Back Home Components Scholarship and Research Volume 33 A "Requiem for the Requiem": On Stravinsky's Requiem Canticles
01 October 1993

A "Requiem for the Requiem": On Stravinsky's Requiem Canticles

Written by 

A "Requiem for the Requiem"1: On Stravinsky's Requiem Canticles

I. Time Travel and Ritual

It is in the nature of things—and it is this which determines the uninterrupted march of evolution in art as much as in other branches of human activity—that epochs which immediately precede us are temporarily farther away from us than others which are more remote in time.2

The twentieth century is an odd place. It refutes the utility of mere linear chronology and the notion of progress in a number of perplexing ways. The history of our century abounds with examples of revolutionary founding fathers who lived to see the ousting of the revolutionaries who ousted the counterrevolutionaries who ousted them, of innovators who lived to see their discoveries rendered commonplace: Louis Armstrong lived to see Ornette Coleman settle into respectability, and Charles Lindbergh was alive at the time of the first moon landing. The complex topology of twentieth-century history is reflected, or more accurately refracted, by Igor Stravinsky's compositional output, which recapitulates the history of Western music in a zigzag. Once he left the late romanticism of L'Oiseau de feu, however, and though his notion of classical anti-quity (Orpheus, Apollon Musagète, Perséphone) is no more fanciful than that of Monteverdi or others, his travels seem to have been mostly in a world with an alternate prehistory (Le Sacre du Printemps), an alternate Jazz Age and Swing Era (Ragtime, Piano Rag Music, Ebony Concerto), and an alternate eighteenth century wherein Pergolesi, not Mozart or Haydn, is the reigning master, and Naples, not Vienna, the musical capital. The end of his voyaging expresses itself in a twelve-tone idiom which, while bearing the stamp of all of Stravinsky's earlier travels, seems to be of no particular time or place except perhaps Stravinsky's own imagined version of the late twentieth century, of the end of history. At the end of this journey one comes to the Requiem Canticles.

The notion of Stravinsky the time-traveling musical tourist can obscure the even truer picture of Stravinsky the lover of ritual. A profoundly religious man, Stravinsky was a communicant of the Russian Orthodox church who nonetheless greatly admired the Roman Catholic rite and appreciated its central place in Western musical culture. Western society does not much value ritual, often equating formality of expression and behavior with banality and even with hypocrisy. For Stravinsky, however, there was no such thing as an "empty ritual"; ritual by its very nature was a quintessentially human, and inherently meaningful, activity.3Le Sacre du Printemps centers around an imagined ritual of sacrifice; the Requiem Canticles, his last major work, is a ritual for the dead. In between he composed ritualistic retellings of folk tales, ritualizations of symphony, opera and musica da camera, and several ritualistic farewells for writers (and one world leader) whom he admired.4 Indeed, for Stravinsky the only meaningful response to individual and cultural demise is found in ritual; the Requiem Canticles is not so much a liturgy for the dead as a ritualization of death, just as Les Noces (1923) is a ritualization of marriage. It thus stands apart from other death-pieces of its time, such as Penderecki's Threnody (to the victims of Hiroshima) (1960) and Crumb's Black Angels (1970) whose theme is the suffering of masses of people caught up in a holocaust—a common condition for the inhabitants of the twentieth century. By comparison to either of these works, which by contrast seem almost photo-journalistic, Stravinsky's death rite is less timely, more of all time.

Pieter C. van den Toorn reveals that one of the factors motivating him to write his 1983 survey of Stravinsky's music was a dawning awareness of identity relationships between aspects of certain Stravinsky pieces and works of other composers and other known literatures.5 By contrast, the motivation for the present modest essay on the Requiem Canticles was a sense of that work as something that stands apart from virtually all other religious or devotional compositions, with the possible exception of other works by Stravinsky himself. Most importantly, despite what is generally "known" about Stravinsky's avowal that music is by definition incapable of expressing "anything at all,"6 this paper seeks to determine what, if any, expressive content might inhere to the Requiem Canticles. Despite the extensive and valuable studies of pitch patterning and related technical matters by van den Toorn, Arthur Berger, Claudio Spies, Milton Babbitt and others, very little work on this aspect of late Stravinsky has been attempted; a notable exception is found in the relevant chapters of The Apollonian Clockwork: On Stravinsky by Louis Andriessen and Elmer Schönberger, which is cited extensively below.7

The author first heard the Requiem Canticles performed live on February 7, 1993 by musicians from Duke and the North Carolina School of the Arts under the direction of Dr. Rodney Wynkoop, in the chapel of Duke University. The chapel is a large, vaulted cruciform of stone, with all the resonant properties one would expect from a Neo-Gothic cathedral. The chorus stood in the vicinity of the altar; the orchestra was seated in a semicircle in front of the chorus. Having already given a pre-concert talk on the piece, the author found several things about the live performance unexpected, given that his only previous exposure had been through score analysis and the 1966 recording conducted by Robert Craft.8

First, despite Andriessen's and Schönberger's statement that the Requiem Canticles ought to be performed in a small space with minimal reverberation time, the piece accommodated itself to the chapel quite well.9 The churchly acoustics of the Duke University chapel actually gave the piece a resonance—both in the acoustical and the figurative sense—of which performance in a smaller, boxy hall would have robbed it. Typically, Western sacred music is heard in great vaulted spaces with a long ring-time; from the open fifth with which the piece begins to the evocation of church bells with which it ends, the Requiem Canticles seems designed to exploit the properties of such a space, which adds a nimbus to every attack, and gives every instrumental decay a sonic and conceptual afterlife. Secondly, the piece seemed much shorter subjectively than expected. None of the movements is long enough to fill in full the narrative role assigned to each in the pre-concert lecture mentioned above. The Requiem Canticles are themselves reverberations of an unheard liturgy; listeners, like postulants waiting in the outer portion of an early Christian basilica, can overhear only fragments of a rite in progress within.

