Pulcinella Suite – Revision Notes

The Pulcinella suite is a collection of eight orchestral excerpts from Stravinsky’s ballet of the same name. The three movements on the A Level syllabus are movements 1 (Sinfonia), 6 (Gavotta) and 7 (Vivo). The movements are written in a neo-Classical style, and are consequently relatively short, which suits the rapidly changing scenes of a ballet.

Each of the three movements is based on a Baroque piece, which has been modernised by Stravinsky. The Sinfonia uses a trio sonata by Gallo, the Gavotta a keyboard piece by Monza, and the Vivo a cello sonata by Pergolesi.


The Sinfonia is in rounded binary form, with no repeats. Section A (bars 1-15) introduces the main theme, which is followed by a sequential transition and a cadence section. In section B (bars 16-32), the first theme returns in the dominant, and is followed by a modulating sequence, which leads into a new theme played by the solo cello. The reprise of the A section has a ‘surprise’ beginning in bar 33, and here the main theme is reduced to four bars, followed by a descending sequence and four bars of cadence phrases in the tonic.

The theme of the Gavotta is in binary form, and has two ten bar sections. The material of the first 10 bar phrase is not used in the second, although both phrases are repeated. There are also two variations on the theme – variation 1 also has two 10 bar phrases (of which the first is repeated), but variation 2 ‘compresses’ two bars into one, so the first half lasts for five bars. The second half of variation 2 is repeated, beginning halfway through bar 80, and the two phrases of this variation overlap in bar 82.

The Vivo is also in rounded binary form. Section A modulates to the dominant two bars before the double bar (secondary dominant progression), but section B begins unexpectedly in the tonic, before resuming in the dominant at bar 25. This is followed by a modulating sequence which returns the movement to the tonic. After this, there is a brief ‘mock-mournful’ theme in bar 46, and then a comic cadence phrase to end the movement.


The main texture of all three movements is melody dominated homophony.

In the Sinfonia, there is a clear contrast between the grand tutti sections and the more subdued solos, and Stravinsky often switches rapidly between the two. There is also treble dominated homophony in the opening, and some polyphony (such as bar 7) and three part texture (bars 29-30). At the very beginning, the violin and viola in the solo quintet double in octaves, and from bar 12, the violins are in thirds (a feature of Gallo’s original trio sonata).

The complexity of the parts in the first phrase of the Gavotta means that it is closer to a four-part texture. There is also some use of homorhythm (bar 23) and broken chord accompaniments, such as the variation on the Alberti bass played by the bassoon from bar 50.

Doubling is also used in the Vivo – the trombone and double bass are often in octaves. The phrase beginning in bar 38 uses heterophony, as the flutes play a decorated version of the double bass melody, three octaves higher.

Harmony and Tonality

The tonic key of the Sinfonia is G major, although it modulates to D major in bar 4. A modulating sequence in bars 21-23 takes the piece through G major, A major and B minor, before ending the movement in the tonic. At many points, the tonality is complicated by added note dissonances, such as the A in the G major chord in bar 3. This technique is also used to destabilise some perfect cadences (such as the G in the V7 chord in bar 2, which clashes with the F#), though others (such as the cadence in bar 15) are unaltered. There is also a circle of fifths in bars 7-9.

The Gavotta is in D major, and does not modulate. The oboe and bassoon play notes from the tonic and subdominant chords in the first half of variation 1, which helps in establishing the key. Added note dissonances are also used here, with a G added to the tonic chord in bar 44, clashing with the F#. This movement also includes retardations (suspensions which resolve upwards), such as in bar 2, and 7th chords, including the G7 in bar 7.

The Vivo is in F major, and this tonality is established by the use of bare harmonies in the opening – the accompanying instruments play the root notes of chords in unison or octaves, while the solo melodies fill in the rest of the chord. The final perfect cadence is also altered – the only note from the dominant chord (C major) which appears in the cadence is G, while the combination of other notes mean that the chord progression is essentially III-I.


Stravinsky uses a 32 piece chamber orchestra, which does not include clarinets. Unlike some of the Baroque originals, this piece does not use a continuo.

In the Sinfonia, a solo string quintet is used, which doubles the other strings during tutti sections (this serves the role of the concertino group seen in a Baroque concerto grosso, with the rest of the orchestra forming the ripieno). There are also solo wind passages, both with strings (bars 7-9) and without (33-34). The bassline is sometimes excluded altogether, as can be seen in bars 29-30. A number of string techniques are used, such as double and triple stopping in the violins (bars 1-4) and consecutive down bows (bars 17-18). The cello sometimes uses a high tessitura, reaching a top A in bar 6. This movement does not use flutes, trumpets or trombones.

The Gavotta uses the same wind section as the Sinfonia, but with the addition of two flutes. There is some use of solo instruments, in particular the oboe, and many of the parts are technically demanding (the bassoon part is somewhat virtuosic – for example, it uses glissandi in bars 15-17), particularly for the first flute and bassoon in variation 2. Some of the timbres used are unusual, such as the combination of the oboe, horn, trumpet and trombone in variation 1.

Unlike the other two movements, the Vivo makes use of the full orchestra. The two brief tuttis are relatively surprising, particularly when combined with the loud dynamic. The movement uses unusual solo instruments – a trombone and a double bass – which create an almost circus-like feel. Like the Sinfonia, there is a variety of string techniques, such as the ‘du talon’ (using the heel of the bow) marking at bar 12. The double bass part is sometimes unusually high, for example in bars 24-25.

Rhythm and Metre

The Sinfonia is in 4/4, but an extra beat in bar 11 results in a brief switch to 2/4, and then 3/4. Stravinsky also adds rests which were not present in Gallo’s original, for example in the oboe part in bars 7-8. Dotted rhythms (for example, bars 7-9) and syncopation (bar 1) are also important.

The theme of the Gavotta is in 2/2, while variation 1 is in 6/8 and variation 2 is in 4/4. There are a number of unusual note groupings (particularly in variation 2), such as the group of 12 in bar 78. These resemble ornaments which 18th century performers might have used, but would not have been written out by composers.

The Vivo is in 2/4 throughout. The use of staccatissimo (bar 46) adds to the circus-like mood, while the dramatic pause before the final chords (bar 65) gives a comic feeling. There are also demisemiquavers in the double bass (unusual for a lower string instrument), such as in bar 50.


The melodies of all three movements are relatively close to the originals, but with some development.

In the Sinfonia, melodic features include motivic repetition (for example, bars 10-11), some balanced phrasing (bars 1-4), sequences (bars 7 and 21-23), repeated notes (bar 5), and conjunct melodies followed by leaps (such as in the first bar). There are also exaggerated ornaments, such as the trills in bars 7-9, and gruppetti (repeated grace notes) in bar 5.

The Gavotta also uses written out ornaments (for example, bar 1), which become more complex in variation 2. Quintuplet turns are frequent (such as in bar 65). There are also rapid scalic passages (bar 73), while broken chords are outlined in variation 1 (bars 43-45).

Much of the melody of the Vivo is made up of motifs which use two shorter notes followed by a longer one. There are brief scalic passages (such as bars 20-21), sequences (there is a descending sequence in the brass in bars 6-13) and melodic decoration in the flutes in bars 38-45.


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