Stravinsky’s two light-hearted, occasionally satirical suites for small orchestra are transcriptions for orchestra of two of his earlier four-hand piano cycles, originally composed between 1917 and 1925. Stravinsky composed the four-hand pieces in a way that a child learning to play the piano, together with an adult, could perform them.
The bottom part in three movements of the first series (1914/1915) and the top part in five of the second series (1916/1917, composed for his children) are considerably easier to play. That was confirmed by the fact that he had Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes, play the first cycle in February 1915.
In the orchestrated version Stravinsky “redistributed” the movements. The first suite contains pieces representative of national styles (1. Andante; 2. Napolitana; 3. Española; 4. Balalaika) and the second consists of dances and genre pieces (1. March; 2. Waltz; 3. Polka; 4. Gallop). The short movements are two-faced. On the one hand they are evocative of Stravinksy’s “Russian” period, and on the other, the stylised dances presage the neo-Classical Stravinsky.