The Requiem Canticles is a setting of six excerpts from the Requiem Mass plus an orchestral prelude, interlude and postlude. It calls for contralto and bass soloists, large chorus, and a symphony orchestra lacking oboes and clarinets but augmented by four percussionists, harp, piano, and celesta. Stravinsky characterized this, his last major work, as "the first mini- or pocket Requiem" (the 1960s were, after all, the age of transistorization). The piece is not so much an incomplete Requiem as an entirely new creation making use of key portions of the burial liturgy. As Elmer Schönberger and Louis Andriessen state,

. . . this work is not suitable for liturgical use as only one-tenth of the liturgical text is set. . . . Requiem Canticles is the Requiem for the Requiem. After that, every composer who writes a liturgical requiem . . . will seem like a taxidermist. He will be stuffing a skeleton with ersatz meat and then be putting a black top hat on it. Then he will say: here, this is a man. But he will be wrong. It is no longer possible. Stravinsky's Requiem Canticles is Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts, shriveled to an aphorism.10

One need not subscribe to Andriessen and Schönberger's final pronouncement to agree that there is a kind of end-of-the-line quality about the Canticles. This is not merely due to the work's place in the historical record. Rather, the piece is a tight ritual fusion of texted and instrumental music; it is impossible to imagine extricating the words of the Requiem used here from the musical setting in which Stravinsky has placed them. They seem encased in the amber of Stravinsky's music, and furthermore, as the authors of The Apollonian Clockwork state,

. . . the actual ritual of Requiem Canticles seems to be . . . enacted in the three instrumental, not the vocal, movements; the instrumental movements are the cornerstones of the work, beginning, middle and end, the caryatids on which the frame of the basilica rests.11

The analysis below begins with a brief overview of the function of each of these three caryatids, as well as of the intervening vocal movements. It will be seen that the latter elaborate the narrative suggested by the former, but that the final result remains quite elliptical, indicating rather than acting out a drama of bereavement. The remainder of the paper consists of an examination of how this narrative interconnects with formal devices and procedures, concluding with a close reading of latent harmonic and textural devices which serve as one of the principal bridges in the work between the arena of form and that of narrative or affect.


II. A Ritual of Bereavement

The Prelude to the Requiem Canticles recalls the opening of the Symphony in C where, however, a similar beginning soon takes a quite different turn: the ostinato with which the latter work begins leads to an emphatic statement of a clear three-note motive which soon takes center stage and is seen to be eminently suited for variation and development. By contrast, the low ostinato with which the Prelude of the Requiem Canticles begins is overlaid with a fragmentary utterance by a solo violin from which Stravinsky cuts away (and to which he returns) in a cinematic fashion. The subsequent returns of this utterance (m. 12, m. 26, m. 39) do not bring clarification, elaboration or development, although each time it is scored more fully (for one, two, three and five solo strings in turn). To the author (and to students in a composition seminar asked to characterize the movement), this utterance in its four incarnations recalls crying or lamenting, while the accompanimental string ostinati suggest (at least to anyone familiar with movie soundtracks from Hitchcock to Spielberg) an undercurrent of tension. In addition to a sense of dread, the sudden breaks in the music (mm. 7, 11, 20, 22, 23, 25, 34, 37, etc.) contribute to a feeling of indecision; instead of coming to a climax, the music breaks off and resumes with nothing having been resolved. The Prelude is, in fact, a portrait of mental derangement, a kind of "mad scene."

The wailing, weeping and throbbing of the Prelude are followed by a setting of the last line of the Introitus which is Webernian in its sparsity, a musical depiction of the emotional numbness that follows the first shock of a great loss. The rapprochement between grief (as depicted in the Prelude) and numbness (as found in the aloof Exaudi) begins with the Dies irae, in which the chorus and brass proclaim, forte, the awful day of wrath to come; the chorus breaks off into unpitched speech when providing specific details. Meanwhile the piano and strings provide a scurrying, registrally disjunct commentary suggestive of extreme anxiety. A xylophone, the instrument of dry bones and the medieval Dance of Death, further embellishes the portrait of final devastation.

The Tuba mirum, a solo aria for bass voice, follows attacca. This verse of the Sequence complements the Dies irae, anticipating as it does the "wondrous sound the trumpet flings" on Judgment Day. Pointedly, this is a solo; only one voice from the chorus can be found to welcome the sounding of this trumpet. The vocal idiom here, as in much of Stravinsky's Mass (1947), is clearly an evocation of a more highly ornamented kind of monody than the Gregorian plainsong, recalling to the unspecialized ear Byzantine or Ambrosian chant. The fanfare-like trumpet obbligato gives way to an angular bassoon duet reminiscent of the anxious piano and string music in the Dies irae, not to mention much of Movements for piano and orchestra (1959), where the affective referent, if any, is admittedly less clear.

The Interlude evokes a funeral procession. The drag step of the timpani, horns and flutes alternates with passage-work in the flutes and bassoons which is self-controlled to the point of being self-effacing—no wailing and weeping, just good, solid part writing. The alternation between the funeral procession and the passage work is decorous—the passage work does not interrupt so much as complement occurrences of the funeral music. No one talks during the ceremony, as it were.

After this funeral cortège, the chorus returns with the Rex tremendae, seeking to ingratiate itself with the "king of tremendous majesty" and finally finding the courage to beseech him for salvation. Each voice part tends to hover within a single relatively narrow register, gradually filling in all the half steps within that register, imparting the sense that the chorus is beating around the bush in its supplication. The flutes and low strings have an eighth-note ostinato that seems to be a slowed-down version of the string ostinato of the Prelude—a reminder, perhaps, of the continued presence of anxiety, the level of which has, however, diminished somewhat by contrast to the earlier movements.

The Lacrimosa is a contralto solo that balances the Tuba mirum. Here again the vocal writing is florid. It is a setting of the last three verses of the Sequence, and is both a further lament for the Judgment to come and a continued plea for divine clemency. By setting these climactic verses of the Sequence as a solo aria, Stravinsky is signaling a personal coming to terms with the issues of death and grief, the beginning of healing. The catharsis towards which the entire ritual has been leading is enacted in the Libera me, the final vocal movement. This movement recalls other twentieth-century crowd scenes, e.g. "Dance of the Golden Calf" from Schoenberg's Moses und Aron, or his A Survivor From Warsaw, and the Ligeti Requiem. Four soloists from the chorus intone the Libera me in triplets against a backdrop of sustained horn chords, while the remainder of the chorus murmurs the same text parlando, providing a kind of backdrop of despair against the valiant efforts of the four soloists to deliver a plea for salvation against all odds.

