Ormsby Wilkins on Stravinsky’s Apollo

3rd February 2020

A native of Sydney, Australia, Ormsby Wilkins joined American Ballet Theatre as its Music Director in November 2005.

After taking his music studies at the Conservatories of Sydney and Melbourne, Wilkins joined The Australian Ballet and became resident conductor in 1982. Moving to Europe in 1983, he was appointed conductor with England’s Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (now called the Birmingham Royal Ballet). With Sadler’s Wells, Wilkins toured North and South America, Eastern Europe, Israel and South East Asia.

Wilkins continued his association with The Australian Ballet, having been invited to guest on many occasions for its extensive engagements, which have included those in the United States, Russia and London, England. Other international engagements have included La Scala, Milan, the Rome Opera Ballet, the Ballet of Teatro San Carlo of Naples and the Royal Swedish Ballet. In 2001 he spent three months in Italy conducting once again at La Scala and also making his debuts in both Genoa and at the Teatro Comunale in Florence.

Wilkins has conducted many orchestras around the world, both in association with ballet and in concert. They include the Philharmonia and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras of London, the Royal Opera House Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic, Edmonton Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Melbourne Symphony, Tokyo Philharmonic and National Arts Centre Orchestra, Ottawa.

Prior to his appointment to ABT, Wilkins spent sixteen years as Music Director of the National Ballet of Canada where he received much critical acclaim for his conducting of the National Ballet orchestra. He has been particularly singled out for his sensitive, yet vibrant, interpretations of all the great classical ballets such as The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. Other works Wilkins has conducted include Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, Onegin, The Taming of the Shrew, Symphony in C, Manon, La Sylphide, Daphnis and Chloë, Song of the Earth, The Rite of Spring and Forgotten Land. During his tenure at the National Ballet, Wilkins travelled to Israel, the Far East and Europe where he again earned acclaim for his performances. He has also worked a number of times with the one of the top brass bands in North America, the Hannaford Street Silver Band.

Well, this is fantastic. I did my PhD on Stravinsky’s ballets, so when you suggested Apollo, I knew this would be a nice one!

Well, there are many reasons for me choosing this piece. It’s one of the great Balanchine ballets; one of the greatest ballets of all time, as far as I’m concerned. It really is a masterwork, and it still amazes me that it was created in the 1920s. I also chose it because in the last few years I’ve done it in three different places (including American Ballet Theatre – we did some performances last fall). Each time I come to it I’m just totally amazed by it. It just becomes more beautiful each time.

It really does. So have you conducted it with the Balanchine choreography every time?

Yes. I’m not saying there aren’t other versions, but I’d be surprised if anyone dare! Of course Firebird has had a number of choreographers, even more so The Rite of Spring. Petrushka less so… although I think there are one or two other versions. But Apollo is considered such a masterwork that anyone who tries it is, well, asking for trouble! It’s hard to think of another ballet where the music and the dance are so intertwined. We do the full version, but Balanchine back in the 1970s decided that he wasn’t interested in story ballet anymore, just presenting his choreography, so he cut the birth scene at the beginning. The New York City Ballet (and some other productions) still do the cut to this day, and it also includes a slightly different ending choreographically.

So do you do the version where they walk up the stairs at the end?

Yes, which I just love! Although I am never quite sure which mountain it is that they’re going up. Some people say Olympus, others say Parnassus.

I never came across that much concrete information about that. I even had trouble coming across the original score rather than just the 1947 revision.

That’s right. Actually, I accidently came across it without knowing it was going to happen. I did it at Miami City Ballet (they do a lot of Balanchine there). I had always had the 1947 score and it had never occurred to me that someone else might have the earlier version. As I started to rehearse it I realised, because I kept saying ‘why are you doing that rhythm?’ or ‘what’s that dynamic? That’s not what I have’. It turned out that there are quite a few changes that he made in the rhythm and lengths of notes.

