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Stravinsky's The Firebird: Background information when reading They're Going to Love You

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They're Going to Love You

A Novel

by Meg Howrey

They're Going to Love You by Meg Howrey X
They're Going to Love You by Meg Howrey
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2022, 288 pages

    Sep 2023, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Stravinsky's The Firebird

This article relates to They're Going to Love You

Print Review

Black and white picture of ballerina in costume from The Firebird in 1936-1937The protagonist in Meg Howrey's novel, They're Going to Love You, is a choreographer, hired to create a new adaptation of Igor Stravinsky's renowned ballet, The Firebird. First staged in Paris in 1910, it is often credited as the show that catapulted the composer to international fame.

The ballet's story is based primarily on the creature of the same name from Russian folklore, incorporating characters and plot elements from several traditional fairy tales, and often thought to take inspiration from Yakov Polonsky's popular 1844 children's poem, Winter Journey. We follow Prince Ivan, who spares the life of the eponymous Firebird while hunting in the forest. In exchange for his mercy, the bird gifts the prince one of her enchanted feathers. Later, he is able to use this feather to summon the Firebird during a battle with the evil sorcerer, Koschei (also known as Kaschei). With the help of the Firebird's magic, Ivan is able to defeat Koschei, freeing a group of 13 princesses from enchantment, one of whom Ivan has fallen in love with.

Eager to capitalize on Parisians' growing interest in Russian culture, Sergei Diaghilev commissioned the ballet for his Paris-based company Ballet Russes. Michel Fokine choreographed, and Stravinsky was brought on board after a string of prominent Russian composers turned down the project or quit. Then aged 27 and relatively unknown, Stravinsky worked closely with Fokine during the formation of the ballet, ensuring the movement and sound were heavily intertwined.

When it opened to the public, the show received widespread acclaim and quickly catapulted its composer to worldwide recognition. But his music wasn't without controversy. Just a month before the show's debut, upon hearing Stravinsky's score for the first time, the principal ballerina refused to perform the title role and had to be replaced, so strong was her hatred for the music. Some reviewers were also perturbed by Stravinsky's then-uncommon use of discordance (deliberately jarring, non-harmonious music) to underscore the movements of the villainous and supernatural characters. Ironically, this sophisticated yet divisive technique seems to have since contributed to the ballet's staying power. Indeed, it is still performed in various forms around the world. With the once contentious score becoming perhaps the work's greatest legacy, the music also endures as a standalone orchestral suite, popular among professional musicians for its thematic complexity and unconventional beauty.

Below, you can watch the Royal Danish Ballet perform The Firebird.

Ballerina Valentina Blinova in The Firebird circa 1936, courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

Filed under Music and the Arts

This "beyond the book article" relates to They're Going to Love You. It originally ran in November 2022 and has been updated for the September 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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