Week 2

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Romanticism and Modernism

In this session we learn about the iconic importance of The Rite of Spring, the third ballet which Stravinsky composed for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes which famously caused a riot at its premiere.

Background: Russia, ballet, culture, technology.

‘The Five’: Balakirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov – use of native materials rather than ‘western’ formalism, folk songs, etc.  Tchaikovsky was involved but not a ‘core’ member.


from 34:28.  Hear how Stravinsky (Firebird, 1910) emerges from Tchaikovsky (as well as Debussy):


Stravinsky Petrouchka (1911)

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (1913)

Rite of Spring performance at the BBC Proms (starts as 1 hour 20 minutes approximately): http://bobnational.net/record/218533


Riot at the Rite on Box of Broadcasts:


This is a drama-documentary based on the history of the Rite of Spring.  See especially 28:00 (rehearsal), 49:00 (performance).

See below to watch Michael Tilson Thomas narrate (the first part of) an excellent eight part documentary about the Rite.


Here’s the music and score:

Students learn to navigate the full orchestral score of The Rite. They learn to recognise bitonal music (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFPjFjUonX8#3m16s), and gain familiarity with the octatonic scale, its content of major, minor and diminished chords, its relationship with the diatonic modes, and how it naturally leads towards bitonality (http://dmitri.mycpanel.princeton.edu/files/publications/stravinsky.pdf), e.g. Petroushka Chord.  See also it’s use in Tchaikovsky (e.g. Sixth Symphony) and Messiaen (e.g. Quartet for the End of Time).

  • All in a Chord: Rite of Spring (BOB) – Ivan Hewett investigates five very different chords to test the concept that harmony is a reflection of history. 4: Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring. Ivan is joined by Gerard McBurney and Valentine Cunningham.

“It is almost unimportant whether a work finds an understanding audience. One has to do it because one believes that it is the right thing to do. We are not only here to please, we cannot help challenging the spectator.” Pina Bausch

  • Cutting/montage in film:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORK8k8_mHyk
  • Kandinsky: A Story of Revolution (BOB) – Kandinsky – a Story of Revolution: Christian Weikop examines how the architecture and aesthetics of Moscow influenced painter Wassily Kandinsky’s revolutionary artistic vision. In Moscow he visits Lomonosov State University, where artists are preparing an exhibition to celebrate Kandinsky’s 150th anniversary in December. The exhibition’s curator, Dr Sergey Dzikevitch, also takes Christian inside the apartment block in central Moscow where Kandinsky lived and worked. Christina meets Elena Preis – Kandinsky’s grandniece and a celebrated artist in her own right – and her granddaughter Alexandra. Readers: Alexander Mercury, Julia Abelle, Atilla Akinci and Dayna Shuffle

Associated Listening


Associated Reading

  • Salzman, E., 2001. Twentieth Century Music 26-30
  • Hill, P., 2000. Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring, particularly pp.35-59 Cambridge: CUP
  • Taruskin, R., 1996. Stravinsky and the Russian TraditionsI, Oxford: OUP (pp. 849-966)
  • Cross, J., 1998. The Stravinsky Legacy, Cambridge: CUP
  • Edward Cone’s analysis of Symphonies of Winds


Indicative Seminar Activities from Week 1

Prepare a short (5-10 minute) talk for presentation and discussion on one of the following questions or issues:

  • How does Debussy’s use of tonality differ from Classical composers and from Romantics such as Wagner?
  • Why was Debussy attracted to the old church modes and/or gamelan music?
  • Who were the Symbolist poets, and how did their work shape Debussy’s style?
  • Is the Impressionist label appropriate to describe Debussy’s music?
  • Do Wagner’s personal, political or social views matter in our consideration of his music?  Do anyone’s?
  • Discuss the roles of the diatonic and pentatonic modes, and the whole tone scale.
  • Discuss Debussy’s style and individualism. How his music looks back, forward and away.
  • Choose one composition by any composer which you feel has been influenced by Wagner or Debussy.
  • Choose a late work by Beethoven and present aspects of it that look forward to Romanticism and contrast these with aspects that remain Classical.


Indicative Seminar Activities for week 2

Prepare for discussions about the following topics and questions:


Follow-Up Work: Assessed Item 1

Students are asked to make an arrangement for one piano, two hands, of a brief excerpt from The Rite of Spring, writing either by hand, or using notation software.  The arrangement can be accompanied by a short (max. 100 word) description of what you’ve done and why you’ve done it in the way that you have.  You should submit paper and electronic versions of all items.

We will have a run-through of piano arrangements during the Monday class of week 4. This assignment should be submitted with revisions for formative feedback to the tutor’s tray by 5:30 in week 5, Monday 26th February.

Remember to:

  • include rehearsal numbers
  • include articulation and dynamics
  • use the full extent of the piano
  • listen to the piece and make a balance between what you hear and the actual score
  • ensure that everything is playable by a single pianist.  If there are difficult moments, try to ensure that there is sufficient time for the pianist to prepare and try not to make the arrangement uniformly difficult throughout.


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