Symphonies of Wind Instruments

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The Symphonies of Wind Instruments (French title: Symphonies d'instruments à vent) is a concert work written by Igor Stravinsky in 1920, for an ensemble of woodwind and brass instruments. The piece is in one movement, lasting about 9 minutes. It is dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy, who died in 1918, and was premiered in London on June 10, 1921, conducted by Serge Koussevitzky.

A piano reduction by Arthur Lourié was published in 1926 (White 1979, 292), a full score appearing only after Stravinsky re-orchestrated the work in 1947 (Howe 2006).


The Symphonies was originally scored for a wind ensemble of 24 players: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), alto flute, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, alto clarinet in F, 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, and tuba. The 1947 revision requires 23 players: 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, and tuba.


In the title of this piece, Stravinsky used the word "symphonies" (note the plural form) not to label the work as an essay in the symphonic form, but rather in the word's older, broader connotation, from the Greek, of "sounding together" (White 1979, 292). The music of the Symphonies draws on Russian folk elements, and is constructed of "contrasting episodes at three different yet related tempos" (Harrison 1994).

The chorale which concludes the piece was originally published in the magazine La Revue musicale in an edition entitled Le Tombeau de Claude Debussy, which included short pieces from several composers, including Maurice Ravel and Manuel de Falla, dedicated to Debussy's memory (Freed 2006). It appeared as a piano score in the tombeau.


The premiere at Queen's Hall, London, was greeted initially by laughter and derision from an audience unaccustomed to Stravinsky's experimental work. According to Arthur Rubinstein, who attended the performance with Stravinsky, laughter broke out during the bassoon segment, and the conductor, Koussevitsky, "instead of stopping the performance and addressing the audience with a few words, assuring them that it was a serious work in the modern idiom, smiled maliciously and even had a twinkle in his eye as he looked over his shoulder at the laughing audience" (Rubinstein 1980, 173). A reviewer for the Times reported, however, that the hisses "were no sign of ill-will towards the composer", and subsided when Stravinsky stood up at the end of the performance to bow (Anon. 1921).


  • Anon. 1921. "The New Stravinsky Symphony". The Times (Saturday 11 June), p. 8.
  • Harrison, Max (1994) Symphonies, Psalms, Concertos – Orchestral Works by Stravinsky (Liner notes for Philips CD 442 583-2)
  • Howe, Hubert (2006). "Works of Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)", on class website, Music 784: Twentieth-Century Music I. New York: Queen’s College, CUNY (retrieved on 11 August 2008)
  • Freed, Richard (2006). About the Composition: Symphonies of Wind Instruments (original 1920 version) (program note written for performances by the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC).
  • Randel, Don (1986). The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge: Belknap Press (HUP). ISBN 0-674-61525-5. (p. 822 and 825)
  • Rubinstein, Arthur. 1980. My Many Years. New York: Knopf.
  • Stravinsky, Igor (1991). Symphonies d’instruments à vent: Faksimileausgabe des Particells und der Partitur der Erstfassung (1920), edited and with a commentary by André Baltensperger and Felix Meyer. Winterthur: Amadeus Verlag. ISBN 3-905049-46-5
  • Taruskin, Richard (1993). "Review: Igor Stravinsky. Symphonies d’instruments à vent: Faksimileausgabe des Particells und der Partitur der Erstfassung (1920)". Notes, Second Series 49, No. 4 (June): 1617–21.
  • 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.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cone, Edward T. 1962. "Stravinsky: The Progress of a Method". Perspectives of New Music 1, no. 1 (Fall): 18–26. Reprinted in Perspectives on Schoenberg and Stravinsky, edited by Benjamin Boretz and Edward T. Cone (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968; reissued New York: W. W. Norton, 1972): 155–64. Also reprinted in Edward T. Cone, Music: A View from Delft (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989): 293–301.
  • Craft, Robert. 1983–84. "A. On the Symphonies of Wind Instruments. B. Toward Corrected Editions of the Sonata, Serenade, and Concerto for Two Pianos. C. The Chronology of the Octet". Perspectives of New Music 22, nos. 1 & 2:448–63.
  • Gubernikoff, Carole. 2000. "Stravinsky: Symphonies d'instruments à vent". In Anais do I Seminário Nacional de Pesquisa em Performance Musical. I, edited by André Cavazotti and Fausto Borém. [Brazil]: Multimídia. (CD-ROM publication.)
  • Hascher, Xavier. 2003. "De l’harmonie au timbre, vers une harmonie de timbres: L’exemple de Stravinsky". Analyse Musicale, no. 48 (September): 83–98.
  • Kramer, Jonathan D. 1978. "Moment Form in Twentieth-Century Music". The Musical Quarterly 64, no. 2 (April): 177–95.
  • Rehding, Alexander. 1998. "Towards a 'Logic of Discontinuity' in Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments: Hasty, Kramer, and Straus Reconsidered". Music Analysis 17, no. 1 (March): 39–65.
  • Somfai, Lászlo. 1972. "Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920). Observations on Stravinsky's Organic Construction". Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 14, fasc. 1/4: 355–83.
  • Straus, Joseph N. 1982. "A Principle of Voice Leading in the Music of Stravinsky". Music Theory Spectrum: The Journal of the Society for Music Theory 4:106–24.
  • Van den Toorn, Pieter C. 1998. "Metrical Displacement in Stravinsky". Mitteilungen der Paul Sacher Stiftung, no. 11 (April): 24–28.
  • Walsh, Stephen. 1996. "Stravinsky's Symphonies: Accident or Design?" In Analytical Strategies and Musical Interpretation: Essays on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Music, edited by Craig Ayrey and Mark Everist, 35–71. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-46249-5.
  • Wason, Robert W. 1994. "Toward a Critical Edition of Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments". In The Wind Ensemble and Its Repertoire: Essays on the Fortieth Anniversary of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, edited by Frank J. Cipolla and Donald Hunsberger, 121–40. Rochester: University of Rochester.
  • Yuzefovich, Victor, and Marina Kostalevsky. 2002. "Chronicle of a Non-Friendship: Letters of Stravinsky and Koussevitzky". The Musical Quarterly 86, no. 4 (Winter): 750–885.