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Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring for Piano, Four Hands

April 19, 2023

Join Bruce Adolphe, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Resident Lecturer, for investigations and insights into chamber music masterworks.

Beloved by regulars and a revelation to first-timers for their depth, accessibility, and brilliance, we dig into the ICM lecture recording archive to share our favorite lectures with you.

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Welcome to the Inside Chamber Music Podcast presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. I'm Bruce Adolphe, resident lecturer at CMS, where I started the lecture series in 1992. In 2011, we began livestreaming the lectures on our website. The audio for this podcast comes from the ever growing archive of videos made available live and on demand ChamberMusicSociety.org.

We look at the music from a compositional perspective and find parallels in novels, plays and poetry. Plus, we explore historical context. And with live musicians in the studio during the lectures, we experiment with performance issues. Today's podcast of Inside Chamber Music brings you Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and the Four Hand piano version played by Juho Pohjonen and Michael Brown.

This was originally recorded on February 16th, 2022. Good evening. When I was 11... I know that sounds like a weird way to start, but I have to tell you, this lecture I've been waiting to give since I was 11 years old. I haven't been thinking about it the whole time, but when I was 11, my piano teacher gave me a recording of Leonard Bernstein in the Philharmonic doing The Rite of Spring orchestral version, obviously, and that is what made me want to be a composer.

I thought that was a unique situation, but it turns out to be true for a huge number of composers throughout the 20th century. What about you? Yes. Yeah. Are you also a composer? Both of you. You dabble, but you decided to dabble because of the Rite of Spring? But Michael. Yes, right. (inaudible)

Yes. Well, I was starting to check it out. Elliot Carter says in print that he decided to become a composer after hearing The Rite of Spring. He heard the New York premiere in 1924, conducted by Monteux with the Boston Symphony. Steve Reich, you can find him on YouTube saying he decided to become a composer because of The Rite of Spring.

Frank Zappa decided to do what he did because of The Rite of Spring. I see you were discussing that earlier. Frank Zappa famously said the following, "I listened to The Rite of Spring more than any man in the world." Could be true. John Williams has had to admit many times that his film scores are often based on The Rite of Spring and the one that is extremely obvious...

If you listen to a section of Jaws, it sounds very much like The Rite of Spring mixed with a few other things. The band Metallica. Not something I'm an expert in, but they credit a lot of what they do to The Rite of Spring. Now, notice I'm not saying Stravinsky. I'm saying The Rite of Spring. That piece in particular, Stravinsky in general, of course, but The Rite of Spring in particular.

Leonard Bernstein, I will show you later how West Side Story is based heavily on what you're going to hear from The Rite of Spring. This is not a theory of mine. It's very obvious if you know the techniques and you will know the techniques by the time I get to the Bernstein. And when Stravinsky died, the New York Philharmonic gave a tribute concert, and Bernstein said that Stravinsky was our musical father, meaning composers. That he was the musical father because primarily of The Rite of Spring, but not exclusively musical father of 20th century.

Another experience I had with The Rite of Spring, when I was a Juilliard student Boulez was there for quite some time, and he was teaching, conducting, and one of the pieces he was going to teach by having conducting students conduct was Webern's Five Pieces for Orchestra and it turned out that there was no one to play the cellist.

The little piano that sounds like bells. I was nabbed in the hallway and said, "Here's the score." I'd never heard the piece. I was 17. He said, Here's the score. Get down to the orchestra room because there's no audience there. Boulez is there. There's no one to play that part. "I said, I don't have it. I'm not dressed for this."

And they said, "Go to the drama department, get a suit,." Which is what I did. I went to the drama department, threw on a jacket, ran in there, and I sat down with a score of a piece I'd never heard by Webern. Not a piano, not just my part, but the whole score. And I was very nervous. And I see Boulez.

He looks at me and he... So, we're doing the Webern. And I have this polyrhythm which, two rhythms at the same time against each other to play. And right as it comes, he stops conducting and he plays it. And I watch him and I play it. And then he goes like this and keeps connecting. It's amazing.

He actually played it through me. Then they were doing The Rite of Spring and I didn't get up and leave the cellist. I just sat there. So I got to sit there and watch Boulez from very close because the cellist is very close, conduct a whole rehearsal of The Rite of Spring without having to play. It was very exciting.

Now what we're going to hear is not the orchestral version, obviously, but this is a very important artifact, the four hand version. First of all, the first people to play it were Stravinsky and Debussy. And Stravinsky played the right hand part, the upper part. And the lower part was Debussy. And Debussy famously said later in a letter to Stravinsky, "It haunts me like a beautiful nightmare."

And he meant many things. He found the piece terrifying. He found Stravinsky terrifying. But he also knew that he was, at that moment, maybe no longer the reigning innovator of music in Europe. That somebody was coming along who was just going to blow him out of the water. And of course, it was true to a certain extent, but they owed each other things.

