The Roots Of Stravinsky’s Art And The “Russianness” Of The Requiem Canticles.

The roots of Stravinsky’s art and the “Russianness” of the Requiem Canticles. ‘I have spoken Russian all my life. I think in Russian, my way of expressing myself is Russian. Perhaps this is not immediately apparent in my music, but it is latent there, a part of its hidden nature.’ History of Igor Stravinsky in the Russian period - Russian influences. As Stravinsky's most major and well- known works in his musical career are the revolutionary Russian ballets, he, therefore, became known to the public as one of the best Russian composers. In his autobiography of 1936, Igor Stravinsky talks about his first twenty years of his life and his earliest memories in Russia. Stravinsky spent his adolescence in a village in Russia and therefore his mother tongue was Russian. He had memories of sounds that amused him and inspired his musical perception and therefore he had the enthusiasm to imitate this kind of sounds. Two examples that are mentioned in his autobiography were the rhythmic clicking of the tongue of a peasant and the unison tune sung by women that fascinated.3 In the early years of his musical career, Stravinsky had the fortune to work and study with the guidance of important figures of the music history of Russia suchlike Rimsky- Korsakov who was one of his professors in composition. Glinka Kamarinskaja who was a well-known Russian composer by this time was one of the first influencers of Stravinsky in Russia and her musical compositions were the first musical experiences of Stravinsky especially in orchestral works that established his perspectives in several matters in his music. 

Several characteristics of Glinka Kamarinskaja’s music influenced and configurated Stravinsky in techniques such as fixed structure, a small number of notes, very repetitional context with changes, same shape - different rhythm. Also, she configurated his diversity in a matter like instrumentation, the balance of tone, tonality, harmony, and ostinato technique. Admirable and appreciated Russian musicians of Stravinsky as Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Alexander Glazunov, and Borodin inspired him from his early years of involvement in music. Impulses in Stravinsky’s composing life were the necessity for constant self-renewal and a pronounced interest in academic formulas.7 Influences were not only coming from inspirational figures but also from subjects such as scholastic philosophy as a result of a constant self-renewal. Also, borrowing materials as significant elements from Russian folk theatre and folk art was a constant influence, especially in his early musical style. Folk materials in his compositions created a native folklore character. As Taruskin said: ‘Not even Stravinsky could deny the Russianness of his first period- not while his music so obviously traded on it.’ In the works of his early period and especially in these three early ballets as Firebird, Petrushka and the Rite of Spring, Stravinsky used folk material such as a used song by his master Rimsky - Korsakov.8 Difficult to ignore the greatness of his classical ballet, Stravinsky influenced by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky who as he said in his autobiography was the idol of the Russian public.5 He also touched the development of his musical consciousness and his musical perspective.5 As Taruskin mentioned, Stravinsky in his ballet not only borrowed materials from Tchaikovsky’s ballet such as themes but he actually impersonated the style of his great compatriot through the colorful orchestration of Tchaikovsky. In contrast with the Stravinsky’s technique of borrowing materials, his works characterized by his independent shaping hand, by holding his rhythmic fantasy and also by his characteristic flavor of harmonic texture. As Jann Pasler wrote in her book ‘Confronting Stravinsky: Man, Musician, and Modernist', ‘Use of proportional relationships between throughout his life to organize his musical forms.’ Great examples of these relationships were the close association with Rimsky- Korsakov as his professor, and Glinka Kamarinskaja who was a big influencer for Stravinsky in the Russian period who both played a significant role in his musical perspective especially in musical forms and his first steps in the world of composition. “The roots of Stravinsky’s art are deeply Russia.” Stravinsky’s aesthetics and Russian characteristics in his whole career. As Russian, Stravinsky all these years of his musical career manage to keep his identity as a Russian composer through some characteristics of his tradition. The Russian characteristic that can undoubtedly identify is the preponderant use of the octatonic scale which is a major element, especially of his earlies compositions. The octatonic scale which used before by Rimsky- Korsakov, and Scriabin gave this Russianness of Stravinsky's music and therefore gives a character and played an important role in his compositional development. W.H. Auden said: ‘He traveled everywhere, assumed three nationalities, worked with and befriended countless writers' poets and painters and took a serious interest in whatever seemed new and interesting in his day… The plurality of his music is paradigmatic of this century's restless multiplicity of styles.’10 As Stravinsky spent his first twenty years of his life in his homeland, Russia, then chose to spend the next twenty- nine years in Switzerland and France and the last thirty-two years in America where he gained different perspective in aesthetics of arts from people and artists from all over the world.2 France played an important role in his career as he influenced by Parisian artists and poets, the first performances of his first ballet were in Paris and also France influenced him during the years between the two wars. A particular change of his interest of tonality is observed during the years in Paris and therefore suggests that this is the main characteristic of the second period of his neoclassical works. These cosmopolitan “polytonal” admixtures led many commentators to locate the beginnings of Stravinsky’s new path, his neoclassical period. Throughout his life, Stravinsky was fascinated by a lot of artistic ideas and aesthetics. 

