Sunday, September 17, 2017

Stravinsky and The Rite, part 5

When I talk about the "use" of folk melodies in The Rite, do not think for a moment that this is not a wholeheartedly creative act! As you can see from the last post, the rhythmic transformations were so thorough that you might not even see the connection. Other kinds of transformation were from major to Dorian mode, inserting a profusion of leaping grace notes reminiscent of dudki, the expansion of intervals (replacing half steps with thirds) and so on. There are some instances where the relationship between a folk melody source and The Rite is only traceable through the mediating authority of Stravinsky's sketchbook, where we can witness the transformation.

Taruskin explores four different instances of these transformations which he describes as Stravinsky's use of Russian folk music as a self-emancipation from the cul-de-sac that Russian music was trapped in. Let's look at one of his examples. Here is a facsimile page from the sketchbook. At the top of the page, tidily written out, is the Semik song "Nu-ka, kumushka, mï pokumimsya" which comes from Rimsky-Korsakov's anthology. The rest of the page shows developments of the tune for the "Spring Rounds" or "Khorovodï."

From p. 907 of Taruskin, op. cit.

We are so lucky to have access to Stravinsky's sketchbook! Taruskin offers a comparative analysis showing how the tune was transformed and incorporated in The Rite:

Taruskin, p. 909
What is really remarkable here is not that he found inspiration in folk melodies, that was quite common in composers of many countries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. What is remarkable is that he absorbed some stylistic elements, such as the leaping grace notes, and wholly transformed the original material with great freedom.

Another example, that I won't quote (see Taruskin pp. 911 et seq.), involves the deconstruction of a wedding song by using motifs from it as tesserae in a melodic mosaic, subjected to varied juxtapositions, internal repetition, transposition and so on. There is even a folk source for the kind of dissonant counterpoint we often find in The Rite. I mentioned many posts back that Russian folk music is actually performed by groups, not soloists, and it is typically full of heterophonic polyphony, meaning a melody accompanied by variants of itself. Taruskin quotes examples from the sketchbook. 

In a burst of enthusiasm, on page 36 of the sketchbook, Stravinsky scrawled a phrase that might serve as a motto for The Rite of Spring: "There is music wherever there is rhythm, as there is life wherever there beats a pulse."

And with that, let's pause for today and listen to another performance of The Rite. This is the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest of the Netherlands conducted by Jaap van Zweden. Just follow the link:


Will Wilkin said...

Certainly the Rite is full of very entrancing rhythms, so wild and varied that the monotonous "pulse" of life (as mentioned by Stravinsky as you quoted from his sketchbook) is eclipsed by the wild IMpulses of will and passion and reflex and animal wildness of runs and leaps and sudden stops, crouching, darting, spinning, shaking....

Truly amazing what he did with those folk dances that themselves I expect are also musical masterworks in their own right, earlier and more collectively shaped over long periods of time but also expressions of primal oneness of human consciousness with the impulses of the natural world of which we are part and product but also in a creative feedback cycle of self-awareness probably unique to our species.

Bryan Townsend said...

The Rite is an astonishing transformation of the kernels of folk music.