Debussy gave a lot of, I mean, Stravinsky took a lot from Debussy and then Debussy took some things from Stravinsky. Also, this version was the first version to be published. And as Michael Tilson Thomas said in an interview about The Rite of Spring, that The Rite of Spring in his mind is a piano piece orchestrated. And then he went on to say that he felt a lot of Stravinsky's early music...

You could feel Stravinsky playing the piano, which is true. And in fact, there's a, you can find this on YouTube, Stravinsky sitting at the piano, I believe he's maybe 80 at the time, and he's reminiscing about writing The Rite of Spring. And he's pretending to be really happy because, first of all, Stravinsky was, I would say, when it came to The Rite of Spring, as life went on, he was upset that that was the one thing everyone knew.

He had gone way beyond that in his mind, and many, many years later, he was tired of the Rite of Spring being the signature piece of his life. But he went to the piano and he said, "The first thing I did", he said, "Is this." (music) "And I played it over and over for Diaghilev and Debussy. ' He said, "When I played it for Diaghilev," he said, "When is it going to stop?"

"And I said," meaning Stravinsky, "I said at the end. Which isn't true. It stops way before the end. But I'll get back to that chord in a minute. But that is a piano chord and it's very percussive. But I also want to say another reason it became popular, the piano four hand version is Paul Taylor because a lot of, after the original 1913 production with the Nijinski's choreography, which Stravinsky hated, the choreography. He felt he was, you know, a great dancer, suddenly becomes a choreographer after one piece. Then he gets to do The Rite of Spring.

And he felt that he was not up to the task. But what he did do, you may know, and you can now find this also on YouTube, you can find the Joffrey Ballet in 1987 doing the entire recreation of the original choreography. The choreography was deliberately the opposite of everything that ballet was. The toes pointed in. It was bow legged.

They hunched down. They did not leap. They jumped. They jumped on two feet. And it was deemed by the public that first came in 1913 to be horrible. I mean, they hated it, the choreography. But I say Paul Taylor, because Paul Taylor's version uses the four hand piano version. And the story actually is a little strange. I don't know if anyone has seen the Paul Taylor one.

It's called The Rite of Spring, The Rehearsal and of course, the- I keep looking over here. You guys are really over here. But the instrument, the four hand version was used in rehearsals because this was way before computers, obviously. And now people give these MIDI files, which are computer files. So nobody has to play it and it's very mechanical.

And for dance, it's actually good because the tempos are always exactly the same and there's no expression, which, actually, Stravinsky would love too because he liked the exact strictness of it. But Paul Taylor decided to commission a composer, nameless composer at the moment, to write a new score for him and that he was going to choreograph. But this composer was taking forever.

So Stravinsky, I mean, Paul Taylor, in the meantime, took The Rite of Spring four hand version, he had a recording of it and he choreographed to that. And he choreographed something that has nothing to do with The Rite of Spring. It does have a kidnaping in it. Which The Rite of Spring has. It has a private investigator, a dance company rehearsing.

All of this has nothing to do with The Rite of Spring because it wasn't going to be the rite of Spring. The composer who was commissioned never finished writing the score until ten years later, never finished it. So Paul Taylor took the score of The Rite of Spring that he was using, and that's what he used. He said, "I've already been working with it.

It works." And of course it's the only choreographed version of The Rite of Spring that is kind of hilarious and on a strange angle and has nothing to do with the original in any way. But other people have tried. There are 200, at least, 200 versions of the choreography. Including Pina Bausch, who was very successful with hers, which is kind of iconic and also Maurice Béjart in the sixties was a very powerful one. But none of them last the way the music does because the music changed the history of music in almost every way.

And I will describe what many of those ways are. But I also want to mention a few more dance things. Massine, Leonide Massine was asked to do it by Diaghilev, and this is after, obviously, 1913 and 1920. Massine did his own version, which Stravinsky liked, and then it was done in 1930, the Massine version in Philadelphia. Stokowski conducting with Martha Graham in the lead role.

And apparently Massine didn't like her. He liked her dancing, but he didn't like something about her. And he kept telling her to quit every day. And she didn't quit. So she did it. She did the chosen one. Originally, The Chosen One, this is the woman who dances herself to death at the end, none of which you have to know to appreciate the music.

In fact, it's good to forget it. But in the original it was supposed to be Nijinska who is the sister of Nijinsky. She really should be Nijinskia but let's not go there. But Nijinska got pregnant and therefore relinquished the role of The Chosen One and never did it, actually. All right. I think I've covered the dance except to say one thing.

It's very famous that in 1913, at the premiere in May, May 29, that there was a so-called riot. A lot of time has gone by, 109 years and a lot of research and a lot of looking into this. And apparently it wasn't exactly a riot. It certainly wasn't an insurrection. It's more of a mild protest that was predictable. Predictable in that two weeks before Debussy had a premiere of Jeux, his orchestra piece.

And at that, the same audience, pretty much, was whistling and booing and laughing during that premiere by Debussy. So they were kind of in the mood to be like this with new music. But part of it was there were two audiences at The Rite of Spring premiere. One audience were composers, musicians and artists and friends of Stravinsky and that whole world.