One of the most important influences of Stravinsky's music was his interest in the visual pictures. His visual imagination played a significant role in his compositions and that was a result of his association with painters and theatre throughout his life.15 An appropriate example of his visual imagination is one of his most celebrated works, the Rite of Spring. ‘In the Rite of Spring, visual images can even be seen motivating some of Stravinsky’s unusual musical techniques.’ The way the piece is written and performed is clear that Stravinsky had in his mind the visual part of his composition regarding the physical embodiment of instrumentalists and dancers. As visual arts analogies, analytical cubism, was an inspirational element in Stravinsky’s compositions. ‘As cubism purports to represent multiple perspectives on a two-dimensional plane, Stravinsky’s music often suggests multiple layers of a single unordered moment in time, presented in an arbitrary, nonsignificant sequence.’ As borrowing materials is a characteristic of Stravinsky’s music, significant similarities share with Duchamp ready-mades, Picasso paintings.18 He went even further from painters when he synthesized folklorist (diatonic) and modernist (chromatic) musical elements. Two folk tunes in the Sonata for Pianos and in contradiction to Stravinsky's disclaimer. ‘Even if Stravinsky was reluctant to admit the role of such folklore in his early works’, Richard Taruskin sees folk sources as perhaps the most important factor in the formation of Stravinsky’s modernist language and aesthetics.17 Folk materials and borrowed materials, especially from folk sources, are observed in several major works significantly in works of his Russian period. One of his apotheosized ballet, The Firebird is a production with themes from Russian folklore and includes folk song collection that is cited verbatim. Selection of contiguous folk materials used to explore and set in their composition’s composers such as Rimsky – Korsakov, and Glinka. Traditions revisited by Igor Stravinsky with an ultimate goal the creation of works with the touch of the Russian spell. The way of dealing with them born a combination of his own imagination and fruitful thinking based on a chronology of his tradition, as a result, of the creation of his compositions. As Jann Pasler said, a tradition for Stravinsky was ‘a living force that animates and informs the present.’17 Folk sources which are a part of his Russian tradition gave the “living force” and the Russian character in his works and glory the Russian spirit of his tradition. Stravinsky’s use of various traditions reflects a distance toward his compositions and an interest in exploring the various contexts in which ideas can appear – timbral, rhythmic, and formal – rather than in transforming ideas themselves.19 He was transforming the traditional material with his own characteristic elements and was creating a composition with his own signature with changes in form, rhythm, timbre, instrumentation, etc. Sergei Diaghilev, who was one of the biggest influencers of Stravinsky’s Russian ballets and the director of the Ballets Russes, suggested and urged him to face folk materials as an artistic style and not as sources for his works. 

