Balanchine regarded Apollo as his artistic coming of age. He said that through the creation of this work, he learned he could “dare not use all my ideas, that I too, could eliminate. . . to the one possibility that is inevitable.” The ballet depicts Apollo, the young god of music, who is visited and instructed by three Muses, who were also children of Zeus and thus his half-sisters: Calliope, Muse of poetry, whose symbol is a tablet; Polyhymnia, Muse of mime, whose symbol is a mask that represents the power of gesture; and Terpsichore, Muse of dance and song, whose symbol is a lyre. Stravinsky, who possessed a strong interest in Greek mythology, conceived of and composed the score as a ballet. It was with this work, his second ballet set to the music of Stravinsky, that Balanchine, at age 24, achieved international recognition and began his lifelong partnership with the composer.
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), born in Russia, is acknowledged as one of the great composers of the twentieth century. His work encompassed styles as diverse as Romanticism, Neoclassicism and Serialism. His ballets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes included The Firebird, Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, and Apollo. His music has been used in over thirty ballets originating with New York City Ballet from 1948 through 1987, including Danses Concertantes, Orpheus, The Cage, Agon, Monumentum pro Gesualdo, Rubies, Symphony in Three Movements, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat, Concertino, and Jeu de Cartes.