The other were mostly a very wealthy part of Paris who loved ballet, and they came to see ballet. They did not come to see something new and revolutionary and strange. So, they hated it. And the reason something started was right as the music began... The dance doesn't start until the introduction is over. Right as the music began, there was a little laughter and people jeering just as they did for Debussy.

But because there were all these composers and musicians and artists in the audience, they yelled back at the people telling them to shut up and stop doing that. So there got to be some arguing. Once the curtain came up, which is when that chord starts to happen, they saw people dressed in clothes that were supposed to be...

This is designed by Nicholas Roerich, supposed to be prehistoric costumes of the Slavic people. Well, no one really knows what that looked like. And actually it looks a little bit like Native American clothes mixed with folklore designs from early Russia. And that's probably what it was. We can't prove it. But a strange history is that in Europe and in Russia, since 1820 something, Native Americans were putting on shows with Buffalo Bill all over Europe.

And people saw these things and to, the worst part of it was that there were exhibitions that were called human zoos. You probably know something about this, but in Paris, this same audience probably went to the fairgrounds and they would see Native Americans and people from around the world who were considered primitive in cages, forced to doing dances and screaming and yelling and forced to do things that were considered their lifestyle.

They were looked at through cages. So to see this at the theater, this at Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, excuse me, for these people was an insult. But Roerich thought what he was doing was learning from all of the primal cultures, a word that they would use instead of primitive, both of which are fraught now, but that he thought he was using all that information to inform his knowledge further of the designs and the clothes that he imagined existing at that time on 107th Street and near, I guess, West End, there's a Roerich museum. All his sketches and paintings are there.

There you can go look at that or look at it online. But his costumes and designs really were not modern in any way. And the choreography was an attempt to do something new by doing something old, which was in the air at the time, just like Picasso, who was looking at African sculpture, and it was informing his painting in such a way that this, what was called neo primitivism, was huge.

And the way we think of those things now and the way they thought of it then are completely different. But to the artists, it was an infusion of world culture in a way that possibly was self-serving to a certain extent, but also did reinvigorate a lot of artistic visions. This is all to say that the audience didn't like what it saw much more than it didn't like what they heard.

And that can also be proven by the fact that the Rite of Spring as a piece of music was performed quite a bit without the dance, without anything on stage, and was a huge success immediately because they weren't distracted by the things that they hated. In fact, you never get to hear a great review from early on. So here's a little bit of a review from 1914, one year later. "The performance was dazzling.

Munter and his admirable orchestra achieved miracles before leaving Paris. Stravinsky, in a state of rapture, immediately dashed off a letter to the conductor, which he has authorized me to make public. The performance took place in an unhoped for silence. A few interjections quickly stifled burst forth in the crowd in their exuberance, but the public has been tamed. With the last chord all were seized with delirium, a fever of admiration swept the whole mass of spectators.

People began yelling for the composer." That's not the story you usually hear. But that's what happened when they dropped the ballet. Now, Stravinsky says in his autobiography that he had a dream, that The Rite of Spring, the genesis of it was he had this dream of a woman dancing herself to death in a sacrificial ritual. It's kind of a weird dream to have. He told Roerich right away, because Nicholas Roerich was an expert in Slavic pre-history.

But there's the question, did he have that dream or is that just Stravinsky talking? Because he told people all kinds of things. We don't know what's true. But, you know, and I have to say, I'm very indebted to the research as is anyone who looks at Stravinsky of several people, including Richard Taruskin who did a lot of research, some of which I'm about to use.

He could have had that dream because, you know, you don't have dreams of things that make no sense in your life. But when Stravinsky was a kid growing up, his father was a very famous bass in the opera. And he sang in an opera that Stravinsky, as a kid, saw many times, in which his father played the role of a pilgrim elder.

And there was a ritual sacrifice of a maiden as part of Act One, Scene Three. So he saw this many times. The opera was composed in 1865. Stravinsky was born in 1882, and it was still in the repertoire. The opera is by Alexander Serov and it's called The Rogneda. I took a look at the score. It is terrible in my opinion, but it was performed a lot and it was considered very, very exciting.

Now, one last bit of history before we get to the music. When Stokowski conducted it in America, he knew that the audience might not like it. And he said this to the audience. "The Russians, of whom Stravinsky is a type, get closer to nature than we of the more highly cultivated nations do." So therefore, you should at least start off condescending and let it improve from there.

But also an interesting review that relates what happened to our own sensibilities in times and politics. now, there was a lot of anti-immigrant fervor in Paris and in France during this time. In fact, a few months before The Rite of Spring was premiered, a new anti-immigrant kind of law was passed with ID cards necessary that were very hard to get if you weren't born in France.

And there's a word taken from the Greek, metic. Metic is a word that simply means somebody who is a foreigner who's trying to get into your society and you don't want them. It's a weird word, but there's no good translation for it. One of the reviews of The Rite of Spring said The Ballet Russe, the Russian Ballet, which was Diaghilev's company, which produced, you know, Firebird with Stravinsky's score, and then Petrushka with Stravinsky's score and then The Rite of Spring.