There are mistakes in the earlier version too, which I think were corrected in 1947. Stravinsky was always renewing his copyright for financial reasons as well. He never got The Rite of Spring in the States – you don’t have to do the official Boosey and Hawkes version [reissued in 1967] if you don’t want to. In America people did orchestrations of it for smaller orchestra, but for many years you couldn’t do that outside of the country (or not legally anyway!). Now you can, there is a sanctioned small orchestra version that you can do. But in any case he never got money for The Rite of Spring unless the orchestra decided to do the Boosey and Hawkes version.

It’s just incredible, isn’t it?

Yes the whole publishing industry is! They have a generic rule now for music that states that everything that is a hundred years old immediately turns into public domain. In the case of Apollo there are just small differences, but I find it’s always best to use the 1947 version – it’s what I know.

It’s very interesting. Apollo was commissioned by an American woman called Elizabeth Coolidge, and it was first performed in the States.[1] But Stravinsky always had it in his mind for Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes. It was Balanchine who he was really creating it for, and also dancer Serge Lifar (the first Apollo in Europe). The first performance of that version was in 1928. One of the reasons it was orchestrated just for strings was because it was in a very small theatre (more like an auditorium).[2] Apparently earlier ideas included harp and piano but that never happened.

Yes, that was because they wanted to depict Apollo’s lyre.

Yes, that’s exactly right. In the end it all just came down to a string orchestra, although he did write for two independent cello parts. So it’s really in six parts rather than the standard five.

Recordings can vary a lot in terms of the richness of sound and size of orchestra. Do you specify how many players that you want?

Stravinsky wrote it for a smaller string orchestra. I think it was 8 firsts, 8 seconds, 4 violas and so on. Strangely enough it doesn’t say in the 1947 score, but a lot of chamber orchestras play it with a smaller ensemble. We tend to play it with a slightly bigger one because we do it in big theatres for 2700 people (or more at the Met)[3] and it needs to fill out the space.

So for you, it’s more about the sound filling the venue?

I think so. Stravinsky had a smaller orchestra in mind initially, because of that first commission, but I think it varies a little bit these days. You’re right – sometimes you get these big lush recordings.

Even though you use a bigger orchestra, do you still play in that more restrained style?

Oh absolutely. You don’t want a big vibrato, you want a leaner more classical/neoclassical sound. It’s all about subtlety, and I think the composer himself was trying to move away from what was thought of as the big Stravinsky style of The Rite of Spring. He was already writing in a leaner way but to me this is the first piece where he really moved into Neoclassicism.

Yes, I think he called Apollo the ‘U-turn itself’ (Stravinsky and Craft 1972:106).[4]

Yeah right!

Considering that ballet’s formative years were in the Nineteenth Century, I suppose that more reserved style was also new to the genre.

Yes, I think it was. At that time, Balanchine (who I believe had been employed by Diaghilev not long before) had already used a little bit of Stravinsky’s music, but this was the first major project. They already knew each other – Stravinsky was still attached in many ways to Diaghilev. I guess the most recent work they [Stravinsky and Diaghilev] had done together was Les Noces [1923]. Nijinsky and Nijinska were pushed out and Balanchine became the choreographer for the Ballet Russes.[5] I think he was completely fascinated with Stravinsky’s music.

There is a great quote I found:

‘There is a stupid idea about Stravinsky; that he is a cerebral composer whose music is too complex and calculated. Actually Stravinsky’s music is jolly, springy, very danceable… when we worked together, we always had a good time’ (Balanchine, cited Volkov 1993:153/4).

As a conductor of ballet – would you agree with that?

I think I would agree with that, other than the fact that it is complex, (laughs) but not to the detriment of the enjoyment of the orchestra or the audience. I think he understood as much as anyone how to draw an audience to his music. He had an incredible theatrical streak in him. All of the ballet librettos were Stravinsky’s own ideas too – it was he who came up with the Apollo scenario. Balanchine had nothing to do that. It’s the perfect construction – it’s like a nineteenth-century divertissement in that it has an introduction, a pas d’action, solos, a pas de deux, a coda and then he adds an apotheosis. The great thing about Stravinsky is even though the music is so unique, he more than tips his hat to the past. He learns from the past, he’s fascinated by the past, and all sorts of influences from the past are included there.

