Le Roi Des Étoiles

Stravinsky's work is based upon poems by Konstantine Balmont, which are essentially a sequence of apocalyptic symbols with little apparent interconnection. The composer himself later said that “their words are good, and I needed words, not meaning.”

The musical language of Le Roi Des Étoiles is now believed to be strongly influenced by Scriabin. However when it was first published in 1913, Stravinsky dedicated it to Claude Debussy. Along with the dedication, he sent the French genius the original manuscript of the cantata for four part male choir and immense orchestra (immense when we consider the length of the work.) After Debussy's death in 1918, the manuscript was never seen again. Although a few copies of the first edition did survive the First World War, the first public performance was only made possible by the sudden reappearance of a hand-written copy. This concert took place on April 19th, 1939 and was broadcast live by Brussels Radio.

The sounding of the cantata's title “Zvezdolikij” poses a special problem. Stravinsky sets it with four six part chords as a separate unit, which somehow found its way into the manuscript and was printed as a kind of motto. Eric Walter White asked Stravinsky if the motto was part of the composition, in other words, whether it should be used during performance, to which the composer gave a negative answer in February 1961. The plot thickens though! When it was recorded on November 29th 1962 with Stravinsky wielding his conductor's baton, the four mysterious chords are clearly heard…