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Agon (1957) is a neoclassical ballet for twelve dancers, with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by George Balanchine. Stravinsky began its composition in December 1953 but was interrupted the next year; resumed work in 1956 and concluded on April 27, 1957. The music was first performed on June 17, 1957, in Los Angeles conducted by Robert Craft, while the first stage performance was given by the New York City Ballet on December 1, 1957, at the City Center of Music and Drama, New York (White 1979, 490). The composition's long gestation period covers an interesting juncture in Stravinsky's composing career, in which he moved from a diatonic musical idiom to one based on twelve-tone technique; the music of the ballet thus demonstrates a unique symbiosis of musical idioms. The ballet has no story, but consists of a series of dance movements in which various groups of dancers interact in pairs, trios, quartets, etc. A number of the movements are based on 17th-century French court dances – saraband, galliard and bransle. It was danced as part of City Ballet's 1982 Stravinsky Centennial Celebration.

ChoreographerGeorge Balanchine
MusicIgor Stravinsky
PremiereDecember 1, 1957
City Center of Music and Drama, New York
Original ballet companyNew York City Ballet
GenreNeoclassical ballet
TypeClassical ballet


Stravinsky laid out the ballet in a duodecimal form, with four large sections each consisting of three dances. A Prelude and two Interludes occur between the large sections, but this does not fundamentally affect the twelve-part design because their function is caesural and compensatory (White 1979, 490–91):

  • I.
  1. Pas-de-quatre (4 male dancers)
  2. Double pas-de-quatre (8 female dancers)
  3. Triple pas-de-quatre (4 male + 8 female dancers)
  • Prelude
  • II. (First pas-de-trois: 1 male, 2 female dancers)
  1. Sarabande-step (1 male dancer)
  2. Gaillarde (2 female dancers)
  3. Coda (1 male, 2 female dancers)
  • Interlude
  • III. (Second pas-de-trois: 2 male, 1 female dancers)
  1. Bransle simple (2 male dancers)
  2. Bransle gay (1 female dancer)
  3. Bransle double (2 male, 1 female dancers)
  • Interlude
  • IV.
  1. Pas-de-deux (1 male, 1 female dancer)
  2. Four Duos (4 male, 4 female dancers)
  3. Four Trios (4 male, 8 female dancers)


Agon is scored for a large orchestra consisting of piccolo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), harp, piano, mandolin, timpani, tom-tom, xylophone, castanets, and strings. At no point does the entire orchestra play a tutti. Each section is scored for a different combination of instruments.


This was not the first composition in which Stravinsky employed serial techniques, but it was the first in which he used a twelve-tone row, introduced in the second coda, at bar 185. Earlier in the work, Stravinsky had employed a seventeen-tone row, in bars 104–107, and evidence from the sketches suggests a close relationship between these two rows (Smyth 1999, 121, 126–27). The Bransle Double is based on a different twelve-tone series, the hexachords of which are treated independently (Straus 2001, 143–45). Those hexachords first appear separately in the Bransle Simple (for two male dancers) and Bransle Gay (for solo female dancer), and are then combined to form a twelve-tone row in the Bransle Double. These three dances together constitute the second pas-de-trois (Smyth 1999, 133).



When Agon was performed in Italy in 1965 (Anon. n.d.), Stravinsky was particularly pleased with the performance of mandolinist Giuseppe Anedda:

Ma, a consacrare il maestro Anedda come il più grande mandolinista del mondo fu a Roma nell’Aprile del 1965 con l’Orchestra Sinfonica della Rai in occasione del nuovo balletto di Igor Stravinskj. L’orchestra presentava diverse parti di mandolino solista. Dopo l’esecuzione di Giuseppe Anedda, in platea si sentì un “Bravo Mandolino!”: era il maestro Stravinskj che lo raggiunse per congratularsi e stringergli la mano. La “Stampa Sera ” di Torino diede gran risalto a quest’episodio.

(translation: But, what confirms maestro Anedda as the greatest mandolin player in the world, was the occasion in Rome of the performance of a new ballet by Igor Stravinsky in April 1965 with the RAI Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra includes several passages with mandolin solos. After the performance by Giuseppe Anedda, a "Bravo Mandolino!" was heard in the audience. It was maestro Stravinsky who came up him to congratulate him and shake his hand. The Stampa Sera of Turin gave great prominence to this episode.) (Porceddu 2014)


  • Anon. n.d. "Giuseppe Anedda Cagliari 1/3/1912– Cagliari 30/7/1997". (accessed 27 September 2015).
  • Porceddu, Ennio. 2014. "Giuseppe Anedda, Il virtuoso del mandolino". Ennio Loy Blog (accessed 27 September 2015).
  • Smyth, David. 1999. "Stravinsky's Second Crisis: Reading the Early Serial Sketches". Perspectives of New Music 37, no. 2 (Summer): 117–46.
  • Straus, Joseph N. 2001. Stravinsky's Late Music. Cambridge Studies in Music Theory and Analysis. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80220-2 (cloth); ISBN 0-521-60288-2 (pbk).
  • White, Eric Walter. 1979. Stravinsky: The Composer and His Works, second edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03985-8 (pbk).

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