Dramatic Vocalise Database

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)

Le rossignol (1908, 1913–14)

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) includes dramatic vocalization in act 1 of his opera Le Rossignol, a lyric tale in three acts to a libretto by Stepan Mitusov, based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The first act was begun shortly before the death of Rimsky-Korsakov in 1908; the second and third acts were composed in 1913–14.

Despite Richard Taruskin’s statement that “there is little in the exuberantly decorative score [of Le Rossignol] that cannot be associated with the idiom of such older Rimsky-Korsakov pupils as Anatoly Lyadov and especially Nikolay Tcherepnin,” the orchestral introduction bears the unmistakable imprint of Debussy, especially the opening measures of “Nuages” from his Nocturnes.1

Stravinsky, Le Rossignol, act 1, mm. 1–4 2

Debussy, Nocturnes, mvt. 1 “Nuages,” mm. 1–4 3

Regarding “Nuages,” Léon Vallas states:

Jeremy Noble echoes Vallas’s sentiments:

Despite Mussorgsky’s seeming influence on both Debussy and Stravinsky, the relationship between the examples in question is too close to explain away in such fashion. According to Stravinsky, “[Alexander] Siloti’s performances of the Debussy Nocturnes and of L’après-midi d’un faune were among the major events of my early years.” 6

Later in the introduction to act 1, Stravinsky, like Debussy before, includes an offstage chorus marked à bouche fermée portamento sempre, singing the interval of a descending tritone, immediately repeated three more times, each time a semi-tone lower.

Stravinsky, Le Rossignol, act 1, mm. 32–43 7

The premiere went to Sergey Diaghilev in a marvelously colorful production designed by Alexandre Benois and conducted by Pierre Monteux at the Paris Opera on 26 May 1914. This production was given a performance that same summer at Drury Lane Theatre in London. According to Alfred Kalisch:

Indeed, Stravinsky gives a score direction requiring the singer to be placed in the orchestra. The opening phrase of the nightingale begins with a wordless exclamation, however the singer then continues with actual text.

Stravinsky, Le Rossignol, act. 1, mm. 122–26 9

(Nauman 2009, 197–200)



Act I, Introduction

Act I, Introduction

Orchestra & Chorus of L’Opéra National de Paris
James Conlon, conductor

Act I, "The Nightingale"

Act I, “The Nightingale”

Orchestra & Chorus of L’Opéra National de Paris
James Conlon, conductor


1 Richard Taruskin, “Le Rossignol,” in Grove Music Online, ed. Laura Macy, http://www.grovemusic.com (accessed 5 July 2007).

2 Igor Stravinsky, Le Rossignol (London: Boosey & Hawkes, 1962), 1.

3 Claude Debussy, Nocturnes (New York: Dover, 1983), 32.

4 Léon Vallas, Claude Debussy: His Life and Works, trans. by Maire and Grace O’Brien (1933; repr., New York: Dover, 1973), 113.

5 Jeremy Noble, “Portrait of Debussy. I: Debussy and Stravinsky,” Musical Times 108 (1967): 22.

6 Ibid.

7 Igor Stravinsky, Le Rossignol, 3–4.

8 Alfred Kalisch, “The Beecham Opera Season,” Musical Times 55 (1914): 470.

9 Igor Stravinsky, Le Rossignol, 21.