Igor Stravinsky: Le Renard (1922)

Opera in one act. Running Time: 16 minutes.


Photo from Au fil du temps a WordPress blog of French modern poetry. 

SETTING: A farmyard. A Fox dresses up as a nun and traps a Cock twice only for him to escape with the help of a Ram and a Cat who then kill the Fox and dance for joy at their liberation.




0: The prelude (a march) is rather cute **.

1: It is followed by a vaguely Chinese-y trio * for the Cock, the Ram, and the Cat. Much of what follows, in which the Fox traps the Cock for the first time while dressed as a nun, is set to a syncopated rhythm *.

7: Eventually the Chinese-y tune returns and Cat and the Ram “ooh-ohh” very well **.

10: The Fox captures the Cock again and tries to pull out his feathers while he is still alive **.

12: The Cat and the Ram return and kill the Fox **.

14: The Cat, Ram, and Cock dance and sing for joy ** and the actors depart to a return of the march from the start of the work.


I actually rather liked this, but it really isn’t for universal tastes. Stravinsky was engaging in a kind of innovation here, and it probably doesn’t come off well for most people. The first is his usage, or rather incorporation, of syncopation (borrowed from Russian folk music), which for lovers of diatonic music is basically anathema, I know because the music I write often times uses syncopation, and no one listens to my compositions except me. The second is that the vocal lines are not polyphonic, they are heterophonic and can come off as weird to someone expecting traditional sounding music. It is a strikingly modernist and minimalist work, and has to be appreciated at that level. If you try to compare it to Gounod it would just sound like music from Mars. An alpha for those who like it, something much less for those who probably don’t get it.

29 responses to “Igor Stravinsky: Le Renard (1922)”

  1. I think, fox-wise, I’ll stick to Janacek!


    1. Janacek is a composer I need to review at some point!


      1. I’m going to bite the bullet, and watch Traviata / Madam Butterfly. They’re popular works. On the down side, they’re girl-meets-boy-and-snuffs-it stories; and they’re by Verdi and Puccini. Ah, well, alcohol will get me through.


      2. I avoid Reddit and other such social media on principle.


  2. Couldn’t take the mess of Messiaen? I think you will like Traviata, at least musically, it has a lot of great and memorable tunes and the characters are believable. Butterfly does have its slow-ups, and a meaningless eight minute intermezzo, but also some good bits as well.

    Sometimes you have to embrace the soapy “feminine” side of ones personality. Life isn’t an Errol Flynn movie my dear Australian.


    1. Halfway through Traviata (1981 Met: Levine, Domingo, Cotrubas), and VERY bored. The Violetta/Germont duet draaaaaaaaaaaaags; some nice tunes, but the music is generally banal; and the plot is trite. Apparently this is the most popular opera in the world. They must be mad.


      1. And, no, this isnt #100. That still goes ahead as planned.


  3. If I want a Dumas, I’ll take D. père. And if I want an opera from 1840s/1850s Paris, I’ll take Berlioz, Gounod, Offenbach, Meyerbeer, Halévy, or Auber.

    No wonder most people hate opera if they think it’s Traviata, Puccini, and the Ring.


  4. And then there are some people who love opera because they think it’s Traviata, Puccini, and/or the Ring. You really seem to be miserable with anything that isn’t immediately French, even your favourite Tchaikovsky is Maid of Orleans, which is basically a Grand Opera in Russian. I’m not here to force you to change you opinions on which sub genres you prefer.


    1. Ventre-saint-gris, mon brave, you are right! I am a 19th century Frenchman reincarnated in the late 20th century – and a proud French chauvinist to boot. I find little merit in anything that is not French. Fortunately, as an opera lover, France has produced all the worthwhile operas:

      les Noces de Figaro, Don Juan, Ainsi font-elles toutes;
      le Franc-tireur;
      L’italienne à Alger, Cendrillon, Le barbier de Séville, La Pie voleuse, Moïse en Égypte, Richard et Zoraïde, Hermione, Armide, La Dame du lac, Mahomet II, Mathilde de Shabran, Zelmire, Sémiramis;
      Anne Boleyn, L’Élixir d’amour, Lucrèce Borgia, Marie Stuart, Robert Devereux;
      Les putains;
      Tzar et charpentier;
      Les Joyeuses Commères de Windsor;
      Le Vaisseau fantôme, Tannhauser, Lohengrin, Les Maîtres chantageurs de Nantes;
      Le Duc s’amuse, Un bal masqué, Aïda, Othello;
      Le triptyque, Turandot;
      Boris Godounov;
      Le Prince Igor;
      La Demoiselle des neiges, Sadko, La Fiancée du tsar, Kachtcheï l’immortel, La Légende de la ville invisible de Kitège et de la demoiselle Fevronia;
      Salomé, Électre, Le Chevalier à la rose, Ariane à Naxos, La Femme silancieuse, Jour de paix, Daphné;
      Le singe d’une nuit d’été (B. Bréton)


      1. A 19th century Frenchman reincarnated as a 21st century Australian. Why is that NOT shocking?

        If there is anything to reincarnation I was probably a poncy 19th century Englishman who had an Italian opera fetish, loved Meyerbeer so much that he probably met him, and sneered during performances of Lohengrin. 🙂


      2. Henry Chorley?


      3. Good heavens that might explain my disgust of Gounod!


  5. I really don’t have a favourite opera or composer. There are operas I like and operas I don’t like, but it really doesn’t correspond to a specific composer. There are even operas that I find low quality which I nevertheless find myself going back to, somethings are just so bad they are good.