Possible change of his Russian attitude could be after he met the “World of Art” circle by Diaghilev. Examples of Stravinsky's aesthetics are the perspective that he faced a composition as construction and also a formalist approach to creating a new kind of total theatre in Petrushka and The Rite of Spring that laid the foundation for his turn to his Neoclassical period in the 1920s. History of Requiem Canticles - How Russian was the Requiem Canticles? ‘Nevertheless, the composer’s deeply ingrained habits of Russian thinking and hearing continued to tell on the music of his last period, and even on its serial procedures.’ Stravinsky spent the last thirty-two years of his life in America and the previous years he was in Switzerland, France and Russia gained a plethora of musical influences and experiences to enhance his musical taste. Stravinsky composed Requiem Canticles in 1966 when he was in America and became one of his major works. In order to gain a certain chronological perspective, Requiem Canticles is coming after the Introitus (1965) and before the Owl and the Pussy Cat (1966). This work is classified in the last period of Stravinsky's music, the serial period. The entire work has duration fifteen minutes, can be divided into nine parts, the three of them are instrumental and the other six are vocal movements in Latin text based on the text of the Requiem Mass. Requiem Canticles is performed with a symphony orchestra, two low solo voices, for bass and contralti soli and a choir. The nine movements are the following: Prelude, Exaudi, Dies Irae, Tuba Mirum, Interlude, Rex Tremendae, Lacrimosa, Libera Me, Postlude.23 Stravinsky mentioned in his repertoire program: ‘Most listeners seemed to find it the easiest to take home of my last-period – or last-ditch-period – music, and though I know of no universal decision as to whether it is to be thought of as compressed or merely brief, I think the opus may be safely called the first mini- or pocket-Requiem.’ The fact that Requiem Canticles was the easiest composition of Stravinsky’s late period for the listeners to follow and hear, suggests that he is possibly used elements and techniques of his earlier compositions. ‘There are among the features that make the Requiem Canticles so uncommonly accessible to anyone who knows and cherishes Stravinsky’s “Russian” manner.’ The selective orchestral sonority of each movement for me is the most definite link between the two periods. Also, elements of Requiem Canticles such as repetition, Latin text, melodic unison and the sound of the bell in the special last movement gave the touch of Russianness in the composition. As I already mentioned, Requiem Canticles was one of the latest works of Igor Stravinsky, almost the last one and it was written after many years exploring new cultures in abroad. Therefore, Stravinsky was full of new influences and sounds, musically ready to experiment and try new things in his late compositions. After Arnold Schoenberg’s death, Stravinsky found it interesting to started experiment with the twelve-tone system which Schoenberg embraced in his works and used the serial method which he considered academic. As the twelve-tone system is a major factor of serialism, Stravinsky turned to this genre and became interested in an experiment with elements such as sonority, harmony, texture, complex rhythms, etc. Arnold Schoenberg was definitely operated as a spirit of discovery in Stravinsky’s late style.27 ‘Wuorinen and Kresky view Stravinsky's serial works as synthesizing tonal and twelve-tone traditions.’ Therefore, the Requiem Canticles has some 'Russian' features which were not a common incident in Stravinsky's last period as he was into a new way of composing. Also, Stravinsky after he chose to leave his country and the big flop of his career with the one-act opera Mavra, he convinced to stop representing himself as a Russian composer. 

Contrastingly, Rober Craft was testified that traces of Old Russia can be found in any mid- or late- period Stravinsky piece, “even in Pulcinella” and in the nostalgically ‘Russian’ Symphony in C. As Taruskin mentioned, Requiem Canticles compared to the last works of Stravinsky is undoubtedly more ‘direct and uncomplicated in texture and rhythm’.21 This statement suggests that possibly Stravinsky used his old way of composing referencing his Russian period and created his last major work as his journey of music started. This phenomenon indicates the need of Stravinsky to restore his memories of Russia and his musical Russian culture that set out the musical path of Stravinsky's music. When Vera Stravinsky planning the music of the funeral of Igor Stravinsky, she mentioned to Robert Craft that “he and we knew he was writing it for himself”. According to his widow, this work is performed at Stravinsky's funeral in 1971 in the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Prelude, with the characteristic repeated chord, is written for only strings with a continuous group of notes played unevenly in sextuplets and quintuplets. As Eric Walter White said about Prelude, “Its effects are neither serial nor atonal'. Its orchestral sonority points out the correlation with Stravinsky’s early style. Characteristics of this movement that gave the Russian spirit, is the repetition of rhythmic pattern and also the melodic lines of strings that every time repeated the same and gave this simplicity of texture. “What a shock,” wrote an early reviewer, “after the intense, controlled densities of the marvelously inventive Variations to hear the almost ingenuous repeated- note fives of the Requiem Prelude!'31 The unexpected change of thick harmonies of the previous compositions of his serial music to the simplicity of the texture of this movement shocked the audience. Exaudi is the second movement of the work and is treated by Stravinsky polyphonically. Is the first choral movement, with the almost accompanied chorus and the Latin text Stravinsky, points out the religious thinking of him. Exaudi, reminds me of a part of Symphony of Psalms, (which is an early piece of Stravinsky-1930), especially on the first movement similarities with the chorus part. The harmony of the movement cannot describe as tonal or serial. ‘The handling of the chorus in this movement harks back to the Mass of 1947.’33 As Eric Walter said, the way the chorus part is treaded by Stravinsky remind us the Mass of 1947 which is an earlier piece with a spiritual spirit by him. The next movement has an explosive instrumental opening and continues with the loud choral Dies Irae that touched off quickly with sotto voce. The choice of Stravinsky to keep the voices sustain reminds me as it expected the famous Dies Irae from Requiem of Giuseppe Verdi, therefore, recalls an old way of composing referencing in previous composers. Tuba Mirum is a baritone solo movement with instrumental accompaniment by two trumpets, one trombone, and one fagotto. Two trumpets start the movement with dialogue between them when they give space to the soloist for the Tuba Mirum to be heard for the first time. ‘The first soloist is introduced here, and characteristically his declamation is clearly marked off from the fanfare writing for the trumpets, their accompaniment function being in two non- committal parts’. It is a small movement with a dialogue between the instruments and the soloist, quite clear in harmony with not much of complexity in orchestration and melodic line. ‘Even the drums of death are merely an echo in Requiem Canticles’ Interlude has a supportive timpani moment from the begging of the movement that brings a funeral march and a requiem mood. Characteristic of this Interlude is the sequence of the begging chord that repeated, and the sequence of the dotted crotchet followed by a quaver. This musical subject of Interlude brings back to my mind the repeated dotted rhythms of the several works of Russian period that gives the beauty to the movement. Also, this element of repeated dotted rhythms and the slow rhythm of the movement reminds me of the Symphonies of Wind instruments composed in 1920 by Igor Stravinsky and “return” us back to the Russian period. Also, the mood of the movement is quite steady cause of the sonority and the movement of the solos. Next movement is the choral Rex Tremendae characterized by the sequence and the motive of voices recalls a fugue theme. 

