|Premiere||December 1, 1957|
City Center of Music and Drama, New York
|Original ballet company||New York City Ballet|
Agon is a 22-minute neoclassical ballet for twelve dancers with music by Igor Stravinsky. It was choreographed by George Balanchine. Stravinsky began composition in December 1953 but was interrupted the next year; he resumed work 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. Between those dates the Südwestfunk in Germany made the work's first studio recording; the Sinfonieorchester des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden, as it was then called, was led by Hans Rosbaud. This was released on the Wergo label seven years later and remains in the catalog, for sale online from Amazon.de.
The composition's long gestation period covers an interesting juncture in Stravinsky's composing career, in which he moved from a diatonic musical idiom 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.
The title of the ballet, Agon, is a Greek word which means “contest”, “protagonist” but also “anguish” or “struggle”.
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:
- 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)
- Gaillarde (2 female dancers)
- Coda (1 male, 2 female dancers)
- III. (Second pas-de-trois: 2 male, 1 female dancers)
- Bransle simple (2 male dancers)
- Bransle gay (1 female dancer)
- Bransle double (2 male, 1 female dancers)
- Pas-de-deux (1 male, 1 female dancer)
- Four Duos (4 male, 4 female dancers)
- Four Trios (4 male, 8 female dancers)
Agon is scored for a large orchestra consisting of piccolo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), harp, piano, mandolin, timpani, tom-tom, xylophone, castanets, and strings. At no point does the entire orchestra play a tutti. Each section is scored for a different combination of instruments.
This 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. The Bransle Double is based on a different twelve-tone series, the hexachords of which are treated independently. 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.
When Agon was performed in Italy in 1965, Stravinsky was particularly pleased with the performance of mandolinist Giuseppe Anedda. "Bravo Mandolino!" shouted Stravinsky at Anedda and caught up with him to congratulate him and shake his hand.
- White 1979, p. 490.
- Anon. 2012. Igor Strawinsky: Agon – Ballett für 12 Tänzer: Rosbaud (Künstler), Sinfonieorchester des Südwestfunks Bad (Künstler), & 2 mehr Format: Audio CD + 76-page booklet. WER 67712. Wergo (Schott Music).
- White 1979, pp. 490–1.
- Smyth 1999, pp. 121, 126–7.
- Straus, Joseph N. (2001). Stravinsky's Late Music. Cambridge Studies in Music Theory and Analysis. Cambridge and New York City: Cambridge University Press. pp. 143–5. ISBN 0-521-60288-2.
- Smyth 1999, p. 133.
- "Giuseppe Anedda: Cagliari 1/3/1912 – Cagliari 30/7/1997". Amromana.it. Archived from the original on September 28, 2015. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
- Morbelli, Riccardo (April 5, 1965). "Stravinski: «Bravo mandolino»". Stampa Sera. 97 (80). p. 9.
- Smyth, David (Summer 1999). "Stravinsky's Second Crisis: Reading the Early Serial Sketches". Perspectives of New Music. 37 (2): 117–146.
- White, Eric Walter (1979). Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works (2nd ed.). Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03985-8.
- Joseph, Charles M. 2002. Stravinsky and Balanchine: A Journey of Invention. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300087128.
- Macaulay, Alastair. November 25, 2007. "50 Years Ago, Modernism Was Given a Name: Agon". The New York Times.
- Agon, Balanchine Trust
- "The Bransles of Stravinsky's Agon : A Transition to Serial Composition", by Bonnie S. Jacobi