Okay. Quote, "Ballet Russe should remain exotic. They should not try to become metic because we have enough of those as it is, thank you very much." That's a review that goes right to the point. It was a very difficult kind of period. Okay, let's get to the music. So the music has nothing to do with all of this because it's music. The sets and the costumes.

I'm afraid they're stuck with these problems. But music is abstract and it's been choreographed a million ways, but none of it comes near what the music is. Now, what are some of the revolutions of this music? Excuse me. Okay. Some of the revolutions are that the rhythm, oh, and the harmony and the melody are completely different way of looking at music than what had come before.

Now, when I say completely, I'm exaggerating, but that's the way it felt. Now, 109 years later, we see exactly what he was doing. And of course what Stravinsky was doing extends out of Petrushka beautifully, and it relates to other things that composers were doing that he knew. Even Ravel and Debussy and Bartok in all of this, but he did something completely but fully.

The technique of the Rite of Spring is primarily like a mosaic. It doesn't have a linear line. If there's another kind of line, let me know. I hate linear line. I say things like that. I have to catch it. Okay. It doesn't have a line. It doesn't have an arc. It doesn't develop. In fact, Stravinsky said at the time he was against development in music, the German idea of development.

A lot of French composers were trying to not develop in their music. They're trying to just have versions and variations and not develop. But what he does is he creates blocks. It's like a mosaic, but it's also like cubist painting, which was very big at the time. I mean, Stravinsky didn't meet Picasso until 1917. This is 1913. But Picasso and Gehry and, what? Braque.

I don't know if someone said Braque, but maybe. They were already doing this and there were also Russian Cubists, Goncharova, Larionov. And so Stravinsky and Diaghilev, who was also very much into visual arts, they knew about all of this. And if you think of this music as cubist or a mosaic, it's very similar. Blocks of sound. A block of a series of chords.

They're not a chord progression, they're just a couple of chords. You can cut them out and there they are. They don't go anywhere. And you've got a tune, a Russian folk tune changed to fit his mosaic, cut around the edges, reshaped a little bit, and then rhythmically they're placed next to each other, maybe with an ostinato. Ostinato is the old word for loop or a groove, a repeated figure that goes on and on and on.

It comes from the Italian word, obstinate, ostinato. So obstinate is actually the English word. I know. So anyway, if you take an ostinato block and keep repeating it and over it, you place fragments of folk melodies and that the harmonies are not developing or progressing into each other, but just placed in blocks and reference points to each other.

You get a kind of cubist multi-angled view of something . You take a human face and break it up into parts. You take a piece of music, fragment it into sections and remove the sections. Now, he actually worked that way. We know exactly how Stravinsky worked. I have a copy of the sketchbook here. I know you probably won't be able to see this, but I'm going to hold it up anyway.

And you can look at it online later. I don't know. But here are some sketches. And what I'm going to show you is, first of all, he never used music paper. He lined the paper himself so that he could have blocks and spaces. Down here, it says A, B, C, D, F with just the letters, A, B, D, E, what does that mean?

He wrote a block of music called A, a block called B, C, D, E, F. He put them in the order A, B, C, D, F, A, B, D, E. There's a line going all the way up to here because that's F which he wrote up there that he decided, you know, there are arrows all over the place which show that what Stravinsky was thinking was cut and paste.

Now, we all know about cut and paste because of computers. That's how we work. Way before computers, obviously, that is how he worked and you can see it on the paper and later on in some of his other later works, he actually used scissors and cut out fragments of music and replaced them on a page and then reorganized them.

He was doing that right up until the end, 1971. So now let's get to the music a little more in terms of the harmonic sound. The sound world that Stravinsky used is a combination, in this piece, but in general, a combination of traditional tonal things like a Dorian mode. (music) Which a lot of Russian tunes... I don't know what that is.

I don't think it's a Russian tune, but it could be. But the thing is that if you take each of those four things musicians call a tetra chord, four notes. If you take the top one and lower it by a half step, you get the octatonic scale. Now, I've talked about octatonicm occasionally, but this time I'm really going to look at it only in terms of the Rite of Spring.

And Stravinsky. Very specific. (music) This gives you a different harmonic palette, a different set of intervals. Now, composers sometimes talk about writing with themes or harmonies, but in the 20th century, more and more especially, the two giants Schoenberg and Stravinsky talked about working with intervals. Bach also worked with intervals. So this is an interval. The space between two notes. This is a tritone. Divides the octave right and half. That's sixth halfway through 12th. Six half steps.

So Stravinsky said composers should really treat intervals like dollars. Then they would know what they're worth. That tells you a lot about Stravinsky. Okay, now this octatonic scale, therefore, can be thought of as tritones. And in fact, I'm going to transpose it down to where you're going to hear it in the piece right away, because this chord... (music)

Okay. (music) Here are the tritones. Because this is a tritone away from this. So the sound on each of these notes could be, you get this set of intervals on on four notes. Same thing here and here. Does this sound familiar? I'll get to that later because Burnstein based a lot of Westside Story on The Rite of Spring, as I mentioned.

