Stravinsky: In memoriam Dylan Thomas // Dirge – Canons: Prelude, Postlude


Vectoral Analysis by Diego Barbosa-Vásquez

Stravinsky: In memoriam Dylan Thomas / Dirge – Canons: Prelude, Postlude

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Historical Background

Stravinsky serialism’s works were composed at the end of his life. His first work that uses the concept of serialism is “Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day” composed in 1952[1]. On the other hand, “In memoriam Dylan Thomas” is a work composed in 1954 that was written honoring this writer, who passed away in a trip to see Stravinsky and start an opera.[2] Those fact creates a different approach to the serialisim due to the huge tradition influence in Stravinsky in his whole life. The approach of Stravinsky to the serialism in his works is different in terms of the concept of saturation. In this work the Russian composer uses few pitches in his series. This concept is then followed by Babbitt in his combinatorial hexachordic structures creating a different concept of saturation.[3]


Overview, Structure, and Texture

The piece is perceived in a different sense compared with other serialistic compositions. This short piece, compared with the length of other Stravinsky’s works, have a clear binary form in its movements, where the prelude and postlude constitute the part A. Although its polyphony texture and its canonic structure, there are three mainly reasons that create its appreciation a not very complex situation compared to other contemporary works. First, the slow tempo that gives the spectator more time to understand the movements. Second, the use of series with only 5 pitches that creates a more memorable saturation related with other serialism works. Third, the use of antiphonal instruments setting (trombones and strings separate) that allow the spectator an understandable concept of the series structure in different colors.


Orchestration Techniques

The music is organized in an antiphonal setting of trombones and strings. Each group plays the complete musical idea, or saturation with its canonic entrances, before the next group enter with the next idea. It creates two different colors clearly visible. However, the musical ideas not defined the orchestration. The phrase A in the 5 first measures of the prelude is presented with trombones.[4] Then this musical idea is presented by the strings in the postlude in bars 5 to 9.[5] Furthermore, the instruments are spaced to avoid collisions between near pitch classes creating a smooth chorale.


Basic Techniques

The works function with three aspects of cohesion. First, the use of a short series in a canonic structure that gives the phrases’ length 0, 2, 5, 4, 3. In addition, this series gives a non-tonal centricity in the last pitch due to the compensation of the leap. Second, this phrases are organized in two melodic structures that are separated by an antiphonal procedure given an easy understandable of them. Third the repetition of them in a binary structure A, B, A1, B. A2 in the prelude or B, A, B1, A, B2 in the postlude.


Vertical Models

Vertical models are the product of a canonic procedure of the series and its possibilities with retrograde and inversion. Stravinsky uses carefully this procedure in order to create triadic and even monodic (same pitch) vertical structures at the beginning and at the end of the phrases. This procedure creates a sense of non-tonal centricity.


Horizontal Models

The horizontal models are primarily based in the series’ pre-compositional arrangement. However, the transposition, inversion or retrograde procedure of those are organized to produce non-tonal centricity at the begging and the end of phrases. In addition, the rhythm organization creates the same cadenza effect using longer notes at the end of the phrases.


Style

Stravinsky uses the concept of serialism as a compositional tool. Although the twelve-tone serialism can be perceived as an emancipation of the dissonance and phrases, Stravinsky shows how a serialistic procedure can be organized with a classic thinking about periodic melodies and centricity. This concept shows how to create complete new worlds of centricity and melodic treatment in each work.

References:

[1] Richard Taruskin, Music in the Late Twentieth Century: The Oxford History of Western Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), (Page 150)

[2] Igor Stravinsky, In Memorial Dylan Thomas (New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1954), (Page 2)

[3] Richard Taruskin, Music in the Late Twentieth Century: The Oxford History of Western Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), (Page 161)

[4] Igor Stravinsky, In Memorial Dylan Thomas (New York: Boosey & Hawkes, 1954), (Page 3)

[5] Ibid. (Page 10)


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