A “Russian” characteristic that I can detect is the unison of melody by alto and soprano voices in the middle of the piece. The subject of Rex Tremendae can be distinguished from the big intervals of the accompaniment instruments and also of the voices. Lacrimosa characterized by the long melismas of the solo contralto and the sustain notes of the woodwinds. In this movement, the sonority is thicker and more complex with the use of harp, trombone, violoncello, etc. As Eric Walter White mentioned in his article, ‘The stabbing agony of this movement recalls that of the women lacerated by tears as painted so frequently by Picasso during his Guernica period.’ This statement can justify the strange feeling of fear in the solo voice of this movement which points out with the sustained high-pitched piccolo and flutes. The next movement is a dark Libera me with the four soloists to starring for the last vocal movement. Also, a chaotic background noise of choir speaking the text (coro tutti parlando) of Libera me like murmuring and whispering emphasized the meaning of the text and therefore the mood of fear. The fact that Stravinsky used a limit number of chords and produced a simple texture to the movement with a lot of repetition in the soloists parts and an almost non- existent accompaniment (only two horns playing), gave us the idea that he wanted to emphasize more into how to express the meaning of the text than to invest into the musical part of the movement. The text is about the day of the Resurrection of Dead Souls, the day of wrath, calamity and misery, the day of great and exceeding bitterness and the fear and trembling of that day when the earth shall be shaken. ‘The Postlude sounds as if it is the strictest piece that Stravinsky ever wrote.’37 This last movement, Postlude, with a wind chord opening and a sequence of the bell sound, gives the meaning of the entire Requiem and the purpose of Stravinsky’s composition. The role of the tolling bells is the reference to the ritual side of Stravinsky thinking, referencing to Russian Orthodox music and gives us a full idea of his spirit about his religion. As Postlude is the last movement of Requiem Canticles, my conclusions on this movement are the following, as the role of bells in worship of Christian Orthodox religion is important and the emphasis of bells that Stravinsky generously gives us in Postlude, suggest a sense of death and a reference of his Russian origin and cultural background. ‘A bell is also an audible calendar; nowadays merely proclaiming the hour, once also announcing events – birth, death, marriage, fire, war, peace.’ Robert Craft described the closing Postlude as 'the chord of Death, followed by silence, the tolling of bells, and again silence, all thrice repeated, then the three final chords of Death alone.' Russia haunts and stigmatizes Igor Stravinsky as a Russian composer for the whole of his career. The Russianness in his compositions is the trademark in the style of his music. Throughout his life, he influenced by a lot of arts, artists from all over the world, and experiment with new techniques that he found interesting to create music with. 

The fact that he lived in three different countries definitely broadened his mind, discovered new worlds in music and explored new cultures. Inspirational figures were an important element in his music as he was borrowing material, foreign styles, musical types and musical ideas by musicians suchlike Rimsky- Korsakov, Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Arnold Schoenberg. Another phenomenon in his compositions was the use of existing music based on folk tunes especially in his ballet in the Russian period of his musical careers. Stravinsky respected his nationality and the tradition of his country and therefore was fully into creation based on Russian tradition. His Russian stigma followed him through the whole of his musical career still and in the third period, the serial period of a polychronic career. A major piece of his serial period is Requiem Canticles which paradoxically has some Russian characteristics of Stravinsky’s old way of composing. This incident reinstated the Stravinskian old- fashioned character and putting Stravinsky back in touch with his “Russian” period. 

07 July 2022
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