The prayer does get through, just barely, but the result is delivery not into Paradise, but rather into the distant, ice-cold bell-tolling processional of the Postlude—an outcome without either joy or sorrow. The Postlude is quite simply bell music for the end of the service. The huge tower chords in piano, harp and flutes provide final punctuation for the ceremony, while the vibraphone, celesta and bells reincarnate the hexachords on which the piece has been based into a kind of resonant afterlife. The acoustical properties of the three instruments create all kinds of harmonic and sub-harmonic resonances, surrounding the basic tonal materials of the piece with an acoustic halo (and incidentally creating a kind of ring modulation effect) which is quite disorienting; the Postlude floats free of the usual sonorous palette and tessitura of the orchestra.

It is this movement which sounds the most impressive in a large, resonant space, and the one which suggests most clearly the degree to which Stravinsky's personal view of death diverges from the triumphant, uncorrupted fleshly resurrection of Christian orthodoxy. As the poet in Yeat's Sailing to Byzantium, who seeks not rejuvenation but liberation from his aging flesh, and transmutation into a more durable form, so the celebrant of Stravinsky's imagined Mass for the Dead, of which the Requiem Canticles are a fragmentary glimpse.

O sages standing in God's holy fire. . .
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.12

The ritual enacted here presents the possibility of continuity, not triumph; of completion, not return.

The three instrumental movements of the Requiem Canticles correspond to a three-part mourning process, beginning with the ache of loss, moving to a tightly controlled ritual of farewell, and concluding with a recessional that seems to drift away in a mood of resignation to a new, ethereal plane, leaving behind earthly things in favor of the life of the spirit (or of the imagination, or of memory). The movements with voice amplify and illustrate the three-part mourning process; being extracted from such widely scattered points in the Requiem liturgy, the five vocal numbers need the three instrumental "caryatids" to provide narrative cohesion. Stravinsky does more than simply manipulate blocks of text: in the actual liturgy, there are five occurrences of the phrase, "Dona eis requiem" or "Requiem aeternam dona eis": Stravinsky sets only one of them, in the contralto solo on the Lacrimosa.13 He sets only one line from the Introitus (the Exaudi); Stravinsky set the entire Introitus in his immediately prior work, Introitus T.S. Eliot in Memoriam (1965), and six verses (out of twenty) of the Sequence (these provide the text for the Dies irae, Tuba mirum, Rex tremendae and Lacrimosa). He does set the entire Responsory (which provides the text for the Libera me), but leaves out all four of the movements (Kyrie, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei) drawn from the Ordinary of the Mass.

It may seem rather odd that Stravinsky found it necessary to so ruthlessly cut and splice the Sequence, a long poem dealing with the horrible day of judgment and a prayer for mercy at the time of that winnowing. (Of the six verses of the Sequence he allows to remain, Stravinsky interposes the Interlude between the first two and the last four.) The Sequence recalls Stravinsky's early cantata Zvezdoliki (1911), a brief setting of a devotional text by Konstantin Balmont whose topic is also the day of judgment: it is a kind of Russian Dies Irae in which the Redeemer promises to harvest the souls of the saved amid celestial pomp and splendor. The Requiem Canticles are first and foremost a depiction of the mourning process, however, and Stravinsky is ruthless with his red pen in order to make the Requiem text serve this depiction.

Indeed, the Requiem Canticles is in a sense an act of creative erasure. Stravinsky has created a new liturgy full of lacunae which seem to demand that listeners fill in the blanks, as it were, and use the hints the composer provides to compose the Requiem anew for themselves. It is revealing that in his liner notes for the Columbia recording of the piece the composer mentions Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade, which is actually a play about a play, rather than a simple presentation of a drama. Likewise, the Requiem Canticles stands at one remove from the liturgy itself, which must be pieced together by the listener from the clues provided. (Just as Les Noces is not a marriage ceremony, but a piece about marriage ceremonies; as Andriessen and Schönberger state, "There are bells for marriage and bells for death. But they are all played on the same bells. That is why the silence at the end of Les Noces is the same as the silence at the end of Requiem Canticles.")14 This deconstruction by erasure is a neat trick and one that is essentially irreversible; as far as Stravinsky himself is concerned, at any rate, the piece really is, to quote Andriessen and Schönberger, "the Requiem for the Requiem".


III. Form and Content, Ends and Means

As mentioned at the outset, the intention of this study is to inquire into topics not addressed by the more technically-oriented analyses of late Stravinsky by Berger, Spies, Babbitt, van den Toorn and others; foremost among such topics is the question of expressive content. Above, considerable evidence has been presented for the existence of such content, but given Stravinsky's tendency to appropriate mannerisms and affective clichés from earlier music for his own ends—often with much ironic malice aforethought—technique and expressive content are likely to be linked in a rather complex fashion; it would be glib in this (or any) instance to assume a complete separation between the work's expressive content and formal ends. The following discussion touches on the points at which compositional methodology seems to impinge most directly on the narrative proposed above, with focus on the final, climactic vocal movement, the Libera me.

In the years leading up to the Requiem Canticles, Stravinsky evolved a personal serial technique of great sophistication and versatility. Stravinsky's serial toolkit includes not merely the orthodox Schoenbergian operations of transposition, retrogression and inversion, but also a scheme of intervallic rotation which allowed Stravinsky, first, to generate families of related but distinct hexachords, and finally, to create harmonic successions formed by the superposition of rotationally-related hexachords—the famous Stravinskian verticals. As Babbitt has observed, far from being a new operation grafted onto the original Schoenbergian calculus, Stravinsky's "primitive of rotation" can actually be considered "the application of the transposition operation to order number (rather than pitch-class number)," and thus represents a further abstraction of the system.15

