Type Classical ballet

Les noces (French; English: The Wedding; Russian: Свадебка, Svadebka) by Igor Stravinsky, is a dance cantata, or ballet with vocalists.


The ballet was premiered on June 13, 1923 at the Théâtre de la Gaîté in Paris,[1] by the Ballets Russes with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska. The instrumental ensemble (four pianos and percussion) was conducted by Ernest Ansermet.


Nijinska’s choreographic interpretation of Les noces has been called protofeminist.[2] Les noces deserts the upbeat nature of a typical wedding, and instead brings to life the restrictive nature of a woman's duty to marry. The dark and somber set provides the backdrop to the simple costuming and rigid movements. The individuality of the dancer is stripped away in Nijinska's choreography, therefore displaying actors on a predetermined path, as marriage was regarded as the way to maintain and grow the community. The choreography exudes symbolism as, huddled together, the women repeatedly strike the floor with their pointe shoes with rigid intensity, as if to tell the tale of their struggle and ultimate reverence. The Russian peasant culture and the dutifulness it evokes in its people is represented in Nijinska's piece.


Stravinsky first conceived of writing the ballet in 1913 and completed it in short score by October 1917. During a long gestation period its orchestration changed dramatically. At first conceived for an expanded symphony orchestra similar to that of The Rite of Spring, it went through numerous variations, including at one point the use of synchronised roll-operated instruments, including the pianola, but he abandoned that version when it was only partially completed, owing to the tardiness of the Parisian piano firm of Pleyel et Cie in constructing the two-keyboard cimbaloms, known subsequently as luthéals.[3]

Stravinsky finally settled on the following scoring: soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass soloists, mixed chorus, and two groups of percussion instruments – pitched percussion, including four pianos, and unpitched percussion. This orchestration exemplifies Stravinsky's increasing proclivity towards stripped down, clear and mechanistic sound groups in the decade after The Rite, although he would never again produce such an extreme sonic effect solely with percussion.

The premiere of the 1919 version of Les noces, with cimbaloms, harmonium, and pianola, took place in 1981 in Paris, conducted by Pierre Boulez.[4]

An arrangement for symphony orchestra by Steven Stucky was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and premiered under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen on May 29, 2008 at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The arrangement retains Stravinsky's percussion parts while replacing the four pianos with a large orchestra.

The unfinished version that included pianola was completed with permission from Stravinsky's heirs by the Dutch composer Theo Verbey and performed in the Netherlands in 2009.[5]


Stravinsky wrote the libretto himself using Russian wedding lyrics taken primarily from songs collected by Pyotr Kireevsky and published in 1911. The work is usually performed in Russian or French; English translations are sometimes used, and Stravinsky used one himself in both the 1934 and 1959 recordings he conducted for Columbia records.

Notable performances and recordings[edit]

  • Stravinsky himself conducted a recording using the English libretto in 1959. The four pianists were themselves important composers: Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, and Roger Sessions.
  • The 1926 London premier likewise was played by important composers: Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric, Vittorio Rieti and Vernon Duke
  • A 1934 recording conducted by Stravinsky also uses the English libretto. This has been reissued on CD, together with many more of Stravinsky's early recordings, by EMI as part of their "Composers in Person" series.
  • Robert Craft recorded the early versions of Les noces in the early 1970s on a Columbia LP, but with pianos instead of pianolas.
  • The Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble issued a recording with much of the piano writing sequenced via MIDI through Macintosh computers.
  • The BBC recommended recording (Building a Library, May 6, 2000): Voronezh Chamber Choir, New London Chamber Choir, Ensemble, James Wood (director) HYPERION CDA 66410 (recorded 1990).
  • Leonard Bernstein conducted the English Bach Festival Orchestra and Chorus on a recording for Deutsche Grammophon in 1977, with Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman, Cyprien Katsaris, and Homero Francesch as the pianists.
  • Radio France recorded this work on a SACD, with Virginie Pesch (s); Katalin Varkonyi (m-s); Pierre Vaello (t); Vincent Menez (b); Percussions de l'Orchestre National de France & de la SMCQ de Montréal; Chœur de Radio France; René Bosc, conductor; HARMONIA MUNDI - Musicora; ASIN: B00699QPNM; recorded 2011.[6] This recording uses the definitive 1923 version by Stravinsky, with the difference being that the 4 pianos are replaced by 2 cimbaloms, a harmonium and a pianola, which was actually the choice of instruments in the "1918/19" version of Les noces.
  • JoAnn Falletta conducted a performance on May 11, 2013, with the Virginia Symphony Chorus and Todd Rosenlieb Dance as part of the Virginia Arts Festival. Naxos is expected to release the recording later in 2013.


  1. ^ Walsh, Stephen. "Stravinsky, Igor (Fyodorovich)" in Sadie, Stanley, editor; John Tyrell; executive editor (2001). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition. London: Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-56159-239-5 (hardcover). OCLC 419285866 (eBook).
  2. ^ Dance Kaleidoscope on same-sex marriage. Nuvo, 15 May 2013. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
  3. ^ The idea that it is impossible or difficult to synchronise a pianola with other instruments is quite erroneous. There have been many hundreds of concerts in which the pianola has accompanied chamber music, or been used as the solo instrument in concertos, beginning in 1900, when Luigi Kunits, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, was accompanied by the early pianolist, Charles Parkyn. A recent example is the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto with the Flemish Radio Orchestra in Brussels, with newly arranged rolls, perforated in March 2007. History of Pianolists, under External Links
  4. ^ Craft, 1981. Robert Craft, Perspectives of New Music
  5. ^ http://www.svadebka.nl/English/svadebkaukhome.html
  6. ^ René Bosc conducts "Les noces" by Igor Stravinsky (1923). Retrieved 28 January 2012.


External links[edit]