Type: Analysis
Pages: 6 | Words: 1742
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Igor Stravinsky is surely one of the most distinguished composers and pianists in the world, who managed to achieve huge international fame rather quickly and get a status of a very influential composer within the history, particularly the 20th century. Stravinsky has become extremely popular due to his ability to implement stylistic diversity into every work and thus desire true admiration of both the audience and critics.

Success of Canticum Sacrum

Canticum sacrum is surely one of the major works of Igor Stravinsky that was very warmly accepted by the critics and caused great admiration and huge delight. In this composition Stravinsky created a work in the language of serial music that retained his personal voice and reflected his lifelong aesthetic vision. Rather than being archetypical serial music, this work combined the tonal and the serial. Melodic invention and emotional immediacy were perhaps less evident than in earlier music; but his thematic and contrapuntal skills continued to develop, and the minted Stravinskian tonality, rhythmic organization, and sharp juxtapositions remained. By isolating a tone in the lower register, repeating it, and orchestrationally doubling it for emphasis, Stravinsky has a simple, though effective, technique that is common not only to octatonic and eight-note diatonic works.

Canticum sacrum was composed by the famous pianist in the year 1955 and though the piece is quite compact still it is a great example of polarity in music and stylistic variety as the musician combined both well-known neoclassical modes and some new and unusual elements in this piece of art. I would like to focus attention on the second movement “Surge, Aquilo” and its role in the context of Stravinsky’s notion of Polarity in music as described in the selected passages from his Poetics of Music.

Stravinsky’s first completely twelve-note movement was ‘Surge, aquilo’, the setting of a passage from the biblical Song of Solomon, in Canticum Sacrum. The series ends C–B–A, creating a sense of arrival on A that Stravinsky exploits at many points in the movement, including its final cadence. It moves primarily by small intervals and contains a number of intervallic and motivic repetitions.

The concluding passage begins with bell-like chords in the harp and double basses. These present a statement of the series in which its three tetrachords are verticalised. The intervallic relation inherent in the symmetrical tetrachord provides for an extension of minor third interaction to a polarity between any minor-third-related tetrachord. The duple symmetry of both tetrachords is necessary to the system, for with groupings of two identical musical units, say two transpositionally related tetrachords, there is equality in terms of their relations to one another, and therefore ambiguity (or polarity) is likely.

Verticalised Series Segments in Canticum Sacrum

Stravinsky rarely writes chords during this period, because he has not yet discovered a satisfactory way of doing so with a convincing serial motivation. For the most part, the harmonies of his early serial music are best understood as by-products of the contrapuntal activity, except at cadences, where some real compositional control is often exerted. These verticalised series segments are a striking but rare occurrence in Stravinsky’s serial music.

There follows immediately a three-voice canon in rhythmic augmentation. The voice leads with T1 I; the flute follows at the transposition of T8 (the series is T9 I) in rhythmic values twice as long; and the harp follows T  8  away from the flute (the series is T5  I), again doubling the rhythmic values. These T8 transpositional levels fully exploit the internal resources of the series and produce a large number of invariant segments. That is, many melodic fragments are shared among the three canonic lines. As a general rule, Stravinsky’s serial music encourages repetition and duplication of pitch, giving shape and focus to the flow of the twelve notes. The last and slowest of the three canonic voices, in the harp, concludes with its tenth note, A. That permits a strong final cadence on the perfect fifth, A–E. Even in Stravinsky’s twelve-note music, the perfect fifth retains its cadential force.

Approach of Schoenberg and Webern in Canticum Sacrum

In this way, Stravinsky turns his back on the approach of Schoenberg and Webern, which depends on wide-ranging exploration of the entire row class. These four basic forms are sometimes heard in their entirety. More commonly, however, each is divided into its two hexachords, and each of the resulting eight hexachords is used to generate a rotational array.  Each hexachord has a distinctive intervallic profile. The hexachord is then rotated systematically to create an array of six rows, all of which contain the same six notes, beginning in turn on each of them. Finally, the rows of the array are transposed so that all begin on the first note of the first row. Stravinsky constructs arrays like these at a very early stage in the compositional process for all of his works from Movements onwards.