It’s interesting when you talk to conductors about Stravinsky’s Neoclassical works. They’ll often say ‘I thought I heard this composer, I thought I heard that one. I spent weeks trying to find the quote where this was from’. It’s amazing, the kind of excavation work they will do – it can be a real game.

Stravinsky himself said Apollo was a tribute to the forms and structures of seventeenth-century French music.[6]

Which is of course all based on dance. Lully, Rameau…

Exactly – such great, danceable music.

Louis XIV was the person who was credited with inventing ballet, as it were. It was all about the dance in many ways at that time.

A lot of the literature on Apollo is interested in the use of the Alexandrine Principle.[7] Are you conscious of this when you’re conducting?

Absolutely, it’s very interesting. For instance, in the opening there’s this dotted rhythm, and it’s all the way through the score. It’s almost like a French overture. Stylistically, there’s a belief that Stravinsky and Balanchine wanted it double dotted. He’s written [sings the opening with dotted rhythm] but with the Baroque style it’s often thought it should be [sings double dotted rhythm] so it sounds more clipped. So I have a lot of sleepless nights worrying about things like that… whether one does exactly what Stravinsky wrote! Some people play a mixed bag, some play it a little shorter and others just do it exactly how Stravinsky wrote it. So that’s something that I’ve not quite come to terms with yet! (laughs) Do you get very ‘Baroque’ about it, or think ‘well no, it’s Stravinsky and it’s the Twentieth Century’? I don’t know.

Do you have a personal preference, musically? Is that what you go with in the end?

Sometimes I ask for a halfway house so it’s not so pedantic – particularly the Apollo’s Variation (‘Variation d’Apollon’) [sings melody at fig. 21]. If you just did [sings with dotted rhythm] it would sound rather boring, so I give it a little bit more flare by just slightly delaying and shortening the thirty-second note. If you see the steps that Balanchine does with it, it actually swings much better that way.

I think that’s where I am at this point.

Do the dancers have a preference?

I think dancers are just really happy if they get the tempo they want. They vary in their interests. Some are often very concerned with how it sounds, and they’ll tell you if they notice something a little different or if it gives them a little bit more energy. But they’re always concerned with tempo, and I understand that. Tempo is interesting in this piece, you read that Stravinsky was very concerned that Balanchine stuck to his metronome markings. However, Stravinsky conducted the first performance and I think Balanchine said he took it too fast. Stravinsky would not have been aware unless someone was able to play it back to him, and there was no recording. People love to listen to Stravinsky conduct his own music and in many ways it’s very special. But he wasn’t a conductor. He didn’t always have control over the orchestra.

Actually the tempi in Apollo and the tempi that tend to be taught to the dancers are pretty close. Maybe they like a little bit more time here and there, but generally they don’t move away from Stravinsky’s tempi that much.

Interestingly, for the very opening [‘Naissance d’Apollon’], in the score it says Largo quarter = 54. I like to take it at that speed but some conductors decide that that’s too slow and take it faster. I’ve never understood it. Maybe they feel it works for the rhythm but I like it at Stravinsky’s tempo. It’s fine for the ballet, there’s no problem. But anyway, we conductors are never consistent!

Well you’re a human. This is the thing.


I think Stravinsky realised when he conducted his own music that often what he was asking for was a little unrealistic. That was another reason why he updated The Rite of Spring: because he couldn’t conduct it.

That’s right.

He re-barred the ‘Danse Sacrale’ at the end because he couldn’t conduct it himself.

Well yes, Bernstein famously did that too.[8] We recently did a production of The Rite of Spring; Wayne McGregor choreographed it for us. It was, shall we say, controversial! We somehow persuaded the number counters to use the full version, which normally only opera houses in Europe can afford. It wasn’t the Boosey and Hawkes score but the one of the early versions with a lot of the mistakes corrected. Kalmus were the ones who printed it in America, and the librarian for the Philadelphia Orchestra went through the score with a fine tooth comb for a long time and corrected a huge number of mistakes. The Rite of Spring is notorious for the number of mistakes in the original score. The original barring is in that version. But it’s standard work for orchestras now and they have to play much more difficult pieces. Not that it’s easy, but it’s in most people’s brains these days.

