Stravinsky and Russian Poetic Folklore




Marina Lupishko


                        Igor Stravinsky’s ambivalent attitude towards Russian folklore parallels in some ways his ambivalent attitude towards his native land: venerated in the early years of his first emigration, it gradually became an object of his bitter criticism and negation, as seen in the following passage about Bartok in Conversations with Igor Stravinsky: “I could never share his lifelong gusto for his native folklore. This devotion was certainly real and touching, but I couldn’t help regretting it in the great musician.”[1] The word “never” is an exaggeration, of course, since as late as 1928 the composer of Apollo was still trying “to discover a melodism free of folklore.”[2]  By 1930, he pledged his non-participation:


Obviously, some composers have found their best inspiration in folk music. In my opinion, popular music has nothing to gain by being taken out of its frame. It is not suitable as a pretext for demonstrations of orchestral effects and complications. It loses its charm by being déracinée. One risks adulterating it and rendering it monotonous. [3]


            Eventually, the very word “folklore” became associated for Stravinsky with the notion of narodnost’ (“folkness”), which, together with partiynost’ (“party membership”), comprised the two pillars of the infamous prescribed artistic method of Socialist Realism.[4] As a result, one of the greatest Russian composers of the twentieth century has been long viewed by the official Soviet musicologists as a renegade-cosmopolitan[5] or, at best, a pseudo-nationalist, who, having started his career within the tenets of Diaghilev’s enterprise, turned off the road of neo-nationalism as soon as following it was no longer profitable.[6] But perhaps these critics of the composer, along with those western ones who like to emphasize the multi-faceted, eclectic nature of his talent, should be reminded of what the 80-year-old Stravinsky admitted to the interviewer from Komsomol’skaya Pravda during his reconciliatory trip to the USSR:  


I have spoken Russian all of my life, I think in Russian, my way of expressing myself [slog] is Russian.

Perhaps this is not immediately apparent in my music, but it is latent there, a part of its hidden nature.[7]


                        Today Stravinsky’s significance as one of the true followers of Russian musical nationalism in the 20th century cannot be disputed. As Taruskin has shown in his fundamental study (1996), the composer’s adherence to this tradition was based on several different factors, of which the conscious devotion to the aesthetic principles of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov is not the most prominent. According to Taruskin,[8] what pushed Stravinsky into conscious exploration of Russian folklore was, first and foremost, the unexpected loss of the possibility of absorbing it in the subconscious way in his homeland. Switzerland, the country that the Stravinskys visited for health reasons beginning from 1910, became their permanent shelter during the years of World War I. While in this forced isolation, the composer could no longer depend, both morally and materially, on his native land:


At the beginning [of the war] he was a Russian aristocrat and (in the West at least) the undisputed heir to his country’s magnificent half-century of achievement as purveyor of exotic orchestral and theatrical spectacle to the world. At its end he was a stateless person facing uncertain prospects…[9].


            In July of 1914, when the composer was leaving Russia  - permanently, as it soon turned out - he could feel “the tense atmosphere” of war “all over central Europe.”[10] At that time Stravinsky the cosmopolitan pronounced himself a patriot and, though exempted from military service, for a moment considered joining the army.[11] In Chroniques de ma vie, he writes: “My profound emotions on reading the news of war, which roused patriotic feelings and a sense of sadness at being so distant from my country, found some alleviation in the delight with which I steeped myself in Russian folk-poems.”[12]  In Themes and Conclusions, the bitter nostalgic note, although half-hidden by now, is still there:


Do the songs betray any homesickness for Russia? Not being a musical pathologist, I cannot be certain of the diagnosis, but what I can say is that I greatly regretted being unable to spend that summer of 1914 at my home in Ustilug. (Them: 37).[13]                             


            Leaving behind his childhood, marked by several personal contacts with peasant culture,[14] the 32-year old Stravinsky wanted, as it were, to reopen access to the magic world of Russian folklore to his own offspring. His wife and four children (the youngest daughter, Milena, was born on January 15, 1914) were by this time his only inspiration and only audience, since the war made it no longer possible for Ballets Russes to perform on a regular basis. “The world of folk poetry also provided a much needed temporary escape from the hothouse sophistication of the Diaghilev-Paris ambience,”[15] since the composer no longer had a deadline to work to.  


