Stravinsky : Dumbarton Oaks, chamber concert

Amsterdam, Concertgebouw, 1990 (Audio)

Director: Riccardo Chailly


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Concerto in E-flat, subtitled Dumbarton Oaks 8-v-1938 (1937–38) is a chamber concerto by Igor Stravinsky, named for the Dumbarton Oaks estate of Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss in Washington, DC, who commissioned it for their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Composed in Stravinsky’s neo-classical period, the piece is one of Stravinsky’s two chamber concertos (the other being the Concerto in D, for strings, 1946) and is scored for a chamber orchestra of flute, B♭ clarinet, bassoon, two horns, three violins, three violas, two cellos, and two double basses. The three movements, Tempo giusto, Allegretto, and Con moto, performed without a break, total roughly twelve minutes. The concerto was the last work Stravinsky completed in Europe, started in spring 1937 at the Château de Montoux near Annemasse, near Geneva, Switzerland, and finished in Paris on March 29, 1938 (White 1979, 400).

Noted composer and composition teacher Nadia Boulanger, who admired Stravinsky’s works and who had brokered the Blisses’ commission (Brooks 2010, 75), conducted the May 8, 1938 private premiere in the music room at Dumbarton Oaks, at Stravinsky’s invitation; the composer was recovering from tuberculosis and thus unable to attend. The public premiere took place in Paris on June 4, 1938, at a concert of La Sérénade, with Stravinsky conducting (White 1979, 401). The full-score manuscript, formerly owned by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, is in the Harvard University Rare Book Collection of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, Washington, D.C. (White 1979, 400).

Stravinsky himself created a reduction for two pianos (White 1979, 400). Leif Thybo’s 1952 transcription for organ laid the foundation for his investigation of the possibilities of the modern form of the instrument (Jakobsen n.d.). A ballet, choreographed by Jerome Robbins, was premiered by the New York City Ballet on June 23, 1972, calling for one principal and six corps dancers of each sex (Anon. n.d.).