In later years, when reminiscing about his student days in Russia, Igor Stravinsky would recall the piece he wrote for the memorial concert after his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, died in 1908. But he had to search his memory for details, because the written music hadn't survived. The score had been lost in some later chaos, and as for the orchestral parts from the first performance, he said they were probably still at the conservatory in St. Petersburg where Rimsky had taught ... buried ... somewhere.
Four years ago - over 40 years after Stravinsky's death - the conservatory finally cleaned out all its archives, closets, and stashes of old music manuscripts - and found a box with the parts for Stravinsky's Rimsky elegy.
Unknown Stravinsky! It made a flurry of interest, was performed the next year, started making its way elsewhere, and on Saturday arrived in my neighborhood, so I got to review it.
As I noted in the review, you can't learn much about the eruption of Stravinsky's genius in 1910-13 from his earlier, student works. I spent some time before the concert listening to all the eo-Stravinsky I could get - most of it I'd heard before, but I could use the reminder - to confirm this and get my ears settled. He's obviously a talented young composer, and the music all sounds like The Firebird - which in turn sounds rather like Rimsky's more exotic later scores - but it's kind of stiff and pedestrian (especially that full academic symphony, a sorry sight): it doesn't have that touch of genius that makes The Firebird and The Rite of Spring great. So where did that suddenly come from? Most great composers you can hear getting better and better as they learn their craft. Not Stravinsky; he was born like Athena.
Still, it was interesting hearing the elegy. It has promise, and it has some interesting things that sometimes point in directions Stravinsky wasn't to follow - that weird sequence of shimmering chords near the end doesn't sound like typical Stravinsky; as Alex Ross suggests, it's more like some spooky moment from Wagner. Very interesting.