Thursday, September 14, 2017

Stravinsky and the Rite, part 4

Taruskin goes into great detail about the peasant rites and the sources that document them, much of which we can skip, though I encourage you to read the account in his book. One of the primary sources for Roerich and therefore Stravinsky seems to have been the Russian Primary Chronicle which describes the rites of the Kupala festival in exactly the same order that they appear in Stravinsky's sketchbook (see Taruskin, p. 884 et. seq.) Things like the notorious bar of 11/4 might have been inspired by a passage describing an old woman beating on a linden bark drum and the opening bassoon solo by the folk instrument dudki, mentioned in Roerich's scenario.

The ethnological accuracy of the scenario and costumes (based on peasant originals) is also reflected in the music, though Stravinsky was keen to disavow this in later years. He confided in one biographer that the opening bassoon solo was taken from an anthology of Lithuanian folk songs, and did so largely to give the impression, later clearly stated, that this was the only instance in The Rite! As we shall see, the use of folk melodies was extensive. With few exceptions, the ones that have been discovered so far belong to the type known to ethnographers as obryadnïye pesni or ceremonial songs, specifically to the category of kalendarnïye pesni, seasonal or calendar songs. That is, ones associated with the very festivals on which Roerich based the scenario. These songs are some of the oldest and come down, largely intact, from pagan times.

Roerich recounts that when he and Stravinsky were meeting at Talashkino in the summer of 1911, another guest was the singer and gusli player Sergey Kolosov (1855 - after 1915) who was then collecting folk material. He sang for the collaborators and Stravinsky took down a number of melodies. It is unlikely, therefore, that it will ever be possible to identify all of the folk melodies in The Rite. There are about a dozen, however, that are easily identified. It is astonishing that no-one even bothered to look up any sources for folk melodies in The Rite until Lawrence Morton, in 1979, began examining the mammoth anthology of Lithuanian melodies (over 1700) that Stravinsky had used. Morton found not only the source of the opening bassoon solo, but three additional melodies he also used. Why the long delay? Prior to this, all the approaches had been strictly abstract and analytical, typified by Pierre Boulez' in the early 1950s, in which not a single mention is made of the scenic or choreographic design.

Here are all the melodies taken from the Lithuanian anthology (collected by Anton Juszkiewicz) used in The Rite:

And here is how they appear in the work (in the same order):

As you can see, the transformations are largely rhythmic.

That should give you enough to chew on for today. Let's listen to a concert performance, with score, by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conducted by Yoel Levi:


Will Wilkin said...

Last night in Woolsey Hall I heard the Yale Philharmonia give an amazing performance of the Rite of Spring. The hall was hot and humid (especially in the 2nd balcony where the acoustics are best), but there were moments when I got chills, when the hairs on my arms stood up and I was cold, when tears and laughter and ecstasy were each brought to me as the music played. This is a piece that requires all members of the orchestra to have a keen sense of timing! Not just the rhythms but the passing of the sound from one voice to the next --not to mention the relationship of the percussion to the winds-- requires exact timing that seems like the organic animal impulse beyond any logic or system. Truly a primal impulse of life drives that music!

Regarding what you wrote, thank you for collecting those melodies, I will attempt some on my violin.

Bryan Townsend said...

I had a similar experience when I heard The Rite in May with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra. It was a gripping, fulfilling experience of a kind I had not experienced for a long time--and this was the reason I decided to do an extended set of posts on Stravinsky!

Don't thank me, thank Richard Taruskin and Lawrence Morton, they were the ones who tracked these melodies to their source.

Will Wilkin said...

As I said in an earlier comment, thanks to such scholars it would now be possible for some record company to compile a set of the original folk songs/dances as performed by various ensembles keeping those music traditions alive as authentically as possible. That would be really interesting listening, and probably a good study for students of composition to hear how one composer adapted from existing melodies to make his own orchestral piece with a lifeforce very much its own.

Bryan Townsend said...

I agree entirely!