The music for Monumentum pro Gesualdo was composed to honor the 400th birthday of Don Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613), the 16th-century’s most chromatic — and, having been suspected of murder, most scandalous — composer. Lincoln Kirstein has said that these short pieces, danced by a principal couple and six supporting couples, evoke “the deliberate, almost sinister gravity and fatality shadowing court dances performed in the lifetime of this prince of madrigalists and murderers.”
Although Monumentum pro Gesualdo and Movements for Piano and Orchestra were choreographed separately, Balanchine eventually paired them for performance and retained this arrangement after 1966.
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.