The melody is organised in a similar way, as a pass through a rotational array from top to bottom (the instrumental accompaniment is based on complete series statements). Stravinsky’s melodies are not always as systematic as this, but they generally involve purposeful motions among the rows of his arrays. Within both passages, all of the hexachords contain the same intervals and are related by transposition. Furthermore, the intervals within each hexachord are reflected in the intervals of transposition that connect them. And the relationships among the hexachords are further intensified by their shared notes. the melodies are organized to maximize repetitions of interval and pitch.

Whatever the length of the series, Stravinsky also begins immediately to adopt another Schoenbergian principle: that the series, when presented in transposition, inversion, retrograde or retrograde inversion, retains its basic intervallic identity, and that series related by these transformations can be understood to constitute a homogeneous class. For Stravinsky, as for Schoenberg, the series class, or row class, provides the basic pitch material for a composition.

Stravinsky’s Own Highly Original Serial Style

More specifically, Stravinsky accepted from the outset the Schoenbergian idea that four members of the series class, bound together by some particular musical relationship, might function as a referential norm, somewhat in the manner of a tonic region in a tonal composition.

But while Stravinsky adopted Schoenberg’s points of departure, he moved immediately in very different musical directions. In doing so, he developed his own highly original serial style and at the same time offered a strong, if implicit, critique of Schoenbergian serialism. From the outset, Stravinsky simultaneously invokes and satirizes Schoenberg.

The absence of a strong, motivated polarity in the movement creates an effect of stasis and immobility that comes into conflict with expectations aroused by the movement form. For the movement form to be truly revived in the post-tonal era, some tonal relationship must be found to play the form-generating role of tonic and dominant. This polarity comes to play the form-generating role of tonic and dominant in the following ways: (1) the exposition expresses tonal opposition; the recapitulation expresses resolution of that opposition; (2) the second area is felt as already implicit in the first area (3) the form of the movement as a whole is ultimately felt as an inevitable and spontaneous expression of this fundamental relationship. Harmonic tension between C and E is apparent from the opening motive of the slow introduction to the final chords of the movement.

It would be possible to regard the opening motive of the movement as implying the tonality of C major. But the absence of an unequivocal harmonization and the considerably greater musical stress on the B than the C suggests that perhaps it is the C that embellishes the B, not vice versa Cone refers to this as the tendency of B to act as a dominant rather than as a leading-tone. In a common-practice movement form, the eventual motion to the dominant is implicit in the opening music. The melody itself, though not devoid of ambiguity, seems to be centered on C.

The harmonization, however, does nothing to confirm this interpretation since it consists of only two notes, E and G, which lend as much support to an E-centered interpretation as to a C-centered one. The theme as a whole establishes C as the pitch class of priority, but the E is simultaneously established as a potential countervailing presence. This C-centered area implies E; the rest of the exposition serves to realize that implication.

According to the voice-leading logic of this, and many other pieces, the eventual motion toward E is now inevitable. Through frequent re-iteration, a small harmonic unit gets established as a kind of structural norm for a given composition. Incomplete statements of this unit are felt, logically and perceptually, to require completion. In this sense, the music may be directed toward the missing member.

In each of these aspects, there is a strong analogy to the role of tonic and dominant in the traditional movement form. The movement exposition demands some kind of tonal opposition, a demand for which the C-E polarity seems particularly well suited. Conversely, the C-E polarity seems to have found, in a movement exposition, a natural and compelling formal expression. In Movement, the exposition is also tonally incomplete, but contains two nontonic areas — F, the pitch center of the second theme, and E, the pitch center of the concluding phrase. Therefore, merely transposing the second theme to the tonic in the recapitulation (the traditional procedure) will not suffice to resolve the tension.

In a more general sense, the concepts of polarity and synthesis, so essential to the movement form, are central to virtually of music. It is this last feature that is brought most sharply into focus by the use of movement form and explains, at least in part, why used the form.

In addition, this movement may be considered a paradigm of neoclassicism as neoclassicism has generally been regarded as a kind of extended homage to classical music. Igor Stravinsky uses earlier style elements in order to satirize and mock them, not to perpetuate them. His use of movement form is thus his supreme act of defiance. By leaving the traditional formal outline intact, makes his triumph over the earlier style all the more evident. His task, then, was to evolve a harmonic language powerful enough to remake the movement from the inside. In Movement he succeeds in that task and seems to bend the form to his own purposes. That he is able to make the movement so completely his own in these cases is striking testimony to his enduring strength and power as an artist who has mastered his past.

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