For Stravinsky there was no sudden transformation from non-serial to serial thought; indeed, his gradual adoption of serial procedures in the series of works beginning with the Cantata (1951) seems not to have necessitated the categorical renunciation of any earlier compositional methods or behaviors.16 Consideration of the Canticles in light of some of his earlier stylistic concerns and mannerisms reveal several points of continuity. Homophonic chorales appear throughout Stravinsky's music, serving both as an apparent concomitant to religious sensibility and formalized grieving (cf. the two chorales in L'Histoire du Soldat, where they accompany the Narrator's sermonizing, and the chorale in memory of Debussy with which the Symphonies of Wind Instruments conclude) and as a gesture of formal closure (cf. the Finale of the Three Pieces for String Quartet). The Requiem Canticles continues this convention by ending with two movements in a homophonic style strongly reminiscent of chorale texture; as shall be shown, the chorale-style homophony of the Libera me is the culmination of the work's narrative on both the expressive and the methodological level, and while in the Postlude to the Canticles the chorale-like episodes are completely freed from the harmonic referent which lends Stravinsky's earlier chorales much of their poignancy, gesturally and texturally the celesta, orchestral bells, and vibraphone which dominate the movement both complete and transform the chorale obsession of Stravinsky's compositional life.

By contrast, a second great Stravinskian mannerism, canon- or fugue-like imitation, is (on the surface) missing from the Requiem Canticles. In so much of Stravinsky's oeuvre, such imitation seems to serve as a kind of signpost which states, "Ritual in Progress." Such signposts occur as early as the second movement of the Symphony of Psalms, abound in the piano-centric neo-Classical works of the 1920s and '30s, and become especially common in the works of the period 1951-59, when Stravinsky's gradual "discovery" of serialism seems to have led him down a path parallel to the one pursued by Webern in the works of the early- and mid-1920s. (In these works, especially Opp. 15-19, intricate canonism permitted Webern to move beyond the aphoristic brevity of his earliest atonal period, preparing the way for his adoption of serialism in Op. 20.) For the most part, the Canticles exhibit a homophonic, declamatory surface which harkens back to the Mass of 1947; this merely conceals the rigorous contrapuntal underpinnings of the series of works beginning with the Movements for piano and orchestra, in which, as Babbitt points out, "the canonic relations among the 'voices'. . . necessarily induced by the ordered transpositions [used by Stravinsky to create his rotationally-derived families of hexachords] can be regarded as 'structural' imitations."17 It has been observed that all serial composition is by definition canonic.18 This fact seems to free Stravinsky from the necessity of including canonic writing in the habitual sense—canon as signpost—in the Canticles. Here the canonic impulse is sublimated, its manifestations concealed yet ubiquitous.

Formations from the tonal or pre-tonal polyphonic repertoire persist on a more generalized structural level as well. Example 1, taken from Spies, shows the basic set used in the Prelude, Dies irae, Tuba mirum, Interlude and Libera me, and the forms derived from it by hexachordal rotation.


Example 1.



As Spies illustrates, aspects of the set-form succession scheme for the Libera me, for instance (the twice-iterated pattern T4 - T3 and the twice-iterated pairing of a given first hexachord with the matching second hexachord), suggest dux-comes or antecedent-consequent alternation, and in mm. 280-284 there is a structural dénouement where the first hexachord of the movement's "source set" is finally revealed; in addition, most hexachordal "entrances" begin on vol33id184 or vol33id184 (vol33id184), suggesting a tonal orientation towards C and its subdominant.19 It might, of course, be more accurate to state that these congruences with (pre)tonal form are present in the set-form schematic, rather than the piece as it actually is heard, and thus inhabit the pre-compositional realm rather than the composition itself. One may well ask whether such tonal tropisms are not merely interesting artifacts of the composer's workshop, or if they indeed influence the work's perceived affect and expression as well. This question moves the discussion inevitably to the matter of pitch organization.

Arthur Berger's groundbreaking 1963 study of pitch-class organization was perhaps the first attempt to look beyond slogans such as "pandiatonicism" and "bitonality" in analyzing the centripetal tendencies and tropisms in Stravinsky's music, beginning with Petrouchka.20 Even in a relatively late work such as Agon, Berger finds that certain pitch classes are at least locally privileged (to use his carefully chosen term, which expresses his skepticism about the reliability of conventional definitions of tonality in this or any context), in part by the acoustical support provided them by the presence of pitch classes a perfect fifth (or compound) above. He notes, however, that here any such assertion of priority (again, Berger's terminology) by a given pitch class is "still treated as just one referential ordering among all the others obtainable within the white-note collection." By the time of Agon, then, pitch centrism and pitch hierarchy in Stravinsky are really "pitch centrism" and "pitch hierarchy", contextually-derived constructs without a priori force which may coexist with many other modes of pitch organization.

The notion of contextual centrisms still has relevance when applied to the Requiem Canticles, a work composed three years after the date of Berger's article and nine years after the completion of the latest work he cites. The Prelude begins with a low F ostinato in the cellos which, in the absence of any other pitch activity in the bass register, is conditionally accepted as (to again use Berger's terminology) a locally privileged pitch class.  Ex. 2 is a harmonic sketch of the Prelude.


Example 2.



All perfect fifth dyads are shown as whole notes; the top notes of these dyads (whether thought of as third partials or chordal fifths) provide what Berger terms acoustic support for the pitch priority claims of the bottom notes of the dyads. Accepting these claims allows one to delineate a vol33id184-vol33id184-vol33id184 motion in the bass (and a subordinate vol33id184-vol33id184-vol33id184 motion as well) which brackets this movement; the vol33id184-vol33id184 dyad of mm. 9-10 has a neighbor-note embellishing function with respect to the vol33id184-vol33id184 of mm. 20-22.

Is the Prelude in F? Important qualifications must be made to such a statement.21 Claims to priority for one or another pitch class over the short to medium term must rely on the presence of audible hierarchies of relationships between pitch classes; it is easy to imagine that Stravinsky has subjected any such pitch hierarchies to the same sort of erasure which he applies to the text of the Requiem Mass. As a result, there is a virtually total absence of any predictive value in whatever "tonal" syntax may be said to persist here; although V7 may cause the listener to expect I, no similar expectation-generating mechanism obtains in the present context. The dyad C-B which arrives in m. 2 presents the listener with mixed signals: although the violas' C in mm. 2-3 is heard only briefly, in the absence of any other activity in this register it provides (as noted above) acoustic support for the cellos' F, while the second violins' B, alien to the F major scale, is problematic.

