Stravinsky – Oedipus rex


The life and times of Stravinsky are usually divided in three periods. The composer started his compositions inspired by Russian stories and motifs in his Russian period. In 1920 he started what was to be the longest: his neo-classical period. Oedipus Rex is a prime early example of that. For some critics this style can be characterised by a certain detachment, and it seems Oedipus rex is void of all emotion.

Stravinsky used latin to create and enhance this effect. Latin might not be a dead language, but it certainly is turned to stone. Language and music like architecture. It premiered in the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt in Paris in 1927. The American premiere was a year later in Boston, by the Harvard Glee Club. I wouldn’t normally mention that, but this recording was done by exactly that ensemble, 45 years later.

A Glee club is a strictly Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. The first glee club we know by that name was from London, England. These were formed around the second half of the eighteenth century as a singing club for so called glee songs. They died out in favour of larger ensembles around 1850, but the name crossed the big pond to appear in America. The Harvard Glee Club is the oldest still in existence. They are usually connected to university colleges.

Leonard Bernstein is conducting this performance. He was a member of the Harvard Glee Club, and used the ensemble in his television show The unanswered question. A show that featured the Stravinsky opera quite extensively.

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