Circus Polka (1942)
This is one of the works written soon after Stravinsky’s arrival in the United States. Composed in 1942 for the Ringling Brothers Circus at the request of choreographer George Balanchine, the polka was to accompany a ballet of elephants and was so first performed in an unspecified instrumentation for circus band.
The piece is brief, light, and charming, but at the same time, full of the kind of harmonic language (simple chord progressions with “one note too many” added) which gives it a piquancy identifying it unmistakably with its composer. During the simple polka tune in the woodwinds, horns, and cornets, the trombones and tubas occasionally interject a few notes. At the beginning, and every so often thereafter, an inexplicable rhythmic dislocation occurs, from which, somehow, the regular 2/4 meter flow emerges. The difficulty of the writing and the need to make the piece sound lyrical and effortless combine to maintain the flavor of this unique mixture of the graceful and the grotesque; the dancing of elephants.
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