Pulcinella (ballet)

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SAND Maurice Masques et bouffons 12.jpg
Pulcinella (Maurice Sand)
Choreographer Léonide Massine
Music Igor Stravinsky
Based on An 18th-century play
Premiere 15 May 1920
Original ballet company Ballets Russes
Characters Pulcinella
Genre Neoclassical ballet
Type Classical ballet

Pulcinella is a ballet by Igor Stravinsky based on an 18th-century play—Pulcinella is a character originating from Commedia dell'arte. The ballet premiered at the Paris Opera on 15 May 1920 under the baton of Ernest Ansermet. The dancer Léonide Massine created both the libretto and choreography, and Pablo Picasso designed the original costumes and sets. It was commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev.


Diaghilev wanted a ballet based on an early eighteenth-century commedia dell'arte libretto and music believed (in Diaghilev's time) to have been composed by Giovanni Pergolesi. (Although the music was then attributed to Pergolesi, much of that attribution has since proved to be spurious;[1] some of the music may have been written by Domenico Gallo, Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer, Carlo Ignazio Monza and possibly Alessandro Parisotti.) Conductor Ernest Ansermet wrote to Stravinsky in 1919 about the prospect, but the composer initially did not like the idea of music by Pergolesi. However, once he studied the scores, which Diaghilev had found in libraries in Naples and London, he changed his mind. Stravinsky rewrote this older music in a more modern way by borrowing specific themes and textures, but interjecting modern rhythms, cadences and harmonies. Pulcinella is scored for a modern chamber orchestra with soprano, tenor, and baritone soloists. It is often considered to be the first piece of Stravinsky's neoclassical period.

Movements of the complete ballet[edit]

The ballet is scored for 3 solo singers (1 soprano, 1 tenor, and 1 bass), 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in F, 1 trumpet in C, 1 trombone, a concertino of strings (2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 contrabass), and the ripieno (8 violins, 4 violas, 3 celli, and 3 contrabasses). A performance of it typically lasts 35 minutes. The ballet score was revised in 1965.

  1. Overture: Allegro moderato
  2. Serenata: Larghetto, Mentre l'erbetta (tenor)
  3. Scherzino: Allegro
  4. Allegro
  5. Andantino
  6. Allegro
  7. Ancora poco meno: Contento forse vivere (soprano)
  8. Allegro assai
  9. Allegro – alla breve: Con queste paroline (bass)
  10. Andante: Sento dire no'ncè pace (soprano, tenor & bass)
  11. Allegro: Ncè sta quaccuna po (soprano & tenor)
  12. Presto: Una te fallan zemprecce (tenor)
  13. Allegro – Alla breve
  14. Tarantella
  15. Andantino: Se tu m'ami (soprano)
  16. Allegro
  17. Gavotta con due variazioni
  18. Vivo
  19. Tempo di minuetto: Pupillette, fiammette d'amore (soprano, tenor & bass)
  20. Finale: Allegro assai

Pulcinella Suite[edit]

The Pulcinella Suite, derived from the ballet, was written in 1922 and has no vocal parts. The suite was revised by the composer in 1949 and 1965. The first performance was in Boston, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Pierre Monteux on the 22nd December 1922.

The Pulcinella suite consists of eight movements:

  1. Sinfonia
  2. Serenata
  3. a: Scherzino b: Allegretto c: Andantino
  4. Tarantella
  5. Toccata
  6. Gavotta (con due variazioni)
  7. Vivo
  8. a: Minuetto b: Finale

Suite italienne[edit]

Stravinsky based the following works on the ballet:

  • 1925: Suite d'après des thèmes, fragments et morceaux de Giambattista Pergolesi for violin and piano (in collaboration with Paul Kochanski).
  • 1932/33: Suite italienne for violoncello and piano (in collaboration with Gregor Piatigorsky).
  • 1933: Suite italienne for violin and piano (in collaboration with Samuel Dushkin).
  • Somewhat later, Jascha Heifetz and Piatigorsky made an arrangement for violin and cello, which they also called Suite italienne.


The story of Pulcinella is taken from a manuscript from Naples, dating from 1700, containing a number of comedies portraying the traditional character of the popular Neapolitan stage. The particular story used is entitled Quartre Polichinelles semblables ("Four identical Pulcinellas").

The one-act ballet features Pulcinella, his girlfriend Pimpinella, his friends Furbo, Prudenza and Rosetta, and Florindo and Cloviello. The story starts with Florindo and Cloviello serenading Prudenza and Rosetta. The two women are unimpressed and reply by showering the suitors with water. Prudenza's father, a doctor, appears and chases them away.

A new episode begins with Rosetta with her father appearing. Rosetta dances for Pulcinella and they kiss. But Pimpinella sees this and interrupts the scene. Florindo and Cloviello arrive and jealous of Pulcinella, they beat him up. Pulcinella is then stabbed, but this is actually a mockery to get Pimpinella to forgive Pulcinella. Furbo disguised as a magician appears and resurrects Pulcinella's body in front of everybody. Pimpinella indeed forgives Pulcinella, Prudenza and Rosetta succumb to Florindo's and Cloviello's wooing. The ballet ends with the marriages of the couples.


Pulcinella was the gateway to Stravinsky's second phase as a composer, the neoclassical. He wrote of Pulcinella: "Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible. It was a backward look, of course—the first of many love affairs in that direction—but it was a look in the mirror, too."[2] It was revived and revised by New York City Ballet's balletmasters George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, who both danced, Robbins in the title role, for their 1972 Stravinsky Festival.


  1. ^ Dunning 1988.
  2. ^ Saint Louis Symphony Program Notes, in External Links


  • Dunning, Albert (1988). "Un gentilhomme hollandais, diplomate-compositeur, à la cour de Louis XV: Nouvellesrecherches sur le comte Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer". Revue de Musicologie 74, no. 1:27–51.
  • White, Eric Walter (1966). Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works, second edition. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-03983-4.

External links[edit]