Richard Taruskin attributes the crystallization of the composer’s style during the Swiss period to his acquaintance with the historico-political current of Eurasianism, popular at that time among the Russian intellectual emigration.[16] Taruskin uses the term “Turanian” (from “Turan’” -  the Persian name for the vast territory extended from the Carpathians to the Pacific ocean) to describe the primitivistic tendencies of Stravinsky’s new language, already apparent in Le Sacre du printemps (1913). These are paralleled to the “Mongolo-Turanian elements of a typical Russian mentality,” as understood and described in the writings of Nikolay Trubetskoy (1890-1938), the founder of the movement and one of the pioneers of the 20th-century Slavist metrics. Although noteworthy, such a parallel can be misleading for it obviously contradicts the chronology of events: the movement as such was not launched until 1920, the final year of the composer’s “Swiss exile” and the year of publication of Trubetskoy’s pamphlet Europe and Humanity; however, Stravinsky’s personal contacts with Pierre Souvtchinsky (1892-1985) and Arthur Lourié (1891-1966) were not established until 1922 and 1924, respectively.[17]


            More accurately, the catalyst for Stravinsky’s growing Russophilism was, as Taruskin also implies, his collaboration under Diaghilev with the painters of the “World of Art” circle (Golovin, Bakst, Benois, Roerich) and especially with the founders of Russian Futurism, Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964) and his wife Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962). These two developed the costume designs and stage settings for Bayka and Svadebka, respectively (staged in 1922 and 1923), and were among Stravinsky’s closest friends during his Swiss and Parisian years.[18] Working in the style of the lubok (a folk kitsch art form), the painters aimed towards abstraction in their use of bright solid colours, geometric forms and simplified folk motifs, which often made them equal participants in shaping the libretto and the choreography of the staged works.  


            Another close friendship - that with the French-Swiss writer Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz (1878-1947) - started and grew into collaboration in Switzerland. Ramuz was then working on the aesthetic of the so-called “primitive classicism,” which combined the classic and the elemental by transposing old traditions into new forms. This aesthetic was based on his study of Cézanne; a provincial like Cézanne himself, Ramuz also abandoned Paris in favour of settling in his native rural Switzerland in 1914. The meeting of the composer and the poet in the summer of 1915 revealed their spiritual kinship “rooted in their taste for elemental things, starting with the land on which they stood and its inhabitants.”[19] In his Souvenirs sur Igor Stravinsky, Ramuz recalls his first impression of the composer


[being] a man and a complete man, which is to say, refined and at the same time primitive; sensitive to every complication, but also to the elementary; capable of the most complicated combination of the spirit and also of the most spontaneous and direct reactions. Because one must be both savage and civilized, it is not necessary to be only a primitive, but it is necessary to be also a primitive.[20]


                        Beginning from 1916 Ramuz became the composer’s principal translator of almost all the latter’s Russian works of the Swiss period (except PodblyudnVe), although the former knew no Russian and had to rely on Stravinsky’s word for word translations. In 1918, Ramuz produced the libretto of Histoire du soldat  - their first and only fully collaborative work.


            Overall, the six years of the “Swiss exile”(1914-20) played a very important role in the coming-to-be of Stravinsky. During this period not only was Svadebka  - the “Turanian pinnacle”[21] - essentially completed but also a “bouquet” of settings of Russian folk texts including Bayka was produced, and at the same time the basis of the ensuing neo-classical period was laid (Easy Pieces, Histoire du soldat, Pulcinella). In his afterword to I. Stravinsky, publitsist i sovesednik, an impressive collection of interviews and articles by the composer, Varunts points out that the general direction of Stravinsky’s development during this period was a search for new forms of expression, on the one hand, and a further liberation from the grip of the programme music principle, inherited from his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, on the other. A new artistic concept - the author calls it antiprogrammnost’ or antisyuzhetnost’ [22] - was gradually arising in his mind during this time, paralleling similar processes in the contemporary music of the second decade of the 20th century. First stated in 1913 as a rebellious manifesto against the passé aesthetics of the 19th century (the first quotation below), the concept was made more precise in 1924:


 Music can be married to gesture or to words - not to both without bigamy.[23]


Even if at first glance the music is combined with its literary or fine art origin, in my artistic concept

it retains all the traits of absolute music. The Firebird, Petrushka, and some other works of mine

gained recognition as samples of programme music or even descriptive music… My latest works

do not contain any foreign artistic admixtures. True, some traces of my former views can still be

found in Histoire du soldat and Pulcinella…[24]