Still, a residuum of F-priority remains. With the first violin's entrance on A in m. 3 all three members of the F major triad have been presented, suggesting (by majority vote) a locally privileged role for F. (F and C, of course, have ceased to sound by this point, weakening F acoustically if not conceptually). This F-priority is seen to have its roots in the original form of the first hexachord of the row heard in the Prelude, which includes only one pitch class (the troublesome vol33id184) not a member of the F major collection.22 All subsequent occurrences of the string ostinato "reharmonize" the violin's plaint of mm. 4-7, which returns in progressively more elaborated form in mm. 12-19, 26-33, and 39-46.

The cello's first entrance in the second section (m. 9) is on vol33id184. The cello's move to vol33id184 at the same time as the viola's entrance on vol33id184 renders any claim to priority that vol33id184 may have here less clear-cut; conversely, vol33id184's claim to priority is undercut by the preceding vol33id184. The only pitch class to establish any but the most fleeting claim to priority over the others is the vol33id184 which serves as a pedal in mm. 20-33. This vol33id184 is provided with acoustic reinforcement by the first violin's vol33id184, starting in m. 22. This section represents a significant slowing of the movement's harmonic rhythm and gives vol33id184 priority as a secondary pitch center of the movement through sheer duration (engendering what an earlier generation of Stravinsky scholars might have called "tonality by assertion"). The viola's initial vol33id184 moves to vol33id184 in a manner which suggests a 7-6 suspension embellishing a six-three chord, while the second violin's vol33id184 remains dangling as an "unresolved ninth." When the final section of the movement (which is simply the ostinato without the overlaid plaint) begins in m. 47, the A is missing from the opening sonority, and the troublesome B persists, but the F (this time heard in the double basses) is once again reinforced by C (this time in the cellos), thereby reasserting the F priority of the opening, and subordinating the vol33id184 center of mm. 20-33.

By the time the solo violin makes its entrance on vol33id184 and C in m. 4, the alert listener has noticed strong resemblances between Stravinsky's deployment of pitches in the present work and in earlier pieces composed in his "pandiatonic" style. It does not require much of a conceptual leap to conclude that the mechanisms and function of "tonality" in these earlier pieces is essentially the same as in later works such as the Requiem Canticles (where it is admittedly far less prevalent). Charles Wuorinen and Jeffrey Kresky suggest important points of convergence with respect to "pandiatonic" and serial usage in Stravinsky. According to one formulation, in serial music, order (specifically, the ordered deployment of interval and pitch class) seeks to serve the function that content (specifically, the content of triadic formations, and their large-scale prolongation) serves in music that is functionally tonal. Just as one can detect in Stravinsky's "tonal" works an awareness of order as a formal element, Wuorinen and Kresky observe, "we can discern in the twelve-tone works the exact opposite and corresponding preoccupation with content."23 Stravinsky's tendency to partially conceal (or annihilate) the order of pitches within each hexachord (the most extreme examples of this tendency are found in the Interlude and Postlude) may be viewed as a symptom of this preoccupation: if the series is a source of motivic resources to Schoenberg, and a mystic "law" to Webern, to Stravinsky it is a repository of harmonic resources; as the latter remarked to Robert Craft, "The intervals of my series are attracted by tonality; I compose vertically and this, in one sense at least, is to compose tonally."24

To a greater or lesser extent, tropisms similar to those found in the Prelude occur in most of the other movements. There is a persistent fixation on vol33id184 in the Dies Irae, a C centeredness in the Libera me, and again an F centrism in the Postlude. In each case, differences in quality and degree of pitch class priority are probably just as important as (and certainly more interesting than) the mere presence of such priority. In the opening of the Dies Irae, the dyad vol33id184-vol33id184 is presented in three registers: profundissimo in m. 81 (double basses, cellos, timpani, piano), and in the treble (sopranos and altos) and tenor registers (horns III and IV, violins) in m. 82. As shown in Ex. 3, where perfect fifth dyads are represented in the same manner as in Ex. 2, despite this apparent multiple affirmation of vol33id184 as a privileged pitch class, the fact that the vol33id184-vol33id184 dyad is persistently paired with the dyad vol33id184-vol33id184 (tenors and basses, piano, violins and violas) muddies the waters.


Example 3.



The latter dyad is registrally intermediate between the lowest and highest statements of vol33id184-vol33id184, and thus interlocks with the horns' vol33id184-vol33id184. The result is problematic: although vol33id184 is the lowest note, and is acoustically reinforced by vol33id184, the major seventh vol33id184- vol33id184 provides acoustic reinforcement (through octave doubling) not of the presumptive privileged pitch, vol33id184, but of the vol33id184; moreover, even if the listener succeeds in construing the vol33id184 as a subordinate pitch, i.e. as a suspension against vol33id184, its subordination is never confirmed by anything resembling resolution.

This problematic vol33id184-vol33id184-vol33id184 complex is succeeded by a parallel conundrum in m. 86, where the perfect fifth vol33id184-vol33id184 occurs below the dyad vol33id184-vol33id184, creating an incomplete "eleventh chord." If the vol33id184 is meant as a suspension against vol33id184, analogous to the vol33id184-vol33id184 situation already introduced, there is likewise no real resolution; indeed, both statements of the problematic centric collection vol33id184-vol33id184-vol33id184 are succeeded by a collection consisting of the minor second vol33id184-vol33id184 below the perfect fourth vol33id184-vol33id184, which is far harder to construe tonally. In m. 88, the return of the hexachord with which the entire piece begins, F-C-B-A-vol33id184-D, signals an important textural change (flutes and piano, with the chorus declaiming rather than singing "Solvet saeclum in favilla. . ."), and provides a momentary assertion of F (reinforced by its "third partial"). This focus on F is quite brief, no more than a dotted eighth note in duration, and serves more to recall the F centrism of the opening movement than to establish an effective local counterweight to the (problematic) vol33id184 centrism of mm. 81-87. Of course, F is enharmonically the dominant of vol33id184, although it is more conceptually satisfying, perhaps, to simply note that there seems to be a persistent tendency in the Requiem Canticles to privilege the pitches of the opening hexachord of the Prelude, especially vol33id184, F and C, and to associate them audibly with one another.