OK back to Apollo I guess!

Sure! I noticed that in the ‘Variation de Calliope’, the section where she’s running on pointe at fig. 41 is often taken more slowly than it says the score.

Yes. What Stravinsky asks for is a little bit faster than what the dancers (at least these days) are taught. If you take just a little edge off you can actually maintain the tempo at fig. 41 (where it goes into 3/4 from 9/8). If you do that it’s almost exactly the same tempo; there’s a little rallantando at the end of the previous bar and then you just go into it. It really doesn’t change that much if you do that. That’s how I always get round it.

What about the superimposed metres (6/8 over 2/4) in the Coda at fig. 86?

Yes, where it seems to go completely off the rails! It’s a strange moment. There’s a very strict 3/4 rhythm going on in the cellos but it’s the violins that have this strange syncopation. It’s not so much the 6/8 bars – they’re easy. It’s the syncopation at the beginning [sings melody starting at fig.86 +2] that’s the most tricky. But if the cellos can be really solid and whack out their sforzandos so the violins hear, that it makes it much easier.

I see, so it’s more the shift that’s difficult rather than the music itself.

Yes, because it comes completely out of the blue. He doesn’t prepare it at all.

Yes, it’s a complete change in momentum, isn’t it?

Yes it is. It’s like the chariot lost a wheel! I always feel that it’s got a peg leg at that point – it’s such a weird moment. Later on there is that whole chariot depiction where the ladies seem to be the horses and Apollo’s geeing them along. It’s like the representation of the chariot. But it all comes back together for that divine, amazing Apotheosis.

Ah the Apotheosis. It’s out of this world, isn’t it?

It would be one of my Desert Island Discs. It moves me every time I do it.

Does it present any specific issues or challenges for you as the conductor?

Yes – I’ll tell you what’s difficult. The first few bars are fine, but when you get to this long section at fig. 97 (the sixth measure) it seems not to have any real tempo. It would be very easy to indulge here, but you want it to have this inevitable tread. It’s got to be the right tempo when you get to the return of the Birth of Apollo music (at fig. 99). It’s got to match the beginning. You just really need to feel that dotted rhythm before you even conduct that section.

Ah, so when you’re studying the score or rehearsing and setting the pace, do you work backwards from that point?

Yes, exactly. I totally work backwards.

I know what tempo I want for the march to Olympus or Parnassus, but I have to keep that in my head, because there’s a free feel to the opening bars. Once you get into the sixth measure you have to get a very, very clear idea of what tempo that is to make it work and connect into the end.

In the last six bars he elongates the B in the violins by a crotchet each time…

Yes, and at the end he sustains that.

Yes. Do you think that’s Stravinsky sort of manufacturing a rallantando? ‘You’re going to slow down like this. You’re not going to overdo it Mr. Conductor’.

(laughs) There shouldn’t be any rallantando whatsoever. He starts off as though it were the beginning again in a different key. But that’s right –when he gets to the last six measures he starts extending it. You could say the printed bar line isn’t there, the ‘real’ bar line is actually in different places. So yes, he extends it so it puts you slightly off if you’re not really concentrating – if you’re too bound up with the music you won’t give the right cue. All the way through those accents in the second violins and basses give it that walking pace, you can see why Balanchine has them walking towards the mountain and then up the stairs. It’s just inevitable. It feels to me is if it’s almost infinite, it could go on forever. I have hairs on the back of my neck just thinking about it.

I must say I love both endings. I think the final ‘butterfly’ position at the end of the later version is also inspired.

And of course you’ve seen that before – they do a very similar position in the ‘Pas d’action’. They do a similar fan shape [at fig. 35 +2], but they don’t go into that holding position.

