|Based on||An 18th-century play|
|Premiere||15 May 1920|
|Original ballet company||Ballets Russes|
Pulcinella is a one-act ballet by Igor Stravinsky based on an 18th-century play, Quatre Polichinelles semblables ("Four identical Pulcinellas"). Pulcinella is a stock 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. The ballet was commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes.
A performance of the work typically lasts 35 minutes. The ballet score was revised by Stravinsky in 1965.
Diaghilev wanted a ballet based on an early 18th-century commedia dell'arte libretto and music then believed to have been composed by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. This attribution has since been proved to be spurious. Some of the music may have been by Domenico Gallo, Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer, Carlo Ignazio Monza and Alessandro Parisotti.
Conductor Ernest Ansermet wrote to Stravinsky in 1919 about the project. The composer initially did not like the idea of music by Pergolesi, but once he studied the scores, which Diaghilev had found in libraries in Naples and London, he changed his mind. Stravinsky adapted the older music to a more modern style by borrowing specific themes and textures, but interjecting his modern rhythms, cadences, and harmonies.
Pulcinella marked the beginning of Stravinsky's second phase as a composer, his neoclassical period. He wrote:
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.
The ballet was revived and revised by New York City Ballet's balletmasters George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins for their 1972 Stravinsky Festival. They both danced in the performance, Robbins in the title role, and were joined in the premier by Francisco Moncion, who danced the role of The Devil.
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. This libretto was derived from Quatre Polichinelles semblables ("Four similar 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, when her father appears. Rosetta dances for Pulcinella and they kiss. But Pimpinella sees this and interrupts them. Florindo and Cloviello arrive and, jealous of Pulcinella, they beat him up. Pulcinella is stabbed, but this is a set-up event to gain Pimpinella's forgiveness of him. Furbo, disguised as a magician, comes and appears to resurrect Pulcinella in front of everybody. Pimpinella forgives Pulcinella, and Prudenza and Rosetta succumb to Florindo's and Cloviello's wooing. The ballet ends with the marriages of the three couples.
The music is based on pieces then believed to have been composed by Italian composer Pergolesi. See the History section for more about the musical sources. The following is a description of the musical forces and movements.
Pulcinella is scored for a modern chamber orchestra with three solo singers:
The ballet is in one act and is divided into 21 sections:
- Overture: Allegro moderato
- Serenata: Larghetto: "Mentre l'erbetta pasce l'agnella" (tenor)
- Scherzino: Allegro
- Poco più vivo
- Ancora poco meno: "Contento forse vivere" (soprano)
- Allegro assai
- Allegro – Alla breve: "Con queste paroline" (bass)
- Andante: "Sento dire no' ncè pace" (soprano, tenor and bass)
- Allegro: "Chi disse cà la femmena" (tenor)
- Presto: "Ncè sta quaccuna pò" (soprano and tenor) / "Una te fa la nzemprece" (tenor)
- Allegro – Alla breve
- Andantino: "Se tu m'ami" (soprano)
- Gavotta con due variazioni
- Tempo di minuetto: "Pupillette, fiammette d'amore" (soprano, tenor and bass)
- Finale: Allegro assai
Pieces based on Pulcinella
The Pulcinella Suite, derived from the ballet, was written in 1922 and has no vocal parts. The first performance was in Boston, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Pierre Monteux on 22 December 1922.
The suite consists of eight movements:
- Scherzino – Allegretto – Andantino
- Gavotta (con due variazioni)
- Minuetto – Finale
The suite was revised by the composer in 1949 and 1965.
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 cello and piano (in collaboration with Gregor Piatigorsky).
- 1933: Suite italienne, for violin and piano (in collaboration with Samuel Dushkin).
- Violinist Jascha Heifetz and Piatigorsky later made an arrangement for violin and cello, which they also called Suite italienne.
- Dunning 1988.
- Saint Louis Symphony Program Notes, in External Links
- Francisco Moncion as The Devil in the premier of Balanchine's "Pulcinella" "Pulcinella" - Francisco Moncion, The George Balanchine Foundation
- Dunning, Albert (1988). "Un gentilhomme hollandais, diplomate-compositeur, à la cour de Louis XV : Nouvelles recherches 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.