I'll share more about that later. But anyway, that sound of the perfect fourth and the tritone is essential. It's even been called by quite a few people the Rite chord. And I don't mean correct. I mean The Rite of Spring chord. The Rite chord. Now, aside from that, on the second set of minor thirds. So we have two diminished chords.

By the way, if you don't understand all the technical words, don't worry about it because it's the sound that you need to listen to. The sound will be stuck in your ear. And believe me, everything will sound like The Rite of Spring when I'm done. So, the second set of minor thirds, the second diminished chord has built in chords by thirds that are not typical of major and minor or Dorian or Lydian or any other kind of scale.

In other words, these chords are all tonal chords. These are dominant sevenths, ordinary chords, but they are linked in a way that does not exist in any major or minor key, only an octatonicm. So, from a mathematical point of view, instead of seven notes arranged a certain way, there are eight notes arranged in alternating half steps and whole steps.

You get a series of tritones, you get certain intervals in certain chords and you also get whole tones because if I do this... (music) If I select them out, you can hear whole tones. So the whole tone scale, not complete is lurking in there. And all of those, this vocabulary is used extensively in The Rite of Spring, but not exclusively.

He also uses Russian folk tunes, occasionally major and minor and Dorian. So it's a mix of things, and he can mix them together for many reasons, but partly because they fit together. One slight shift and everything changes. Now, I'll say a few things about the introduction, and then we're all going to go straight through a lot of the piece for you.

Let me make sure I'm doing... okay, good. The very opening, the introduction. (music) Which is famously played by a bassoon in the very, very highest register. At the time, even professional composers in the audience, they didn't know what instrument that was because bassoons didn't play that high usually. Now, every student bassoon player practices this solo all the time. That comes from a folk song.

The folk songs are mostly Lithuanian, some are pure Russian, and we only know about this because of that copy, the facsimile that was made widely available. And then Richard Taruskin went through that book in great detail and looked for every single tune that was a folk tune. It was easy to find them, though, because the words are there too.

And Stravinsky would take the words to a song, remove them, take the song, massage it, kid around. Because, listen, here's the original tune. It goes like this. (music) That's very close to this. (music) And later on, it appears after this moment, it just comes back. But wait a minute. That's the middle of the tune. That's what I'm talking about. He states the tune, but then when it comes back, sometimes it starts in the middle at the end because he chops them up.

It just starts right in the middle. Do you mind? No, it's a mosaic. You get used to that kind of thing. Now, actually, let's get going here. Let me bring these two fantastic pianists over here. We're going to start going through the piece and I will talk about what you're listening to and they will demonstrate some things. Let's hear after the introduction, the curtain comes up, forget the curtain and you see these dancers who cross the line.

Forget them. Okay, but the curtain comes up on our ears and this is what we hear. (music) Okay. Okay. Thank you. Now, unfortunately, I have to go to the piano for a second. There's going to be a lot of exercise here. I loved conducting that, but if I didn't have the score, I'd really have to count. Because Stravinsky is deliberately doing the unpredictable. There is no pattern to that.

Now, the human brain can find a pattern anywhere, and many people doing analysis of this piece have found patterns, different ones, but they're all wrong. Even Stravinsky said about Boulez's detailed analysis of the rhythm. He said, It's amazing, but I never knew any of that. Of course, that doesn't mean Boulez was wrong, but that's beside the point. So this chord, this is the emblem of the Rite of Spring.

It's the first thing he heard, the first thing he wrote. But is it octatonic? No. Is it tonal? No. What is it? Okay. It's almost octatonic because a moment later you hear this. (music) That's C major and this is an E-flat dominant seven. That is octatonic, because as I said, you have chords that are a minor third apart.

That's a very octatonic chord. So there it is. But when it comes back to this, it's not C major, it's E major and E-flat dominant. So I think it's great because he could have used an octatonic harmony. It's not quite as dissonant because some of the notes are doubles like the G is, but this is completely dissonant.

So it is a perfect flag. An iconic moment. An emblem. A thing to remember because it isn't octatonic. It isn't tonal. It symbolizes the split. In other words, it's about this half step split. And this dissonance is really a statement about what this Rite of Spring is about, even though Stravinsky, probably, as we say, just went to the piano and eventually did that.

He didn't want anyone to ever hear him compose. No one was allowed to listen to him. Right? He muted his upright piano and he sat there and even though he had a great ear, obviously a fantastic musician, he needed the piano to find things because he was very finger oriented. Now, Bach would criticize that, but Stravinsky actually said, "Do not denigrate fingers.

They are great inspirers." And anyone who improvises on the piano knows that your hands seem to do things without your knowing it, because it's like intuition. You know so much and you're so comfortable at the keyboard that things that occur to you happen on the keyboard and you can recognize them as new or not, depending if they are new or not.

So this you can come back. That chord is the Rite chord. Oh, sorry, but I have to say one last thing. You can stay there. That hidden in here is this. Okay?