I love the birth scene [‘Naissance d’Apollo’] and the way Apollo’s mother [Latona] gives birth. At the end of that quickening of the pace of the music (fig. 6), there’s just a little piano pizzicato (fig. 6 +3) and Apollo jumps out as though the birth was actually quite ordinary (laughs). Then you see him in his swaddling clothes, two female dancers unwrap him and suddenly he’s a man – there’s no in between. There’s a moment where he does a stamping movement (fig. 12 +5) after he’s come out of his swaddling clothes, which Jacques d’Ambroise describes as an image of him having a tantrum. Then there’s the scene change and the lights go down. The next thing you see he’s a god. A real god with a lyre.

There’s that wonderful Bachian violin solo at the beginning of ‘Variation d’Apollon’ (fig. 20). I always think it’s like one of the partitas.

Actually I was going to ask you about that. The solo violinist can’t see the dancer for that whole section. Do you have to be much of a go between or can you leave the soloist to their own devices?

What I try and do is hear how they envisage it first, because I want it to have a feel of improvisation (that is also built into the structure of the choreography). But I will step in if we have to linger a little bit longer here, or move it a little more there. It just helps to make the phrasing work a little better with the choreography. There’s one moment where Apollo shuffles back and then he’s strumming the lyre. After that he does this big movement/dramatic finish and there’s a short note in the violin [second system the sixteenth note on A after the trill]. I do give that cue – I’m not sure whether every conductor does that. My experience is that every dancer does it slightly differently, but it’s great if the music and movement actually connect at that point. Otherwise I don’t conduct it. I just give the violinist a sense of the shape of it and then allow them to play it. Once they’ve done it a few times I think they feel comfortable.

I’m interested in the Pas de Deux, there’s always a lot for the conductor to consider with those.

Yes. One of the most interesting things about this Pas de Deux is that it’s one of the most lyrical pieces he ever wrote. It’s so simple but just the most beautiful of melodies with these wonderful rhythmic flourishes.

Some people hear the influence of Debussy in that: Clair de la Lune.

Ah yes, I guess I can hear that – the very beginning of Clair de la Lune. He starts it with this suspended long note as though time is immaterial. I guess it also has that feel of the evening.

It’s so pure, he takes some interesting turns harmonically, but generally it’s pretty tonal.

Exactly. I mean, it’s not as static as The Rite of Spring

No, no.

He does move around more, doesn’t he?

Yes he does, but it all seems so logical. There is a theme half way through in the cellos (fig. 68) that is related to the first theme but above it the violins have these short notes. It’s still calm but it has these wonderful little sparks going on in the background. When you think he only has strings, it’s remarkable – all the different beautiful colours that he produces.

Are there any difficult moments with regards to being in sync with the dancers?

There’s a moment on the first page, at end of the second system (one measure before fig. 66). There’s a quarter note rest where it has a printed pause over the note, but no one does that. I don’t know why it’s there. It is actually four beats because you’re beating in semiquavers – it’s so slow. It’s Adagio (semiquaver = 84), so you even can’t beat it in quavers. Sometimes the dancers go into a position, first leaning towards their right and they come back to the left – she steps on the downbeat of fig. 66. You have to encourage them not to go too soon because there’s a moment of stillness here. Nothing really happens, choreographically, in that silence. They sometimes tend to anticipate. Hopefully in the rehearsals you can just make sure they feel every single beat in that bar so that we’re together for the beginning of fig. 66.

Rests are extraordinarily important. In the ‘Variation de Calliope’ Stravinsky actually puts a Boileau quote in French:

‘Que toujours dans vos vers le sans coupant les mots,

Suspende l’hemistiche et marque les repos’.

In other words – don’t rush it! Calliope is the muse of poetry and rhythm. Silence is incredibly important in this piece, he wants to make sure all the rests are fully given. The rests are just as important in the whole piece as everything else. It gives that sense of silence. With the little rhythmic cell at the beginning Stravinsky shifts the emphasis when it starts in the bar by a beat, or a beat and a half. The first time it’s on the upbeat, the second time (in the second full measure) it comes after the downbeat. That’s a common trick of his.

