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Entr'acte symphonique from Act II of The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66

About the Work

Pyotr Tchaikovsky
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Quick Look Composer: Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Arranger: Igor Stravinsky
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Leonard Slatkin, conductor/Gil Shaham, violin Dec. 4 - 6, 2003
© Richard Freed

As the foregoing note on the “Bluebird” pas de deux explains, this orchestration was part of the earlier of Stravinsky's two encounters with The Sleeping Beauty, in this case executed for Diaghilev's presentation of the ballet at the Alhambra Theatre in London in 1921. This Stravinsky arrangement enters the repertory of the National Symphony Orchestra in the present concerts.

Stravinsky's scoring is for violin solo with 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings. Duration, 5 minutes.
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At the time Stravinsky undertook his Sleeping Beauty orchestrations for Diaghilev, military conscription was not a factor, and the orchestra was not significantly reduced: a new orchestration had to be undertaken simply because only a piano reduction was available then for this number.

To complicate the issue in respect to identifying the music (No. 18 in the ballet score), it is the first of two consecutive entr'actes in the brief second scene of Act II. Its successor (No. 19) is a more extended piece labeled Entr'acte symphonique et scène, and as often as not, when the Stravinsky setting is heard, it is mislabeled “Entr'acte symphonique.” In any event, this is the piece with the extended violin solo, and Gil Shaham's taking part in it recalls a lovely old tradition in which celebrated virtuosi made what the movie people called “cameo” appearances to perform the violin solos in especially festive presentations of both The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.

The music marks a climactic moment in the ballet. The long first scene of Act II, in which Prince Désiré and his friends are on a hunt, culminates in a vision of Princess Aurora, following which the Lilac Fairy sails with the Prince to the castle, now hidden by an overgrown forest, in which Aurora, her parents and their guests slumber, under a benevolent spell cast by the same fairy to counter the curse uttered by the wicked fairy Carabosse at Aurora's birthday party years ago. The entr'acte Stravinsky orchestrated represents the end of that voyage and the Prince's arrival at the castle: the prelude to the moment in which he will awaken the Princess with a kiss, the entire court will come back to life, and the forest will disappear in the brightness of the sun.