Scherzo à la russe (Stravinsky)

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Scherzo à la russe is a 1944 composition by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. It was initially published by Chappell & Co. in 1945 and premiered in March 1946 by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer himself.[1] It was later published by Boosey & Hawkes.[2]


Stravinsky had been going through economical problems since he moved to America, partially because he lost the royalties from his works in Europe and had to compose more works to exploit them in America. The Scherzo à la russe was first conceived as a work for film use, as it was intended to be featured in The North Star. When the film project was aborted, Stravinsky decided to re-orchestrate it for Paul Whiteman Band.[3] The only two conditions were: the piece had to be easy-listening and it had to fit on a 78 rpm disc.[4] This version for jazz orchestra was premiered in 1944 by Blue Network but, according to Stravinsky scholar Eric Walter White, it didn't seem to be a success. Stravinsky decided to arrange it again in 1945 for symphony orchestra for it to be published and premiered in 1946 at San Francisco.


The work takes approximately 4 minutes to perform. It is commonly analysed as follows:[1][5]

  • Main theme: Presented in G major in 2/4. The tune groups itself into four-bar phrases. One of the most remarkable aspects is the use of accents all along this first section: notes go in couples with no accent on the first note and an accent on the second, which is tied to the first. This effect recalls the wheezing sound patterns of accordions.
  • Main theme: First section repeated.
    • Trio II: This section is in ternary form. It can be divided as:
      • (A): Presented in C major. Saxophones become more relevant in this section, while the flute and a solo violin play rapid ascending scales.
      • (B): Presented in E-flat major. Fortisimo drum beats accompany the previous tune, which is now transposed and modified.
      • (A’): Same structure as (A)
  • Main theme: First section repeated, which concludes the piece.


Original jazz version[edit]

The symphony jazz orchestra proposed by Paul Whiteman was very atypical for jazz music: 6 saxophones, strings, winds, brass and percussion.[6]

Symphony orchestra version[edit]

The second version was just an expanded version of the first. Here is a full list of the instruments featured in it:[6]

Other arrangements[edit]

Apart from the symphony version completed in 1945, Stravinsky also wrote a third version for two pianos in 1954; however, it is not so commonly performed.[5]

Notable recordings[edit]

Notable recordings of this composition include:

Orchestra Conductor Record Company Year of Recording Format Version
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra Igor Stravinsky Andante Records 1947 CD[7] Jazz Orchestra
Columbia Symphony Orchestra Igor Stravinsky CBS Records 1961 CD[8] Symphony Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra Antal Doráti Deutsche Grammophon 1964 CD[9] Symphony Orchestra
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande Ernest Ansermet Decca Records 1964 CD[10] Symphony Orchestra
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Simon Rattle EMI 1987 CD[11] Symphony orchestra
Philharmonia Orchestra Eliahu Inbal Teldec 1989 CD[12] Symphony orchestra
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra Dmitri Kitayenko Chandos Records 1994 CD[13] Jazz orchestra
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Deutsche Grammophon 1996 CD[14] Jazz orchestra
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Neeme Järvi Telarc 2003 CD[15] Symphony orchestra
Budapest Festival Orchestra Ivan Fischer Channel Classics Records 2010 CD[16] Symphony orchestra


  1. ^ a b White, Eric Walter. Stravinsky: the Composer and his Works. California: University of California Press. pp. 380–381. ISBN 0520039858. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  2. ^ Stravinsky, Igor (1944). "Stravinsky, Igor: Scherzo a la Russe". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Program Notes - April 15, 2000". Immaculata Symphony. February 13, 2013. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  4. ^ Hewett, Ivan (December 13, 2012). "Ivan Hewett's Classic 50 No. 1: Stravinsky - Scherzo à la Russe". Telegraph Media Group Ltd. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Cummings, Robert (2013). "Igor Stravinsky - Scherzo à la Russe, for orchestra". Rovi Corp. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Counts, Jeff (2012). "STRAVINSKY - SCHERZO À LA RUSSE". Utah Symphony. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Stravinsky: Composer & Performer, Vol. 3 Scherzo à la Russe, for orchestra". Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  8. ^ "Stravinsky: The Firebird; Scherzo a la Russe; Fireworks Scherzo à la Russe, for orchestra". Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  9. ^ "Stravinsky: The Firebird; Fireworks; The Song of the Nightingale; Tango; Scherzo à la russe - London Symphony Orchestra, Dor". Deutsche Grammophon. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  10. ^ "Stravinsky: Ballets; Stage Works; Orchestral Works Scherzo à la Russe, for orchestra". Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  11. ^ "Stravinsky: The Firebird; Scherzo à la russe; Four Studies Scherzo à la Russe, for orchestra". Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  12. ^ "Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps Scherzo à la Russe, for orchestra". Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  13. ^ "Stravinsky:Petrushka". Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  14. ^ "IGOR STRAVINSKY Concerto in D · Concertino Suiten · Suites Nos. 1 & 2 Präludium · Prelude Scherzo à la russe Tango · Ragtime · Fanfare Octet · Duet · 3 Pieces Orpheus Chamber Orchestra". Deutsche Grammophon. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  15. ^ "Stravinsky: Petrouchka; The Firebird Suite; Scherzo à la Russe Scherzo à la Russe, for orchestra". Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  16. ^ "Stravinsky: Rite of Spring; Firebird Suite; Scherzo; Tango Scherzo à la Russe, for orchestra". Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 8 March 2014.