At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Stravinsky and his family were on one of their regular visits to Switzerland. They remained there, taking refuge both from the war and from the turmoil in Russia that culminated in the October Revolution of 1917.
Pulcinella was Stravinsky’s last work composed in Switzerland before he moved to France. It was commissioned by Sergey Diaghilev who wanted to produce a ballet for his Ballets Russes company based on a commedia dell’arte subject and the music by the eighteenth-century composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736). The resulting work marked the beginning of Stravinsky’s neoclassical period. It represents a hybrid ‘ballet with song’ and draws not only on the music of Pergolesi but also on other eighteenth-century Italian composers.
Pulcinella was first performed at the Paris Opéra on 15 May 1920. The choreography was by Léonide Massine (1895–1979) and the décor by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973).