THE SONG OF THE NIGHTINGALE
LE CHANT DU ROSSIGNOL

PREMIERE
PARIS, 2 FEBRUARY 1920

SCENERY & COSTUMES

HENRI MATISSE

MUSIC
IGOR STRAVINSKY

CHOREOGRAPHY
L´┐ŻONIDE MASSINE

Henri Matisse had no interest in ballet until he saw the success of Andre Derain's The Magical Toyshop (1919). He was finally convinced to do the designs for The Song of the Nightingale after Igor Stravinsky played excerpts from the ballet's score and Léonide Massine, whom Matisse admired, was commissioned to design the choreography.

Although known previously as a bold colourist, by the 1920s, the bleached colours of the French Riviera, where Matisse lived, had muted his palette. The audience associated the Russian Ballet with lavish spectacle, instead they got elegant simplicity and monochromatic colour. Matisse's backdrop was white with a yellow border, the design of masks and Chinese lion statues suggesting an unspecified exotic land.

A critic at the time described the set as 'far simpler than that of Bakst, yet on account of its colour and perfect proportions, it gives the impression of great oriental grandeur and luxury'. The choreography also had a stately simplicity about it. The poses, movements, and groupings were inspired by Chinese paintings on silk and lacquered screens.

The ballet is based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of 'The Nightingale'.