An in depth exploration of Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps ("The Rite of Spring") for Seminar In Musicology Summer I 2009 Dr. Melanie Foster Taylor Converse College

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Le Sacre du Printemps" Changest to the Sketches

Stravinsky’s early changes to Le Sacre as it evolved from sketch to a working score involved resetting note values and bar lines for for the sake of legibility, re-orchestration for the clarification and blending of parts, and rearrangements to the order of movements to better serve the story.
“we can generally assume that the majority of the previous hit changes next hit in barring and scoring were undertaken either to clarify the harmony and design (often by adjusting the orchestral balance) or, as indicated, to facilitate performance” (Van Den Toorn. Pieter C. P.39)
One example of a change in sequential order of the movements is described in “ Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring” by Pieter C Van den Toorn. Van den Toorn explains that Part I of the "Ritual of Abduction." originally followed "The Sage,"Iin the final score, however, it comes immediately after the first dance, the "Augurs of Spring." This change provides a musical buffer between two similar movements and facilitates the transition. (Van Den Toorn. Pieter C. P.31)

In a letter to his editor Stravinsky demonstrates his care and involvement with the production of the early score.
“I have verified, added to, and corrected everything in the "Errata." I beg you to copy all of this very carefully because we are working with Germans who do not know, or pretend not to know, French. The directions for the conductor must be printed separately, for which reason I ask you to make a special sheet for them. . . . Make certain that I haven't made a new mistake in the timpani at [nos.] 57 and 58–59, since I could easily have slipped up there. Please send it to Oeberg [director of the Russischer Musik Verlag in Berlin] well copied and clear, since you . . . are the only one who can put everything in place and coordinate the parts. (Craft, ed. p.159)
In "Conversations with Igor Stravinsky" Stravinsky explains his changes to the sketches in order to achieve greater clarity for the performer and his reservations about the infallibility of printed music.
“I do not believe that it is possible to convey a complete or lasting conception of style purely by notation. Some elements must always be transmitted by the performer, bless him.” (Stravinsky/Craft p.137-138)

" I did translate my Danse Sacrale into larger note values to facilitate reading (of course it is more readable, the reduction in rehearsal time proves that)." (Stravinsky/Craft p.21
He then explains his method of arriving at the proper rhythmic notation this he later contradicts if only slightly that changes to meter and note value may not have all too great an effect.
"As a composer I associate a certain kind of music, a certain tempo of music, with a certain kind of note unit. I compose directly that way. There is no act of selection or translation, and the unit of the note and the tempo appear in my imagination at the same time as the interval itself. Only rarely, too, have I found that my original beat unit has led me into notation difficulties. "(Stravinsky/Craft p.20)

”Who can take from dictation a passage of contemporary music in 6/4 and tell whether in fact it is not 6/8 or 6/16? “ (Stravinsky/Craft, p.20)
When asked by Robert Craft in his “Conversations with Stravinsky” if meters and bar lines had and authentic effect on the sound of the music Stravinsky replied:
“ up to a point, yes, but that point is the degree of real regularity in the music. The bar line is much, much more than a mere accent, and I don't believe that it can be simulated by an accent, at least not in my music. (Stravinsky/Craft, p.21)

Stravinsky explains his reasons for including markings to help his musicians for Le Sacre's Preimere and then for is desire to eliminate them for the published score:

“for the "Sacrificial Dance," it was decided to delete the pizzicati, and they were in fact eliminated, but not completely, as I notice that some still survive in the score after 192 . . . . But what bothers me the most are these pizzicati in the entire "Sacrificial Dance." They were deleted as a matter of principle: we were being rushed, there were few string players available, and even these were below average; we had enough trouble in coping with the rhythmic complexities alone. But now I am seriously wondering if we do right in sticking to that decision. After all, some day we'll be blessed with better performers and performing conditions. In that case, wouldn't writing the strings [alternately] unisono pizz . and divisi arco be the better solution? And won't the dryness of pizz. strings accompanying the oboes provide a more concise and clear-cut rhythm than any bowing ever could? Perpetual arco bowing seems to me (but I am only at the conductor's stand) to produce a sound that is constantly thick and undifferentiated, whereas intervening pizz. would provide clarity and definite contours to the music.” (Cyr, Louis p.157)
A look at these early sketches shows that Stravinkys creative process like his music at the time was without walls. He wrote sideways in the margins, he freely moved passagees about and changed articluation markings, bar lines, note values and meters to suit the performers needs. He made these changes, however, as an act of his own will and rarely if ever on the demand of colaberators.


Craft, ed., Stravinsky: Selected Correspondence , vol. 1, p. 159.

Cyr, Louis: Writing The rite right. (Berkeley: U. California, 1986) 157 -73.

Stravinsky, Igor, and Robert Craft. Conversations with Igor Stravinsky. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1959.

Van den Toorn, Pieter C. Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

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