Another thing that I think is remarkable, compositionally, is the canon in the Pas d’action. I don’t know if anyone’s ever talked about that. At fig. 35 he has a melody that you’ve heard prior to that (at fig. 32). It starts in the violas and then two bars later the second violins have it. But on top of that he has the violins playing the same melody but in augmentation, and the second cellos playing it in diminution. If you look at the melodic structure you’ll see that it’s exactly the same [sings melody from fig. 32] and then in the second violins at fig. 35 +2 he doubles the lengths. In the second cellos it’s half the length and they’re in eighth notes [sings from fig. 35]. It’s the most amazing moment – it’s like suspended animation. There are all sorts of counterpoint going on in this piece too.

Wow. Is that a difficult part to conduct?

I always work on it because it’s about getting the balance right so that you hear everything, but nothing is too prominent either. It’s got to have just the right feeling of serenity. Balanchine loved this ‘Pas d’action’ because it was so serene and continuous ­– it seems to have no ending.

Every time I come back to Apollo I think about all these features again. I try and make it more telling; you’re always feeling that you could do better.

So you keep sinking into it more and more…


I’m sure you know that Stravinsky was notorious for his anti-interpretation preferences.[9] In fact he called Les Noces ‘conductor-proof’.


While critiquing various The Rite of Spring recordings, Stravinsky wrote ‘can anyone wonder why I later tried to write conductor-proof (even mechanical) music, as in Les Noces?’ (Stravinsky and Craft 1972:241). Of course, Apollo is a very different piece, but does he keep you on a tight rein in other ways?

Well, in a way I think it’s a really easy piece in terms of interpretation. He gives you exactly what it should be on the page. Even though there are occasionally things that you question (like the balance and dynamics) nearly every time you come to realise what he’s done seems right to you. I’ve heard his recordings of The Rite of Spring and I would not necessarily agree with everything he does. I actually think that is a little bit more open to interpretation than this piece.

Oh that’s interesting.

Sometimes I think people take The Rite of Spring too fast. That’s really where I argue. I’m always a little bit wary of metronome marks – you have to take each piece as it comes. But generally speaking I think Stravinsky lavished so much attention on Apollo, and wanted to get it absolutely right. He had this crystalline idea of it, and he shows it all on the page. I don’t think there’s very much you can do, or should do, that varies from the score.

Some of the recordings seem to be very rich and have bigger orchestras; I think sometimes they allow too much freedom in the vibrato and dynamics. Recordings can also be very misleading – the dynamics don’t necessarily represent what the conductor had in mind. Recording engineers have a lot to answer for, they do all sorts of things that I’m not always sure conductors are aware of. There are two ways of looking at Apollo: you can add a little bit more richness to the string sound (but you have to be very careful not to overdo it); or you can take a much leaner approach. In terms of the basic tempi, dynamics and articulation what he asks for is very clear and specific and I don’t think one should depart from that. I’m always trying to work with what I have in front of me (with this piece in particular). Naturally it’s always going to be a little bit different from someone else’s performance – it often depends on the players you have. But I think Stravinsky did actually get on the page exactly what he wanted to hear.

I see. That’s quite a different thing to the idea of Stravinsky being overly controlling. It’s like he knew best.

Yes certainly, I think he did. When you look at Firebird, it’s such a big piece and there are so many more things that are open to interpretation. Petrushka less so (Petrushka pretty much plays itself, I think). The Rite of Spring is also open to all sorts of issues. But in Apollo (and later on) he was so meticulous about what he put on the page that you can’t shift too far away from that.

I haven’t heard it put quite like that before: that it’s done so well that there’s actually no point in changing it.

No, it’s just a beautiful, pure, wonderful piece. Just by doing what he asks, as it is there on the page and you’ll get all the joy you need from it!

I thought I’d tell you about this very extreme example of conductor intervention I read about. Hans Kindler, conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, ‘was so bewildered by the [Apollo] score’s abrasive dissonances, Charles Rosen remarks, that he considered them “mistakes of the copyist, and replaced them with blander harmonies” when he conducted the premiere’ (Joseph 2002:81).