The vol33id184 centrism of the Dies irae seems far more a means of embodying a specific point of tension than of making possible any sense of release; as mentioned above with respect to the Prelude, Stravinsky has succeeded in removing any teleological component from "tonality." Viewed this way, the vol33id184-vol33id184-vol33id184 complex of mm. 81-82 and 94-97 is locally privileged as the most sharply delineated point of tension in the Dies irae—almost a leitmotif for the Day of Judgment—of which the vol33id184-vol33id184/vol33id184- vol33id184 complex of m. 86 is a variant. The vol33id184-vol33id184/vol33id184-vol33id184 sonority of mm. 83-84 and mm. 98-102 is a reshuffling of elements from these two privileged sonorities, with a minor second standing for the major seventh of m. 82 and a perfect fourth standing for the original perfect fifth. The persistence of vol33id184 in the lowest register is, in a sense, robbed of any contextual priority by the sheer persistence of the tensions which unfold above it—a bereavement appropriate to the devastation herein depicted.

The situation in the Libera me is perhaps more straightforward, since this movement exhibits a relatively clear tendency to privilege C, beginning as it does on the "open" perfect fifth/perfect twelfth vol33id184- vol33id184 and ending on octave vol33id184s25 (Ex. 4a). As will be seen, however, the key word in the preceding sentence is "relatively"; C is no more a safe haven in the Libera me than vol33id184 was in the Dies irae; indeed, as will be seen, once again whatever pitch centrism is present represents quite the opposite from a safe haven. There are seven cases of octave "doubling" in the pitch material of the Libera me, which unfolds for the most part in a homophonic "first-species" note-against-note style: in m. 266 (G), m. 269 (D and A), m. 286 (four vol33id184s), m. 287 (D), m. 288 (vol33id184). In addition, unison "doublings" occur in m. 285 on E, vol33id184 and vol33id184. These octaves, with one exception, are gratuitous, i.e. they are not the product of hexachordal superposition or overlap, and do not convey any information about hexachordal succession or structure. Compare, however, the Lacrimosa, mm. 260-62, where an octave leap in the contralto solo line signals a change in the pattern of set-form successions; see also Babbitt's String Quartet No. 2 (1954)—which was, by the time Stravinsky composed the Requiem Canticles, part of the historical record—where every octave is structurally, i.e. serially, meaningful.26

If these octaves and unisons are not meaningful in terms of the row or of its intervals, what justifies their presence? Might they reveal the existence of vestiges of tonal harmonic thinking, and thus serve to indicate the persistence of the "old" Stravinsky in the midst of the "new"? Before addressing this question, it is important to note the deceptive character of many of Stravinsky's octave "doublings." Citing passages in Orpheus, the Ebony Concerto, the Symphony in C, the Octet and elsewhere, Andriessen and Schönberger note the number of times in which Stravinsky begins with an octave doubling which subsequently "derails". The result is that what may seem for a relatively long period of time to be one line doubled at the octave must indeed be considered two (or more) independent lines.

This paradoxical musical situation asks for a paradoxical definition—parallel counterpoint. The notion of counterpoint is justified because if the one voice is doubling the other and the other is doubling the one, then both are independent voices and neither is a doubling (as there is no third voice that each is doubling). The paradox of parallel counterpoint gives listeners a choice that they cannot really make.27

With Stravinsky, the applicability of a priori assumptions about whether a given line represents a doubling or a separate voice is always in question; octaves and unisons, far from indicating simple repose, can therefore signify points of conceptual tension, indeed a kind of ultimate conundrum involving the most basic definitions on which four centuries of Western music have relied. Schönberger and Andriessen note that voice leading in Stravinsky may be divergent, i.e. move from an apparent series of octave or unison doublings to an intervallically richer situation, or convergent, in which two or more self-evidently independent lines fuse into a single entity which just happens to be played by two or more instruments. If in the latter (convergent) case "the unisons and octaves . . . increasingly sound like a musical utopia—much coveted, rarely achieved," the former (divergent) situation might be described as dystopian.28 Stravinsky's own admonition is germane: "Dissonance is thus no more an agent of disorder than consonance is a guarantee of security."29

This conceptual uneasiness is reflected in the Libera me, as any reading of the movement must acknowledge. Ideally, such a reading would also take into consideration the movement's status both as an octave-saturated (and, in Wuorinen and Kresky's terms, content-oriented) part of a serial (order-oriented) whole and as culmination of the Requiem Canticles's narrative of mourning. If, while accepting the octave, unison, and perhaps even the perfect twelfth as at least locally privileged—whether labelling the sonority in m. 266 an incomplete C triad, an incipient harmonic series on C, or indeed merely an objet trouvé intended to evoke a state of relative security, one does not abandon a sense that such a pitch complex may indeed harbor imminent catastrophe, one approaches the kind of tensive state appropriate to the moment of musical experience represented by the Libera me. An apology for the tentative introduction of the consonance/dissonance dichotomy and the triad as points of reference for a reading of this movement is suggested by Stravinsky himself:

But just as the eye completes the lines of a drawing which the painter has knowingly left incomplete, just so the ear may be called upon to complete a chord and coöperate in its resolution, which has not actually been realized in the work. Dissonance, in this instance, plays the part of an allusion.30

Here follows an attempt to identify the most relevant allusions made by the Libera me.

The security (if it is that) of the phrase "Libera me, Domine" on the first seven beats of m. 266 is at once menaced by the murmuring of the chorus, and by the soprano and alto soloists' move to vol33id184 and D (Upper partials of the C harmonic series? Added tones enriching the implied C triad?) on the phrase "de morte" initiates a journey away from this state of relative repose. There are several subsequent close approaches to an octave/harmonic series/triadic safe haven; indeed, the quite Bachian chord in m. 267 seems ripe for resolution to a first-inversion dominant seventh on G, but instead moves (after a tenor-bass voice exchange, conventionally a device for guaranteeing part-writing clarity, adds complication in m. 268), to an incomplete D major seventh chord which itself dissolves into an open fifth on D and A.


