An apparent missing link in the development of the young Igor Stravinsky has been unearthed.
Titled Funeral Song (Pogrebal’naya Pesnya in Russian), the piece was written by the 26-year-old composer as a memorial to his recently deceased mentor Rimsky-Korsakov in 1908. After a single performance, the manuscript was never published and was long believed to have been irretrievably lost in the 1917 upheaval and its aftermath.
But it turned out to be hibernating amid a pile of old manuscripts gathering dust somewhere inside the St. Petersburg Conservatory.The Stravinsky authority Natalya Braginskaya described the find at hte International Musicological Society in St Petersburg early this month.
According to the eminent Stravinsky expert Stephen Walsh:
Stravinsky recalled it as one of his best early works, but could not remember the actual music.
Braginskaya, who has studied the orchestral parts (the full score has not turned up and will need reconstructing), describes “The Funeral Song” as a slow, unvarying processional with contrasting instrumental timbres: a dialogue of sonorities, very much as Stravinsky himself vaguely remembered it in his autobiography 25 years later. There are echoes of Rimsky-Korsakov, but also, she says, of Wagner, whose music Stravinsky admired more than he was later prepared to admit.
In his post on the find, Zachary Woolfe quotes from one of the reviews of the premiere (which predated Stravinsky’s sudden fame with The Firebird in Paris:
One critic described “the lament and moaning of a heart against the backdrop of a somber landscape,” while another chastised it for chilliness: “Better keep silence if losing a friend and teacher leaves us cold.”