Igor Stravinsky created a central work of neoclassicism with his opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex – a ritual drama with a Latin text that tells the story handed down by Sophocles of the desperate hero of ancient times who unwittingly kills his father and without realizing it marries his mother. Kurt Weill pointed out the “form in the style of an oratorio”: the composition consists of recitative and arias, as well as duets and choral pieces with a static plot – “the categorical rejection of the form of the music drama” and “the inclusion of a purely vocal operatic style in which the action, drama and optical movement are completely repressed in favour of a purely musical form”. (Stravinsky declared: “The strict form of this language has in and of itself so much expressive value that it is not necessary to enhance it through the music.”)
Sir John Eliot Gardiner is guest conductor of the Philharmoniker at this concert. The internationally renowned representative of historically informed performance practice performs the broadest repertoire basis imaginable, ranging far into the 19th and even 20th centuries, and has always devoted himself to the works of Stravinsky and his music between various genres.
A neoclassicist masterpiece is performed at the beginning of the concert as well: Stravinsky’s Apollon musagète (Apollo, leader of the muses), in which after a prologue that depicts the birth of the ancient God with extremely delicate music, there is a series of allegorical dances “in the traditional style of the classical ballet (Pas d’action, Pas de deux, Variations, Coda)” (Stravinsky).
Finally, Apollo leads the muses onto Mount Parnassus: “In admiration for the linear beauty of the classical dance,” the composer stresses, “I decided for the strict form of ballet, and thought first and foremost of the ‘ballet blanc’, in which in my opinion the essence of this art manifests itself most clearly.” The renunciation of dissonant harshness corresponds to the plot without any conflict by using a pure string orchestra; the contrast in instrumental colours that is found otherwise is substituted for by dynamic contrasts, a process Stravinsky had already tested in his Pulcinella ballet.