Example 4a.



From the foregoing one might discern motion from C major or minor (m. 266) to G (mm. 267-68), thence to D (m. 269): the octave/fifth combination is even turning out to be a sort of cadential sonority. To read the passage thus risks a complete misreading of its character and its position in the narrative of the Requiem Canticles. The D-A collection in m. 269 implies arrival on the wrong "chord"; all of the "dissonances" in mm. 266-68 are left hanging. The impact of the movement indeed depends to a large extent on the accumulation of unresolved tensions which amplify the nimbus of unease provided by the coro parlando. The parallelism between the C-G combination of m. 266 and the D-A combination of m. 269 says not "we have arrived" so much as "here we go again." (When viewed in this context, Stravinsky's serialism becomes a guarantor of tension, since although the set may be made to yield formations which resemble triadic and related diatonic structures, it cannot, without almost unimaginable contortions, encompass the "resolution" of the apparent dissonances so introduced.)

Whatever attempts one makes at a tonal reading thereafter are brought, literally, down to earth ("et terra") by the soprano's descending perfect fifth in mm. 270-71. These two measures are governed by the perfect fifth vol33id184-vol33id184, but further tensions accumulate when the alto's major ninth, vol33id184, fails to resolve, instead moving to a minor ninth, vol33id184. This also foreshadows the melodic minor ninths of mm. 285 and 286-87. Text painting of a sort, somewhat reminiscent of Stravinsky's beloved Gesualdo, takes over here: at the thought of the imminent final ordeal by fire, which is emphasized starkly by the tritone leap in the soprano in mm. 272-73, the alto sinks dejectedly from vol33id184 to vol33id184 in mm. 270-71, the tenor from vol33id184 to vol33id184 in m. 272, but the disordered stack of perfect fourths (or fifths) in m. 273 places us no closer to tonal clarity than the last of the Op. 19 Klavierstücke of Schoenberg.


Example 4b.



The soloists attempt to regain their composure in m. 274, scoring a near miss with the root-position F major seventh chord on "Tremens factus . . ."; note how this turn towards F reflects the movement's set-form schematic as revealed by Spies.31 On "timeo", however, in m. 275, alto and bass demonstrate that the Viennese sickroom of atonality is merely a descending whole step away. Measures 276 and 277 seem to suggest that our stay in the sickroom is not going to come to an end any time soon; F major provides still less of a haven from the coming destruction and wrath than C did.


Example 4c.



With mention of heaven ("Quando coeli . . .") in m. 278, there is a slight lessening of the gloom (here an ascending whole step in the alto could have led us to a dominant seventh on vol33id184), but this merely sets up further disappointment when the chord of m. 271 (and "terra") returns; we are, in fact, caught in a maze, and what looked briefly like a way out simply led us back to an earlier dead end. On "Dies illa, dies irae" in mm. 280-281, the tenor's vol33id184-vol33id184-vol33id184 is another affective moan of despair against which the other voices remain mired in almost total stasis (and indeed, the music remains stuck on a single hexachord throughout mm. 280-84, a significant change in the prevalent "harmonic rhythm" of the movement; compare the Prelude, mm. 20-33). The "miseriae" in question (mm. 283-84) are painful and poignant; this "chord change" (from an vol33id184 minor seventh with minor ninth to a vol33id184 major chord with two different flavors of seventh, or perhaps a 5/3 to 6/3 expansion of a single inclusive vol33id184 harmony) with its chromatic side-slippage and oblique motion recalls the muted coda to the third movement of the Symphony of Psalms, rehearsal numbers 22 to 24, which likewise exemplifies Stravinskian harmonic stasis at its most poignant.


Example 4d.



The unison vol33id184 in m. 285 is rather unexpected after the chromatic near-saturation of the previous measures, and as with the D-A consonance of m. 269, is in no sense a satisfactory point of arrival or clarification—in fact, far from a lessening of tensions, the sudden shift from "four-part" writing to (in Schönberger and Andriessen's terms) "parallel counterpoint" here emphasizes the starkness of "the great day,"and provides a technical counterpart to the irony of the phrase "dies magna." In the space of these four beats (starting on the downbeat of m. 285 and concluding with the first beat of 286) Stravinsky manages to flaunt the fundamental part-writing conventions of every period of Western musical history from the early Renaissance onward. Here some of the "parallel octaves" are only apparent, but others are real, and the voice crossing between alto and tenor is a final, gratuitous twist of the knife. The result is a stark denial of any lingering possibility of release; if all assumptions concerning the integrity of individual voices are no longer relevant, the resolution of dissonances (even if never more than a slim hope) is rendered entirely impossible.32


Example 4e.



We recover from the total dissolution of the movement's four-part texture in m. 285 only to move on the first beat of m. 286 to another "red herring" chord which would resolve nicely to F major if the alto would first cooperate by resolving its suspension to vol33id184. By this point one is not naïve enough to expect that, but even so the vol33id184 in three octaves which follow seem excessively ruthless, while the subsequent shift to vol33id184 in two octaves is gut-wrenching. (The inconsistency with respect to how many octaves are encompassed by each of these "dystopian unison" simultaneities is yet more evidence of Stravinsky's systematic sabotage of part-writing certainties.) The precise identity of the inverted vol33id184 major ninth chord on the third beat of m. 287 is almost irrelevant, since it serves merely as a last bump in the road before our arrival at the vol33id184 complex in m. 288. "Amara et valde," indeed.

There is considerable surface similarity between the movement as a whole and the intervallic texture of a Renaissance four-voice setting in familiar style, which is surely one of Stravinsky's models: specifically, the part writing of the Libera me seems to mimic motion from a perfect consonance rooted on the modal finalis to fuller sonorities, then back to the finalis, again supported by perfect consonances. There is considerable irony in this; it is as though the outward form of a fairy tale is being used to tell of how Hansel and Gretel never got out of the woods. It would be enough to observe that the octave-ridden nature of the entire final passage (mm. 285-88) cheats the final vol33id184 of any possible role as a satisfying goal; as the foregoing illustrates, this is, in a sense, the least of our problems. The coro parlando gets the final word, and it is probably a good thing (given the perils just undergone) that the prayer of the faithful, when it finally gets through, is shouted rather than sung.

