Stravinsky: Suite Italienne

Although the first violin transcription of this piece (1925) preceded the cello version (1932) by several years, both the violin and cello versions are based on original material from Stravinsky’s ballet “Pulcinella” (1920), written for small orchestra and for which Stravinsky adapted themes from the music of Pergolesi. The cellist Gregor Piatagorsky collaborated with Stravinsky in the transcription for cello, whereas it was with the violinist Samuel Dushkin that Stravinsky elaborated the final version for violin (in 1932, the same year as the cello version). Both transcriptions are in the same original keys.

A comparison of the two versions (violin and cello) is not at all favorable to the cello version, for the following reasons (in no particular order):

  • the literal transcription of many difficult doublestopped passages from the violin version not only make this piece much harder than necessary but also make it sound muddy (and usually out-of-tune)
  • due to the conservation of the violin key, many of the passages lie in the very high fingerboard region. This, combined with the literal transcription of many (if not all) of the violin’s complex doublestops, requires an extraordinary virtuosity that is not in keeping with the delightful and simple nature of the music
  • two very attractive movements found in the violin version (Gavotte and Scherzino) are left out of the cello version
  • a lot of lyrical melodic material is given to the piano, while the cello is relegated to accompaniment figures (often pizzicato) that are, in fact, much more suited to the  piano

In fact, with all due respect to both Stravinsky and Piatagorsky, this is not a very successful transcription for the average cellist. The violin version is soooo much better! Listening to the violin version while watching the cello score might perhaps confirm for you this seemingly radical judgement. With its rapid scales in fifths and thirds, four-finger violinistic contortions often in thumb position and other assorted technical obstacles, there are so many difficult (or impossible) passages in the cello version that what is a delightful piece for violinists becomes a cellist’s nightmare.

But not only is the violin version better than the cello version, the original orchestral version is much better than the violin version! Both the violin and cello versions were made as virtuoso showpieces for their respective transcribers, like so many of the transcriptions of their epoch. This means that they are not really suited to your average instrumentalist who just wants to play them for fun. It is for these reasons, we are making a new “user-friendly” version of this piece, based on both the violin and cello versions as well as on the original orchestral suite. This means that some movements of the suite (those that are shared with the violin version) are actually fifth generation creations, in the sense that the cellofun version is based on the contribution of four preceding musicians: Pergolesi, Stravinsky, Dushkin and Piatagorsky! Perhaps the most interesting solution would be to make two “Pulcinella Ballet Suite” transcriptions, one based on Stravinsky’s versions, and the other based uniquely on Pergolesi’s original compositions, avoiding all the “middle-men”.

The “cellofun version” of Stravinsky’s work is, rather than a retranscription of the violin version, more like a reworking of the original ballet score, done with the help of the Dushkin and Piatagorsky arrangements. It is a “light” version only in the sense that it is eviscerated of the worst of their doublestops, in order to make its playing a pleasure for “normal” cellists. In this cellofun arrangement the suite becomes longer than both the original violin or cello versions because the original “Gavotte” and “Scherzino” movements for violin are now included, as well as maintaining the “Aria” and “Largo” movements that are not present in the violin version. Each movement is however published separately so we can “mix-and-match” at will. The different movements are presented here in the order in which they appear in the original orchestral ballet suite. The piano accompaniment parts will need to be from the violin version, except of course for the Aria and Largo that are not present in that version. The piano accompaniment parts are also presented here for those movements where the piano part has needed to be modified, usually to include the double-stopped notes that we have removed from the cello part, but also sometimes to revert to the original Pulcinella articulations, notes or voicings.

There are a huge number of slur and articulation differences between the orchestral and cello/violin versions, perhaps because so many of the melodic themes are played by wind instruments in the original ballet music. In the Edited Performance Versions available here, very often it is the original orchestral articulations that have been preferred. In the Literal Transcription however, the articulations shown are those of the Piatagorsky/Dushkin versions.


One of the few moments in which the original cello transcription was better than both the original Pulcinella and the violin version is in the presentation of the opening theme of this Introduzione. Piatagorsky’s cello version presents this theme always dotted – unlike in Pulcinella (where it is dotted every second time) and the violin “Suite Italienne” (where it is never dotted). This is a great improvement: without those dots, this beautiful melody of Pergolesi sounds much less lively, charming and playful: in other words it sounds much less italian! We have included this totally dotted version in the cellofun arrangement, even though we are in principle simply transcribing here the violin version. Here below is the original dotting from “Pulcinella”.

Clean Performance Version  Edited Performance Version   Easier Version    Easiest Version    Literal Transcription (of Violin Version)


In bars 17-18 we have reverted to the simple Pulcinella melody’s long held note, leaving the accompaniment figure to the piano. All doublestops have been removed from this movement, and the removed notes can be added to the piano part.

Clean Performance Version   Edited Performance Version    Easier Version     Literal Transcription (of Violin Version)


For the orchestral (ballet) version, Stravinsky gives a tempo marking for the Gavotte theme of minim (half-note) = 50/56, which might seem extremely slow. Perhaps this slow speed is to differentiate the theme from its second variation, which is otherwise extremely similar? Most violin or cello performances take it much faster.

Piano Score    Edited Performance Version   Clean Performance Version     Easier Version   Literal Transcription


In trying to make the transcription for cello of this “Moto Perpetuo” movement, one understands why Stravinsky and Piatagorsky didn’t bother. Many of the doublestopped effects in this piece use the violin’s two higher open strings, which means that its cello transcription (in the original key) poses special fingering problems because of our lack of an E string. We really need our thumb a lot. To make things even more difficult, we are unable to consult the original orchestral material for help with the adaptation because this Scherzino is not present in the Pulcinella Ballet Suite. Never mind, here it is. Perhaps the most successful version is the “Easier” one, in which all of the complex doublestops have been removed ……..

Piano Score   Edited Performance Version   Clean Performance Version   Easier Version    Literal Transcription