                        The vocal works of the Swiss period, although by genre direct heirs of Romanticism, also testify to the growing awareness of these matters. The turning point, says Varunts,[25] came in the summer of 1913 when Stravinsky, having scarcely recovered from a severe illness after the notorious premiere of Le Sacre, settled in Ustilug and started Souvenirs de mon enfance. In these three songs completed in October 1913,[26] we witness a composer amusingly at play with the sonoric and accentual side of the word material. “It is perfectly clear,” says Varunts, “that from now on the composer begins to give preference not so much to the semantic side of the verse, as to its sound.” [27] Svadebka (Les Noces) is known to have been conceived as early as 1912.[28] Already by the summer of 1913, Stravinsky was actively looking for a suitable text material, as appears from his correspondence with Stepan Mitusov.[29] When the composer finally made his long-awaited trip to Ustilug and Kiev in July 1914, he returned with a sizeable collection of “various interesting books”[30] -  Russian folk fairy tales and song texts, among them. The study of all these and other materials over the late summer and early autumn of that year led him to a real breakthrough - the “rejoicing discovery”:


One important characteristic of Russian popular verse is that the accents of the spoken verse are ignored when the verse is sung. The recognition of the musical possibilities inherent in this fact was one of the most rejoicing discoveries of my life....[31]


            Here one is reminded of the quasi-rhetorical question, raised by Mikhail Druskin in his monograph:


Where and how did Stravinsky encounter this folk-song – as a child in Petersburg, at his wife’s house at Ustilug… or at the fairs in the neighbouring town of Yarmolintsy? He never spent long at Ustilug… How, then, did he achieve such a profound and penetrating understanding of Russian folk-song?

            Like much else in Stravinsky’s personality, this remains a puzzle.[32] 


            But there is hardly any puzzle here. The answer is simple: from books. The research of modern scholars (Birkan, Paisov, Vershinina, Taruskin, Varunts, Mazo, etc.) has shown that Stravinsky mastered the subject of Russian folklore, both sung and spoken, so well that by the time he composed Bayka and Svadebka it became his “second nature.”[33] He obviously studied at the very least a dozen books on Russian folklore, reading carefully not only the material itself but also the prefaces and commentaries to it: Kireyevsky’s Songs Collected by P. V. Kireyevsky, Afanasiev’s three-volume Russian Folk Fairytales, Sakharov’s Legends of the Russian People, Tereshchenko’s Manners and Customs of the Russian People, Shein’s


Russian Folk Songs and The Great Russian in His Songs, Rituals, Customs, Beliefs, Fairytales, Legends, etc., Rozhdestvensky-Uspensky’s Songs of the Russian Sectarians-Mystics and other books.[34]  Moreover, the composer made notes to himself to look up every word he was not sure about in Vladimir Dahl’s Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language.[35] All this is not surprising. Both Varunts and Druskin had noticed the exceptional diversity of interests, continually demonstrated by the composer in the course of his long life:


It may be said without fear of exaggeration that no contemporary expatriate composer could compare with Stravinsky in knowledge of the present-day world, whether it was in philosophy, religion, aesthetics, psychology, mathematics, or the history of art. Nor was he content to remain simply well informed, he wished to have a specialist’s understanding of every subject, his own opinion on every problem and his own attitude to every point under discussion. Right into extreme old age he was an avid reader and always had a book in his hands. His library in Los Angeles contained something like 10,000 books, and in this indeed he resembled his father, who was also a passionate bibliophile.[36]


[W]e are only approaching the complete assessment of Stravinsky as one of the greatest persons of encyclopedic knowledge of our time. The breadth of problems touched upon by the composer with a greater or lesser degree of insight is astonishing. Indeed, Stravinsky seems to be expert in virtually all areas. He is interested in literature, philosophy, religion, biology, mathematics, demography, medicine, geography, linguistics, and - of course - music.[37]