On April 15, 1971 the body of Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was taken by gondola to the Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice for an Orthodox Christian funeral service, preceded by a concert at which the Requiem Canticles was performed. It is fitting that Venicea Janus city which stands on the boundary between eastern and western Europe, a venerable remnant of ancient empires—should be the final resting place for the composer whose music more than any other composer's invites rehearing of the aesthetic and spiritual rituals of European civilization. As this essay seeks to show, in the Requiem Canticles this rehearing encompasses both the formal and the affective, looking back to tonal practice while embodying refined serial constructive techniques. This lapidary micro-liturgy serves as the capstone of a lifelong funerary and liturgizing impulse which makes Stravinsky both a chief mourner and a chief celebrant of western culture.

1Louis Andriessen and Elmer Schönberger, The Apollonian Clockwork: On Stravinsky (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 5. I am indebted to Louis Andriessen for his detailed criticisms and suggestions concerning this paper.

2Igor Stravinsky, Stravinsky: An Autobiography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1936), 142.

3Note also his insistence on the value of dogma. Stravinsky, The Poetics of Music (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1947), 5-6.

4The dedication of the Requiem Canticles to Helen Buchanan Seeger was a condition for the award of the commission to Stravinsky by Stanley Seeger, Jr. The Seegers do not appear to have been acquaintances of Stravinsky.

5Pieter C. van den Toorn, The Music of Igor Stravinsky (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), xix.

6"For I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all . . . . If, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion and not a reality." Stravinsky, Stravinsky: An Autobiography, 83-84.

7Arthur Berger, "Problems of Pitch Organization in Stravinsky" in Perspectives on Schoenberg and Stravinsky, Boretz and Cone, eds. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), 123-54; Claudio Spies, "Some Notes on Stravinsky's Requiem Settings" in Boretz and Cone, 223-49; Milton Babbitt, "Order, Symmetry and Centricity" in Confronting Stravinsky: Man, Musician and Modernist, Jann Pasler, ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 247-61.

8Igor Stravinsky, Igor Stravinsky: Choral Works Vol. III, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Robert Craft, conductor, Ithaca College Concert Choir, Gregg Smith, chorus master (Columbia Masterworks MS7386; subsequently reissued on compact disc as Sony Classical 01-046290-10).

9Andriessen and Schönberger, 7.

10Andriessen and Schönberger, 5.

11Ibid., 9.

12William Butler Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium" in Selected Poems and Two Plays of William Butler Yeats, M.C. Rosenthal, ed. (New York: MacMillan, 1962), 95-96.

13Spies in Boretz and Cone, 237, footnote 6.

14Andriessen and Schönberger, 273.

15Babbitt in Pasler, 250.

16Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Conversations with Stravinsky (New York: Doubleday, 1959), 22-23.

17Babbitt in Pasler, 250.

18For Webern, canon = law (nomos) = row. See Anton Webern, Letters to Hildegard Jone and Josef Humplik, trans. Cornelius Cardew (Bryn Mawr: Theordore Presser, 1967), 48. Likewise, Boulez: "This [the so-called Viennese School's] concept of the series was derived from strict canonic technique . . . ". "Counterpoint" from "Entries for a Musical Encyclopedia". Pierre Boulez, Stocktakings from an Apprenticeship, trans. Stephen Walsh (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 232.

19Spies, 249. Here Tn = transposition applied to order number n (see note 17 above). "With the matching second hexachord" means matching under the indicated order-number transposition operation. The resultant hexachord pairs do not form complete aggregates.

20Arthur Berger, "Problems of Pitch Organization in Stravinsky." Boretz and Cone, 126-127.

21See Joseph N. Straus, "The Problem of Prolongation in Post-Tonal Music," Journal of Music Theory 31, no. 1 (Spring 1987): 1-21.

22Stravinsky uses two distinct series in the piece. The only movement in which the two series are commingled is the Interlude. See Spies in Boretz and Cone, pp. 233-237, and Babbitt, "Stravinsky's Verticals and Schoenberg's Diagonals: A Twist of Fate" in Stravinsky Retrospectives, Ethan Haimo and Paul Johnson, eds. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987), 31-34.

23Wuorinen and Kresky, "On the Significance of Stravinsky's Last Works" in Pasler, 263.

24Stravinsky and Craft, Conversations with Stravinsky, 22-23.

25The seeming perversity of Stravinsky's notation in this piece (which actually represents a retreat from the extremism of Abraham and Isaac, where no flats, only sharps are used) may be accounted for, first, as an attempt to rationalize notation; second, as an attempt to embed Christian symbolism into the score; if sharps are taken as representations of the Cross, the entire score becomes a kind of devotional memory aid. See also the cruciform created by Stravinsky's open-score layout on the first page of the Exaudi.

26The relationship between the harp, viola and cello in the Lacrimosa, mm. 257-60, foreshadows the voice-leading conundra of mm. 285-86.

27Andriessen and Schönberger, 77-79.


29Stravinsky, Poetics of Music, 34-35.

30Stravinsky, Poetics of Music, 34.

31Spies, 249.

32The relationship between the harp, viola and cello in the Lacrimosa, mm. 257-260, foreshadows the voice-leading conundra of mm. 285-86.

  • Volume: 33
Read 4215 times Last modified on 18 December 2013
Rate this item
(0 votes)
Jeffrey Perry

Jeffrey Perry holds degrees from Williams College, the California Institute of the Arts, and Princeton University. Formerly a member of the music faculties of Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he has taught music theory at Louisiana State University since 1994. He was twice a Fellow of the Mannes Institute for Advanced Studies in Music Theory. Besides College Music Symposium, Perry’s work has appeared in Perspectives of New Music, Music Theory Spectrum, Nineteenth Century Music, the Journal of Musicology, American Music, and elsewhere. In 2012 he was an invited speaker at the State University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Active as a composer, the Louisiana Sinfonietta will première his Autumn Divertimento for string orchestra in fall 2013. His most recent work focuses on the chamber music of Robert Schumann and on the music of his teacher, American composer Mel Powell (1925-98).

Login to post comments