Oh my God. Oh my God! Well I have to say that I think the conductors did feel freer in those days. It’s interesting when I see performances of conductors like Solti – he doubles up all the wind. I always remember that. It was very fashionable to do that if there wasn’t enough woodwind oomph. Of course, it changes the sound completely. I think today conductors try to believe in what the composer came up with. Solti was amazing, but I think conductors in those days felt they could just do anything. 

So in that context you can understand what Stravinsky was doing.


It sounds more controlling from our standpoint but if that’s what conductors were actually like, you really can’t blame him.

Absolutely not. Mahler tried to make his scores conductor-proof but that didn’t work (laughs), even though he tried to put every tempo change, every rubato, every dynamic mark, every accent in there to try and avoid conductors going off on their own. It sometimes works, but I think the nature of this piece and the nature of Stravinsky’s writing is so pristine. It’s not overly abundant or full of directions.

No, it’s not ridiculous is it?

No. Stravinsky just gives you the information you need, and then you just deal with that!

Well, this has been fantastic, thank you. Even though I wrote a PhD on Stravinsky’s ballets so much of what we’ve been talking about is completely new information!

Well I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. Despite the fact that it’s only a thirty-minute ballet, you could go on talking about it for hours. It is nice to talk about a piece that you really feel so close to – in my world you don’t get to do that an awful lot.


Carr, M. Multiple Masks: neoclassicism in Stravinsky’s works on Greek subjects (University of Nebraska Press, USA 2002)

Fisher, B. In Balanchine’s Company (Wesleyan University Press 2006)

Joseph, C. Stravinsky and Balanchine: A Journey of Invention (Yale University Press, New Haven 2002)

Stravinsky, I. (1928) Apollon Musagete (Boosey & Hawkes Pocket Scores, New York, revised 1947 version)

Stravinsky, I. Themes and Conclusions (Faber and Faber, London 1972)

Stravinsky, I. Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons (Vintage Books, New York, 1960a)

Stravinsky, I. and Craft, R., Memories and Commentaries (Faber and Faber, London, 1960b)

Stravinsky, I. and Craft, R., Dialogues and a Diary (Faber and Faber, London, 1968)

Volkov, S. Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky (Faber and Faber, London 1993)

[1] The American Premiere of Apollon Musagetes (the original title) was in Washington, with choreography by Adolph Bolm, who also danced the lead role. But Stravinsky showed little interest in this version, reserving European rights for Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes.

[2] The venue to which Wilkins refers was the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, now known as the Théâtre de la Ville which seats approximately 1600 people.

[3] The Metropolitan Opera House has a capacity of 3,800.

[4] Balanchine also described it as ‘the turning point in my life’ (Fisher 2006:27).

[5] Diaghilev invited Balanchine to join Ballet Russes as a choreographer in 1924.

[6]Apollo is a tribute to the French Seventeenth-Century. I thought that Frenchmen might have taken the hint for this, if not my musical Alexandrines, at least from the décors, the chariot, the three horses, and the sun disc (the Coda) were the emblem of le roi soleil’ (Stravinsky and Craft 1968:34).

[7] See, for example, Carr (2002:101-2), which includes a table demonstrating Stravinsky’s use of the Alexandrine in the Variation de Calliope (p.101-105 for a discussion which includes case studies from ‘Naissance d’Apollon’ and ‘Variation d’Apollon’). See also Joseph (2002:98-109).

[8] See https://archives.nyphil.org/index.php/artifact/25be50f5-d600-400e-a893-9c902f410885-0.1/fullview#page/114/mode/2up for Bernstein’s annotated score at the New York Philharmonic Digital Archive. Please note that this rebarring differs from Stravinsky’s own revisions.

[9] See in particular Stravinsky, I. Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons (Vintage Books, New York, 1960a). Stravinsky abhorred the ‘plethora of conductors, who almost to a man, aspire to set up a dictatorship over music’ (Stravinsky 1960b:132).