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Home » Posts » “Suite Dreams of France” Program Notes – Sat, Mar 9, 2024

“Suite Dreams of France” Program Notes – Sat, Mar 9, 2024

On Saturday, March 9, 2024, Festival City Symphony will present “Suite Dreams of France,” a Saturday Classics concert featuring suites by French composers Emmanuel Chabrier and Darius Milhaud, as well as Igor Stravinsky’s Suite from The Firebird.  Enjoy program notes for all three pieces written by Milwaukee’s own Roger Ruggeri.

The concert begins at 2pm at the Bradley Symphony Center and will feature an on-stage “Meet the Musicians” presentation beginning at 1:30pm.  Admission is free!  Reserve your tickets online today.


Emmanuel Chabrier
b. January 18, 1841; Ambert
d. September 13, 1894; Paris

Suite Pastorale
Approximate Duration: 21 minutes

After a childhood filled with the study of piano and composition, Chabrier expressed a desire to become a musician, but ultimately deferred to his father’s wish that he become a lawyer. Gaining a law degree, Chabrier began a joyless legal career in 1862, working for the French Ministry of the Interior in Paris. Although he was a member of Parisian artistic circles, he continued in his bureaucratic occupation until a performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in1879 convinced him that he should devote his life entirely to composition.

In 1880—the same year that Chabrier resigned from the Ministry—he composed his Dix Pieces pittoresques for solo piano. Soon thereafter, he orchestrated Nos. 6, 7, 4 and 10 to form a work which he entitled Suite Pastorale.  Flute sonority dominates the Idylle, a movement whose classic tranquility foreshadows the early works of Maurice Ravel. The rustic vigor of Danse Villageoise is launched by clarinets and continues through contrasting sections. The woodland sketch, Sous Bois, is filled with pastoral murmurs. A brilliant and vivacious Scherzo-Valse completes this charming, yet too-rarely-heard, suite.

Darius Milhaud
b. September 4, 1892; Aix-en-Provence
d. June 22, 1974; Geneva

Suite Francaise, Op. 248
Approximate Duration: 20 minutes

One of the 20th-century’s most industrious composers, Milhaud had reached Opus 441 by the end of his life. His was an amazing musical mind; his students recall that he could create a fugue on any given subject in the time that it took to write down the notes. While this sort of facility can be a mixed blessing, it is nevertheless both truly remarkable and rarely encountered. Milhaud wrote so much music that it is still not thoroughly researched and available.

The Suite Francaise was written in 1944, while the composer was teaching at Mills College in Oakland, California. He furnishes the following information:

“The five parts of the Suite are named after French provinces, the very ones in which the American and Allied armies fought together with the French underground for the liberation of my country: Normandy, Brittany, Ile-de-France (of which Paris is the center), Alsace-Lorraine, and Provence.

“I used some folk tunes of these provinces. I wanted the young Americans to hear the popular melodies of those parts of France where their fathers and brothers fought to defend the country from the German invaders, who in less than seventy years have brought war, destruction, cruelty, torture, murder three times to the peaceful and democratic people of France.”

Igor Stravinsky
b. June 17, 1882; Oranienbaum
d. April 6, 1971; New York City

Suite from The Firebird (1919)
Approximate Duration: 23 minutes

Filled with a confidence born of several successful seasons in Paris with his Ballets Russes, the visionary Russian producer Serge Diaghilev gambled on his artistic convictions with a new ballet based upon the Russian legend of the Firebird. Dissatisfied with conventional methods of hiring a composer to provide music for an already established choreography, Diaghilev wanted his composer and choreographer to work closely together toward a more cohesive artistic product. Diaghilev and his choreographer, Fokine, took their plan to the respected older Russian composer, Anatol Liadov, who accepted, but was then unable to adhere to their timetable. In despair, Diaghilev offered the commission to a promising, but unknown student of Rimsky-Korsakov, the twenty-seven-year old Igor Stravinsky.

Excited by the potential of a Parisian premiere, Stravinsky set aside work on his opera, The Nightingale, and began upon his new score even before he had a definite commitment. Although Stravinsky was not really interested in writing the descriptive sort of music that was required, he rose to the occasion with a radiant score for large orchestra (in later life, he referred to it as “wastefully large”). Stravinsky retired to Rimsky-Korsakov’s dacha–about 70 miles southeast of St. Petersburg–in November of 1909 and ultimately dated the last measure 18 May 1910. Conducted by Gabriel Pierne, the production was unveiled at the Opera House in Paris on June 25, 1910. Rarely was Diaghilev more perceptive than, on the night of the dress rehearsal when he pointed out the ascetic young composer to his prima ballerina, Tamara Karsavina, and declared: “Mark him well…he is a man on the eve of celebrity.”

The ballet essentially recounts an age-old fairy tale formula of the broken spell, following the traditional Russian legend with only minor variations. The young Czarevich Ivan becomes separated from his hunting party and, wandering into an enchanted forest, comes upon the splendid scene of an iridescent Firebird eating golden fruit from a silver tree. Rudely interrupting this metallic repast, the Prince captures the Firebird. In response to the creature’s pleas, he releases it and is rewarded with a glowing feather. As daylight seeps into the forest, a forbidding castle becomes apparent. From his place of concealment, Ivan observes thirteen beautiful maidens who come from the castle to dance around the silver tree. He introduces himself and learns that he is on the castle grounds of the evil ogre Kastchei, who deals with trespassers by turning them into stone (he already has an extensive collection of petrified knights). Protected by the magic feather of the Firebird, Ivan confronts the denizens of the castle and the monstrous Kastchei. The Firebird appears and causes the ogre and his demonic court to do a frenzied dance and ultimately fall unconscious. Having secured their sleep with a lullaby, the Firebird leads the Czarevich to a buried egg that contains the soul of Kastchei. With the smashing of the egg, the castle and its inmates vanish. The petrified knights come to life; amid general rejoicing, Ivan marries the loveliest of the liberated maidens.

Stravinsky eventually made three concert suites from his celebrated ballet music (1911, 1919, and 1945); the present excerpts, sometimes called Suite No. 2, have remained the most popular of these.