    1. Ah, like Verdi.


      1. No, Verdi isn’t my favourite, although in the Verdi-Wagner dispute I am a devout Verdian on ideological principle, that might be where the confusion lies. I defend Verdi from jerks who think he is frivolous fluff (usually devotees of Bayreuth) but I’m not overtly in love with Verdi or listening to his music all the time. He wrote at least two or three operas that I actually wish had never been written (I Lombardi, Giovanna d’Arco, I Masnadieri, probably also Les vepres sicilliennes). Granted he also wrote the death scene in Otello which I think is the single greatest moment in music.

        I do love Traviata (it was my father’s favourite opera, although I hold many more operas in higher esteem). It’s place as most performed opera is justified because it was ahead of its time and speaks to people today. The characters are far more human than anything Wagner dreamed up. My dad used to say that the first act encompassed everything in a single half-hour of music: life, frivolity, love, God, mortality. The second act duet is long (20 minutes) but it would be odd for Violetta to give up Alfredo after just five or even ten minutes. The rest of the opera moves at an almost breakneck speed (some recordings are under 2 hours, anything under 2 hours is short for an opera IMO). It is a tragic bourgeois love story, based on a real life love affair of Alexandre Dumas, fils. Sure Errol Flynn never starred in it but even Flynn did sappy romantic stuff like Escape Me Never and Another Dawn. I’ve seen almost every Errol Flynn movie (that is what I did with my childhood, and occasionally when I have nothing else to do, I get out the old VHS tapes). Ah nostalgia! Meanwhile I have another opera to review and you have your Messiaen to mess with.


      2. But I Lombardi, Giovanna d’Arco, I masnadieri, and Les vêpres siciliennes are some of Verdi’s best works!

        OK, not quite – but better than the likes of Il corsaro or Attila.

        I Lombardi is really a shaggy dog story – characters keep appearing and disappearing, the plot moves all over the place, and Verdi and his librettists seem to be making it up as they go. I do like the chorus in the first act, though.

        Giovanna has a couple of great tunes – maybe not great, “memorable” might be better. I like the sword aria, and the duet before the big cathedral scene. The overture’s lots of fun, too, in its bombastic way. The chorus of demons, though, is far too jolly; the opera seems slight on CD – and dull on DVD. Not a patch on Charles VI.

        Masnadieri didn’t seem at all bad, actually! For me, on a par with Ernani and Trovatore: really stupid plot, good music.

        And Les vêpres siciliennes is definitely in the top half of Verdi operas! Some terrific ensembles; more attention to instrumentation and rhythm; less banality – he’s writing for Paris, and has heard Meyerbeer!

        (Good Lord – *I’m* defending Verdi from *you*!)

        Traviata – The old “people you can identify with” defence?

        I remember Traviata being better, actually. I watched the Zeffirelli film a dozen years ago. The problem could be the production (stodgy early 1980s Met – their Tosca and Trovatore were also soporific) and the cast (Cornell MacNeil is woolly and wooden).


      3. Ironically I like Attila and I love Il Corsaro!

        Actually those are the only four Verdi operas I really don’t like, and it proves my point that I’m not some sort of uncritical Verdi doormat.

        My least favourite Verdi is I Masnadieri, the thing is irredeemable to me.

        Meanwhile what did you think of La jolie fille?


      4. Not an opera I know at all, so can’t discuss it! I like that you name the piece you’re talking about!


      5. I’ve also just heard one of the most purely beautiful songs. I’d share it with you – but it’ll have to wait until the 100th.


      6. Good lord, it is by Messiaen? I stand in terror.


      7. Messiaen wrote some wonderful things, like the Turangalîla, and the Quatuor pour la fin du temps.

        Getting psyched for the 100th.


      8. I live in abject terror.


      9. I also really like his Quatuor pour les fins des temps, about the deaths of four contract workers, and its hymn to the joys of permanent work.


      10. You would probably be able to answer this, is there a DVD of Les Huguenots? I know the Sutherland is on DVD, but is there a complete close to 4-hour long DVD of Les Huguenots?


      11. No, only the Sydney DVD. The 2018 Paris one isn’t out yet.


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