Maureen Carr: Igor Stravinsky’s Compositional Process for Duo Concertant (1931–32) 27:12
- Saison 2015-2016 - None - None > TCPM 2015 : Analyser les processus de création musicale / Tracking the Creative Process in Music
- Oct. 9, 2015
- Program note: TCPM 2015
- Maureen Carr
Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931—the same year that Stravinsky began composing his Duo Concertant. Huxley quoted from The Tempest and other Shakespearean plays in his New World, whereas Stravinsky in his Duo quoted from one of his own ballets Apollo and alluded to motives and other gestures from works by Bach. Borrowing from other sources should not be so surprising, given that Shakespeare is thought to have drawn from Montaigne’s “Of the Cannibals” for The Tempest (Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespeare’s Montaigne, p. ix.). The uniqueness about Stravinsky’s use of pre-composed sources is that he puts his own “thumbprint” on the source once he is comfortable with the idiom. Sometimes the sources are obvious in the musical outcome of Stravinsky’s compositional process, as with the use of a source by Bach in “Petit choral” (Histoire du soldat). At other times he transforms the borrowed source to a more abstract level as in his allusion to Mozart, K.310 in A minor in the Piano Sonata (1924). Clues to Stravinsky’s modus operandi are found in his musical sketches.
Just as architects plan their projects by rendering designs, so too do composers begin by sketching musical ideas—with the obvious difference that architects render images and composers realize sketches in musical notation. Sketches provide treasure-troves for scholars searching for those transformative moments when abstract musical fragments take shape and become the basis for musical compositions.
In my many visits to the Stravinsky archive of the Paul Sacher Stiftung, I have learned that some of Stravinsky’s musical sketches begin in a rudimentary manner, as in the case of Apollo (a ballet written in 1927–28). In what appears to be his earliest idea for this work, Stravinsky wrote a melodic fragment outlining a triad with a deliberate rhythmic pattern on a small piece of paper. Eventually he changed one note in this musical motto and expanded it through the use of poetic meter that corresponds to one of the Alexandrine patterns.
The purpose of this proposal is to present three approaches in Stravinsky’s compositional process for Duo Concertant that are based on musical borrowings or reminiscences: (1) at the surface level from one of his own works, (2) at the middleground level from (a) a pre-composed source, or (b) a gesture by another composer, and (3) with the use of (a) a pre-existing large-scale form, or (b) the use of poetic meter in his formulation of musical meter. In addition to the use of borrowings in his compositional process for Duo Concertant, I will also discuss how Stravinsky presents abstract musical ideas that continue to evolve in the sketches.
Of the 63 pages in the Sketchbook for the Duo Concertant at the Stravinsky Collection of the Paul Sacher Stiftung, this presentation will include images of diplomatic transcriptions from five images on microfilm and images of the corresponding examples.
1. Borrowing at the surface level from one of his own works.
Stravinsky borrowed an identifiable fragment at the surface level from one of his own works—Apollo (1928–29), specifically the second tableau, “Variation d’Apollon,” R-22, used three times in Duo Concertant, twice in the “Gigue” and once in the “Dithyrambe”. This “musical idea” is generated by two thirds: a minor third and a major third separated by a half step and that can be reduced to a Phrygian tetrachord [0, 1, 3, 5], as compared with the minor third and a major third separated by a whole step that saturates the Introduction to Firebird and that outlines a tritone [0, 2, 3, 6].
2. Borrowing at the middleground level from (a) a pre-composed source or (b) a gesture by another composer.
(a) Stravinsky used a short motive from Bach’s “Gavotte ou la Musette” from the English Suite No. 3 as the source for the “Eglogue I”. In this example, Stravinsky expanded upon Bach’s musical idea to create an imitative texture that is accompanied by a drone perhaps as a musical reflection of the bucolic atmosphere conveyed by the poetic form.
(b) In the “Dithyrambe” Stravinsky borrows a Baroque gesture similar to one found in Variation XIII of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
3. The use of (a) a pre-existing large-scale form, or (b) poetic meter in his formulation of musical meter.
(a) Stravinsky’s creation of five movements in Duo Concertant (Cantilène, Eglogue I, Eglogue II, Gigue, Dithyrambe), presupposes that he is using the Baroque suite as his model. (b) Stravinsky’s statement that: “The spirit and form of my Duo Concertant were determined by my love of the pastoral poets of antiquity and their scholarly art and technique” (Igor Stravinsky [or Walter Nouvel] An Autobiography, pp. 170–71) implies that Stravinsky was inspired by Charles-Albert Cingria’s Pétrarque (a copy of this book with an inscription to Stravinsky by Charles-Albert Cingria is at the Paul Sacher Foundation [Igor Stravinsky Collection], Basel).
In addition to borrowings, Stravinsky also presents abstract musical ideas that continue to evolve in the sketches. One of the best examples is found in a paradigm that appears paradigm that appears in sketches the opening movement, “Cantilene,” and is later transformed in the last movement, “Dithyrambe.”
Tracking the Creative Process in Stravinsky’s Music springs from the musical sketches, for it is here that we see how Stravinsky absorbed his compositional models before abandoning them on his path to abstraction.