That's the (singing) which Stravinsky wasn't thinking of West Side Story, but he was using this throughout The Rite of Spring, everywhere. We'll hear a lot of that perfect fourth and tritone. Okay, so the next thing I want you guys to play is the next, page 17 is starting at the second bar. (music)

Okay, great. You guys sound good. Okay. Okay. Michael, can you play just the left hand and I'm going to conduct. Listen to the left hand alone. One, two, three. One, two, three. Okay. And now your right hand alone, Michael. One, two, one, two. Okay, so this is two against three, which is not the weirdest thing in the world. But then on top of that, we have music that is quite free sounding and let's hear it all put together and maybe bring out your left hand, Michael, more than you would normally want to do.

Okay, great. Okay, so there we have polyrhythms. So we've had a series of chords that are unpredictable. Then we have music where the baseline is in three and the inner parts are in two. But what's more important is it's not just that they are separate rhythms, but they are really in layers that are separate layers of thought. They are like cubist lines. They really are different angles on the same music. They have nothing to do with each other in a way.

They fit together, but sometimes they're dissonant, sometimes they're consonant. And Stravinsky is not worried about that. It's like he takes a piece of music that's this long, something that's this long, places them. And eventually, if they work out and land in the same spot, that's a climax and a new chord will occur. Now here's another folk tune he used.

Instead of asking you to get up, here. Michael, can you just play that little tune there? (music) Now just play the first few bars a little faster. (music) Okay. Now, that's what Stravinsky took. It's not much, but can you start, please, guys, measure, page 18, last measure on the top. (music) That's the tune. Okay, now, (singing).

What happens is that the tune goes (singing) like that, but it starts on an off beat against the accompaniment. Bah! Bah! So he has to put accent marks because the tune is off. Now, then he chops up the tune, overlaps it on top of itself, and then does counterpoint with it on top of it itself. Let's follow a little bit of that.

Starting in the same place and keep going. (music) Over here now. Okay, great, great, great. So what you have is octatonic harmony, a fragment of a folk tune, displaced, dislocated rhythmically. So the accents are necessary so that the folk tune has its correct rhythmic sound, but it's offbeat to the other music, which already has its own rhythmic complexity.

Here's another folk tune, which is kind of an obvious one. If we start at page 20, right at the second system. (music) Okay, now that simple tune is in the Dorian mode. It is not major or minor. Exactly, it's Dorian, but it's not octatonic either. The accompaniment, can we just hear Michael's part at that spot there? The accompaniment? (music) Yeah.

It's a major tetrachord. Four notes, just trilling together. But the tune above it seems to be hovering around G, Dorian and underneath it is the (singing), which, can you play that a little? Yeah, that's still in the same, stuck in the same place, the same notes as it was originally. Now, that's important because we've got one mode up here, a different mode trilling on the bottom, but that (singing) stays where it was because it's a separate strand of material.

It's like if you put a a line in a painting and you put different designs above it, that's not going to change. Normally in music before this, if even, let's say in The Firebird, if music comes in in a new key, all of it goes with that key. It transposes. It modulates. There's no modulation. There is no chord progression.

These are individual strands that are butting up against each other. Okay, let's keep going.

Alright. Top of page 22. What you're going to hear now is in the left hand, Michael's left hand, you're going to hear the same pattern you heard before. Want to play a little bit of that? (music) One, two, three, one. Okay. And then you're going to hear the tune and the Dorian tune in the top. And in the middle you're going to hear the (singing)

And then in Michael's right hand, you're going to hear something new, which is a new folk song. Yeah. And let's hear a little bit of how they all fit together. They're completely separate strands. (music) Okay, great, great. Now, another interesting spot. They're all interesting. On page 23, the next page in the middle, there is a bass line that comes charging in starting on the second beat of the measure, but it stays there as if it's the downbeat.

So it's again, like taking a scissor and clipping in and moving it over. A lot of composers today, younger composers, who grew up with a computer doing software, I mean, I composed until I was in my early forties before I used a computer all by hand like everybody else. But the computer does everything that Stravinsky wished he had because you can write a phrase of music and then you can just copy it and paste it all over the place and then you can transpose it or not.

You can put another phrase of music on top of it. You can just juxtapose. In fact, Stravinsky was criticized by Boulez for this piece, saying, much later, of course, saying he's not a composer. He's a juxtaposer. But Boulez loved Stravinsky. He had a love hate relationship with Stravinsky. At first he hated him. And then he admitted he loved him and he did great performances of the music.

Okay, let's hear right at 23, second stanza, second stanza. (music) Yeah. Now, we can't help but listen vertically and horizontally at the same time. So we hear these beats. But if you can convince yourself to also listen horizontally and separate things out, it's fascinating. Which is one of the things that Stravinsky couldn't stand about the choreography of Nijinski because he just did all these little beats.

