Les cinq doigts by Igor Stravinsky for Solo Guitar
Les cinq doigts by Igor Stravinsky for Solo Guitar

Les cinq doigts by Igor Stravinsky for Solo Guitar

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Les cinq doigts is a 1921 piano composition by Igor Stravinsky, subtitled 8 mélodies très faciles sur 5 notes. ("8 very easy melodies on 5 notes") I was first exposed to the works in their orchestrated version through a recording conducted by Pierre Boulez. While exploring the chamber score I was delighted to find out that the pieces were originally written for solo piano. Stravinsky apparently thought enough of these unique little works to rearrange them for chamber Orchestra later in his life. While relatively easy to play on piano these eight short pieces are fairly difficult on guitar.

I believe there is something very unique and intentional about these pieces. Stravinsky clearly was imposing limits on himself by selecting five note scales to write melodic lines with. This is however deceptive, because he didn't necessarily choose the same five notes for the accompaniment line, nor did he typically choose the same meter for both parts. I've always felt they are a very personal statement and represent a window, however small, into the great man's mind.

The arrangements represent no small sum of hours on my part. I've explored these pieces off and on over a 15 year period, finding time here and there to try various solutions to solving the puzzle of making them musical on the guitar. One difficulty, something that frequently comes up in modern works not written for guitar, are faster moving lines and close intervals in the bass or accompaniment parts. With these pieces, tuning the sixth string up to G solved fingering difficulties for virtually every piece, to such an extent that I think of the tuning as "Stravinsky tuning".

With the exception of one short passage in No. 7, where the top line is in 3/8 with a chordal accompaniment in 2/4, (this brief section required slight simplification to make the superimposition of contrasting meters clearer) there have been very few changes, aside from an occasional octave transposition, to the original writing.

By analyzing these works one comes to understand what makes Stravinsky sound like Stravinsky. In this particular case the deeper understanding brings greater appreciation, because in spite of polytonalities, mixed meters and polyrhythmic passages, there is music here of remarkable beauty, humor and wit.