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Composers Datebook: "Pulcinella"

Given our recent concert with Pulcinella, today's Composers Datebook seemed appropriate.

Stravinsky and Rochberg start trends

Today we celebrate two premieres and one three-letter prefix: "neo," meaning "new."

On today's date in 1920, Igor Stravinsky's ballet "Pulcinella" was produced for the first time in Paris by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Stravinsky incorporated into the score some instrumental pieces attributed to the 18th century Italian composer Perlogesi. For the next 30 years, Stravinsky turned again and again to 18th-century forms and styles for inspiration, and creating a style that was soon dubbed: "neo-classical."

Fifty-two years after "Pulcinella," a "neo-romantic" movement of sorts was born when, on May 15, 1972, at New York's Alice Tully Hall, the Concord Quartet gave the premiere performance of the String Quartet No. 3 written by American composer, George Rochberg.

Rochberg's new quartet took the critics by surprise. While his previous two quartets had been written in an aggressively atonal style, his new quartet contained melodies that might have come from a late Beethoven string quartet, or a lost work by Mahler.

In a kind of manifesto, Rochberg explained his use of Romantic styles: "We bear the past in us. We do not, cannot, begin all over again in each generation. I came to realize that the music of the old masters was a living presence; that its spiritual values had not been displaced or destroyed by the new music. The shock wave of the enlargement of vision was to alter my whole attitude towards what was musically possible today."

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