He did not understand anything about the music. Not that anybody has ever successfully captured all of it. But I must say, Pina Bausch got really close. Now, turning to page 25, the beginning of what you hear at 25 is an octatonic chord progression. Sorry, not progression, a chord unit, a cell, C dominant and E-flat. Let's hear that little trill. (music)

Right. So that's got a C dominant seventh, an e-flat dominant seventh. That is just like what you heard at the beginning. (singing) With the C chord in the bass. Do you remember that? Okay. And then there's an F sharp in the bass. Let's hear that. Yeah. This is all perfectly octatonic. These are minor thirds apart and the intervals work. A C dominant, chording, e-flat dominant and F sharp.

Let's hear some of this. This is totally, oh, before you do it, there's one more thing. There's a folk song there that comes crashing in. The folk song... Yeah. Here's the folk song. (music) Yeah. Rght. Yeah, right. It's different here. Yeah, yeah, it's disturbing. (singing)

Stravinsky changed it to (singing) and he changed the whole feeling and the rhythm, and it comes crashing in. So this little folk song just appears in the middle of this octatonic flurry. Let's hear that. (music) Yeah. That was the folk song. Why he needed a folk song to doo that... it's compulsion. It was a deep feeling that he needed to connect to Russian roots.

What's interesting, he did that in The Firebird completely and Petrushka deeply Russian mixed with some French things. And then The Firebird is profoundly Russian. I mean, The Rite of Spring is profoundly Russian. And then you get Les Noces, of course, which is incredible. But eventually after the Russian Revolution especially, he felt he'd better become a European.

Not only did he start changing his style and writing more and more French and then more and more universally. But he started telling lies about The Rite of Spring that it wasn't based there, no folk tunes in it. There's nothing Russian about it. It's just the dance was Russian. And he just distanced himself.

And I often think as a metaphor that, this dislocated rhythm and these dislocated bar lines are just like Stravinsky, dislocated from Russia. He was in Paris, and then he was in Switzerland and then he was in Los Angeles and then New York. And also a little bit in London. He was a dislocated rhythm himself.

Alright. We can keep doing this and let's do a little bit more. Another folk tune comes along, which sounds almost exactly like the folk song itself. But before we get there, let's start at page 29. And what you're going to hear is that same folk song you just heard flying by. But it gets interrupted by these booms because Stravinsky not having a computer but scissors in his, mental scissors, would write a phrase of music, interrupt it with a crash interrupt it with a crash.

This is very difficult for choreographers and dancers. Not anymore it's not. Not 109 years later. But at the time it was extremely complex. Let's hear, how about starting right at the three eight on the top there? (music) And now here comes another folk song. Keep going. All right. So I'm sure you realize that those crashing chords are mostly octatonic.

Some of them split off into slightly not octatonic sounds, but they are disrupting the texture because he's composing in separate blocks. He continued to do that his whole life. In fact, in some of his later music, the sketchbooks show that he would write a bar of music, a phrase of music, cut it with a scissor, move it on opposite sides of the page, write a new phrase of music and stick it in the middle.

It's actually there. You can see they're easy to find these books on Stravinsky. There are more books from The Rite of Spring than on any other piece of music ever written. And there are more books and articles on The Rite of Spring, certainly than any other piece ever written. The closest, apparently, is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Okay, now the beginning of the next section happens to be in E-flat Minor.

What? Let's hear some of that. (music) But the tune that comes in is in the Dorian mode. Oh, sorry. Mixolydian mode, actually. It's a separate mode from the accompaniment. Okay, okay, good. Now a spot that is fully octatonic, and incredibly complex, page 37. I'm skipping around because if I did every bar, we would be here... What's today? Well until Friday.

Okay, so here we have this octatonic mode . (music) And you hear it baseline. If if you can play that baseline, it sounds tonal. Sounds like it's in a key, but it's just part of the octatonic mode. And then on top of that, we have notes that are also in the same mode trilling. Yeah. And so if you put that together, Michael, you get what?

It sounds like they have nothing to do with each other, but they all fit into the octatonic mode, which has a different frame of reference. Then on top there's another folk song and a folk song, because it's in thirds, harmonized like folk singers, it sounds like it's in a key. And by itself it is, but it fits into the octatonic mode, except for one note.

But Stravinsky is not going to take that note out because he didn't work that way. He let it stay. So let's hear all of that for a few bars. (music) All right. Great, great, great. It's really hard to stop this. Just incredible number of things I could point out to you. And I think we'll hit a few great ones.

Let's go all the way to page 42. Anything that I'm skipping, it still works the same way. Everything is in layers, can be thought of as a mosaic. Everything is either octatonic or reaching out of octatonic into a mode. And all of the rhythms are in opposition to each other because they're thought of as separate. So, here, you have a crashing sound in the base.

This is starting at the dancing out of the earth, the prestissimo You have a chord, can you play the chords in the right hand that start (singing) (music) Okay, two things about that. The chord is a C major chord with an F sharp, so it's very close to being the Petrushka chord. If you want to play the Petrushka chord. Yeah, it's C major with an F sharp major chord.

He wasn't even the first to use that chord. Ravel used it, Debussy used it, but he used it as a block, as an entity unto itself, as a personality. It wasn't part of a chord progression, it was just there. So you get that happening in pattern. A is this bah. B, is this, bah bah. And then A comes back, bah. Then C bah bah. And then it goes A, B, A, C, A, but they're interrupted too.

Maybe I'll conduct us as we hear it. So you're now hearing a series of patterns, A, B, C, D, A split up and reorganized with that Petrushka type chord. In the second part, the lower part of the piano, we're hearing whole tones. Can you play some of the whole tones? Yeah, those whole tones just stay there and remember the whole tones come out of the octatonic scale too.

So this all fits together. But then there's also this D major music that's just there. It's a separate line. So let's hear some of this. How about starting right at that prestissimo? (music)

Okay. Okay.

This is getting very exciting. I have to stop you. You guys can sit down for a little while and then come back in a moment. I just want to say that what you were hearing is very amazingly structured series of layers. This thing, this is one of the tetrachords, and then you get... (music) This is also part of the octatonic mode, right?

So we have two octatonic modes here. Those two scales, there are only three octatonic things. You run out of notes. Those two octatonic scales provide all of the music you're hearing, the whole tones, the patterns flying by, everything. It's completely stuck in there, occasionally interrupting, eventually with this Petrushka chords. Now, before they play this whole thing, there are a few little things that I have to show you.

I promise to show you how West Side Story is related to this. So I'm going to do that. Luckily West Side Story, I say luckily for this lecture, West Side Story is back in the news, so it makes sense to talk about it. I don't have to say too much. This is The Rumble. (music) Okay. Sounds like the Rite of Spring.

More than that. This is that tritone. This outlines the C dominant seventh and then an F sharp chord and then F sharp, A major. So we have C, F sharp, A major. Those are octatonic third relationships. Then for the surprise, he goes into C-sharp major, which is not part of that Octatonic collection, but he opposes it with C major C-sharp again C major.

So he took the octatonic collection, used it just like Stravinsky does, interrupts it with these tri tones. And then when he shifts into another key, he keeps the half step relation of this. Of that primal chord that we had at the beginning, that emblematic chord. So that rumble begins exactly like The Rite of Spring. But is it a copy?

Is it an imitation? It is not, because this score is, I completely digested understanding of the Rite of Spring and of Stravinsky style of that time, used to write new music. It's actually quite brilliant because it's not the only thing that Bernstein does in this piece, but he uses, in other words, he uses Stravinsky the way Stravinsky used Rimsky-Korsakov when he wrote The Firebird. He adapts what he learned into a new style.

So this part, which is also from West Side Story... (music) Said, "Can I play this?" Sorry. I didn't play that very well, but I should have practiced. But what you have on top is... (music) They're all major chords. But what the roots of the major chords are that tetrachord. And underneath it, this is in four-four up here.

Underneath it you have three-four. A-flat major. And then the last two chords are taken right from there, but made to sound kind of jazzy. Why not? Here's another. One more example. (music) Okay. I could have asked him to play this and told you it was from The Rite of Spring. But this thing that Bernstein is repeating here... (music) It, first of all, it has this. (music) Which he has made part of his score completely.

And so it makes sense, but it's a diminished chord with a fourth. If I add these two notes on top and these two notes on the bottom, there it is. It's the same chord with two notes on top missing two notes on the bottom missing. Now, that's it for West Side Story. I could keep going, but I think you get the point.

And I really want to stress that it's brilliant on the part of Bernstein to have completely understood everything about The Rite of Spring. He performed it many, many times, and to let it inform a new kind of composition that nobody on the surface, when you hear the whole thing, you don't necessarily think of Stravinsky. But it shows also the profound influence of Stravinsky, because this could be true of so many composers. That you could look for examples of how a particular piece by Stravinsky informed a composer's view and changed their technique.

And you would find it over and over and over in almost, I think, four generations now of composers. Now, as you know, I do a lot of weird research at home, and I found a sketch by Stravinsky that no one has ever seen. I found it in my computer, in my music software, sitting there. It turns out before he took Russian folk tunes and used all these techniques, the techniques of ostinato base of the octatonic scale of chopping up the tunes and putting them on top of each other, of writing a baseline in one time signature and music and another with Russian folk tunes.

He tried it with two American children songs, and instead of using the same exact (singing) he found a kind of, before anyone else, a kind of jazzy thing that fits exactly the same notes. So here is a very short sketch that he obviously didn't like. (music)

Okay. That's a teaching piece, obviously. So there you heard everything I talked about condensed with Old MacDonald and London Bridge. So your homework assignment... No, never mind. Okay. So we are ready to hear this incredibly amazing piece of music. This is only part one, but we're not going to do part two today. Are you guys ready? I'm going to leave and go over there and listen. (music)

We hope you enjoyed the podcast. Visit ChamberMusicSociety.org to watch videos of these lectures as well as master classes and concert performances. And while you're there, check out the calendar of upcoming Chamber Music Society events in New York and around the world. See you next time.