Out of the last (incomplete) list of subjects, the one of interest to us at this point is linguistics. Beginning from the late summer of 1914, after having sketched the provisional libretto for Svadebka, Stravinsky got temporarily carried away by something largely unconnected to the peasant wedding ritual based on songs - the genre of spoken verse (skazovVy stikh) known as pribaoutki. To the texts of the “Pribaoutki” chapter from the third volume of Afanasiev’s Russian Folk Fairytales Stravinsky sets the entire Pribaoutki cycle, as well as some numbers from Trois histoires pour enfants, Berceuses du chat, and Bayka. That is to say, pribaoutki – miniature folk nonsense poems with their lack of logic, frequent onomatopoeia, and intricate combinations of images and sounds - rather than the wedding songs from the Istomin-Dyutsh (1894), Istomin-Lyapunov (1899) and other folksong collections[38] - were his main musical inspiration at that time. Druskin quotes Stravinsky’s opinion from his personal conversation with the composer during the latter’s trip to USSR in 1962: “Everyone who notes down a folk-song - whether by ear or from a recording - distorts it in his own way, adapts it to his own level of understanding.”[39] The quotation in a footnote follows the statement of the author of the book (an overstatement, perhaps, but a noteworthy one): “One thing is certain, and that is that he did not normally use published collections of this music, which he mistrusted.”[40] This is confirmed by Stravinsky

himself in a letter to his mother, dated 10/23 February, 1916 (the first quotation below), and by Grigoriy Alexinsky (1879-1967), an exiled politician, in a letter to the composer, dated 4/17 April, 1916:


            Please send me as soon as possible (you’ll find these at Jurgenson’s [Moscow publishing house]) the folksongs of the Caucasian people, recorded by phonograph. Do not buy other, the unphonographed ones. By the way, if there are other phonographed [folksongs] at Jurgenson’s, send them also. Keep in mind that I do already have the first volume of ‘The Great Russian Songs in the Folk’s Harmonization (phonographed by Linyova).’ Aren’t there any other volumes?[41]. 


My acquaintance with you, although of short duration, gave me much [food for thought] regarding my views of art in general, and taught me many new things. In particular, it was pleasantly surprising to discover that you - the person who, let me confess, I had considered before our first meeting to be a ‘decadent’ and so on  - are turning to the very source of Russian folk poetry and life in order to find there a stimulus for your fantasy and inspiration.[42]


            It should be re-emphasized that the main impulse for the production of all the Russian vocal works of the Swiss period (perhaps, with the exception of Svadebka which was at first conceived as a quasi-operatic embodiment of a peasant wedding ritual) was a linguistic interest in Russian folk verse (rather than Russian folk song), frequently asserted by the composer in his writings, letters, and interviews.[43] As if commenting on this peculiarity, Varunts observes that Stravinsky showed interest in the phonic side of poetry in the course of his entire life, and that this fact alone distinguishes the composer to his advantage from the contemporary currents and trends in Russian literary verse (Khlebnikov and other futurists)[44], and draws him closer to one of the greatest Russian poets of the 20th century, Marina Tsvetayeva (1892-1941).[45] There exist a number of confirmations of this interest in Chroniques de ma vie, Poétique musicale, in the volumes of conversations with Robert Craft, in Stravinsky’s published letters and interviews, in the memoirs of Ramuz and others. From these primary sources we gather that not only the phonic side of poetic folklore occupied the composer’s imagination, but also the language as such. As a schoolboy, Stravinsky was obliged to study Latin, Ancient Greek, French, German, Russian, and Old Slavonic. As a “composer-polyglot,” he produced text-settings of Russian, French, English, Latin, and Hebrew. Here is his famous response to a Schoenberg aphorism, the response that embodies the principle of careful preservation of the source language: “What the Chinese philosopher says cannot be separated from the fact that he says it in Chinese.”[46] In Expositions and Developments, Stravinsky recalls:


Bible studies in tsarist schools were as much concerned with language as with religion because our Bible was Slavonic rather than Russian. The sound and study of Slavonic delighted me and sustained me through these classes. Now, in retrospect, most of my school time seems to have been consumed by language studies, Latin and Greek from my eleventh to nineteenth years, French, German, Russian, and Slavonic – which resembles modern Bulgar – from my very first days in the Gymnasium. Friends sometimes complain that I sound like an etymologist, with my habit of comparing languages, but I beg to pardon myself for reminding them that problems of language have beset me all my life; after all, I once composed a cantata entitled Babel.[47]


                                    The following excerpt from an article by Edwin Allen, Stravinsky’s private librarian in California, is another case in point:


Stravinsky was a great reader and read as comfortably in English and German as he did in French and Russian. His lexicological interests manifested themselves constantly. An expression in English had to be repeated in French, German, Russian, and sometimes Italian, as a diverting game that could never be completed until all the languages were represented. Sometimes trips to the dictionaries had to be made but more often Stravinsky’s phenomenal memory for language quickly found the right word or phrase. Butter, for example, could not be passed at table without verbal extension: maslo (Russian), beurre (French), Butter (German), burro in Italian but definitely not in Spanish unless one expected to leave the restaurant on an ass.[48]


                        Having observed Stravinsky’s interest in linguistics in general and the sonic side of poetry in particular, Varunts nonetheless let go unnoticed the composer’s interest in its metric side. The first conscious exploration of the metrics of poetry came in 1912-13, with the exposure to the metrics of the Japanese language in Trois lyriques japonaises, a vocal cycle for small mixed orchestra and soprano (see Example 1). The unusual metric organization of the settings of Russian translations of these three miniature poems perplexed some musicians, notably Derzhanovsky and Myaskovsky. The composer’s published response to Vladimir Derzhanovsky (1881-1942), the  editor of the Moscow MuzVka periodical, merits a lengthy quotation:


            Japanese songs are written  to  genuine  Japanese poems of the 8th and 9th centuries AD (naturally,

            in   translation [into Russian]). The  translator  preserved  the  exact  number  of  syllables  and  the

word   order  of  the  original.  Accents  as  such  do  not  exist  in the Japanese language or Japanese poetry.[49]






Example 1: Trois lyriques japonaises Opening Measures


This topic is treated lucidly and in detail in the preface to the book of Japanese lyrics from which I selected the three poems.[50] I was guided by these considerations  -  namely, the absence of accents  in Japanese poetry - while composing the songs. But how could I obtain this effect? The most  natural way would be to transfer long syllables of the poems onto short syllables of the music. In  this way, the accents would disappear on their own, which would fully correspond to the linear perspective of Japanese declamation…


                        As regards the queerness of the impression from this declamation, I am not in the least embarrassed

            by it; this impression belongs to the realm of convention and is simply a matter of habit.[51]


Having acquainted himself with these “programme notes,” the composer Nikolay Myaskovsky (1881-1950) wrote in a letter to Derzhanovsky, dated June 20/July 3, 1913:


            The little Japanese verses are linear, etc.…  but when I was playing and reading these crafty little

            tricks, I always  wanted instinctively to rub my  ears  and  to  shake  my head, in order to get rid of

            the machine-like importunity of this artificial declamation;  but  the  music  is  pleasing  to  me:  there

            is a good deal of something personal, ‘linearly’ intimate, un-Scriabinesque about it.[52].


                        At its early stage, Stravinsky’s interest in the metric structure of Russian folk verse is best reflected in the sketches and drafts of the chansons russes, Bayka, and Svadebka in the composer’s archive in Basel, Switzerland. Taruskin has repeatedly demonstrated[53] how literally “Polkovnik,” “Shchuka,” “The First Song of the Cat and the Ram” - from Pribaoutki, PodblyudnVe  and Bayka respectively -  originated from the metric analysis of the poetic text. True, at that early period the composer was still at times confusing trochees with iambs and amphibrachs with dactyls, as proved by the sketch for “Natashka”[54] (see E).






Example 2: From Sketch for Pribaoutki, Natashka, Prosodic Analysis of Text


            The interest in metrics grows steadily during the ensuing neo-classical period when Stravinsky, while moving farther and farther away from his native language, starts using designations for Greek poetic feet freely and more professionally. Here are some quotations concerning Oedipus Rex (1926-7), Apollo (1928), and Perséphone (1933-34) from Dialogues and a Diary:


When I work with words in music, my musical saliva is set in motion by the sounds and rhythms of  the syllables, and ‘In the beginning was the word’ is, for me, a literal, localized truth.[55].


All of my ‘ideas’ for Oedipus Rex were in one sense derived from what I call the versification… And what do I mean by ‘versification’? I can answer only by saying that at present I make my ‘versification’ with series as an artist of another kind may versify with angles or numbers… [Critics] should also analyze the nature of the music’s rhythmic manners, the hint for which came from Sophocles himself or, more precisely, from the metres of the chorus (especially the simple choriabics, the anapaests and dactyls, rather than the glyconics and dochmii).[56]


The real subject of Apollo, however, is versification, which implies something arbitrary and artificial to most people, though to me art is arbitrary and must be artificial. The basic rhythmic patterns are iambic, and the individual dances may be thought of as variations of the reversible dotted-rhythm iamb idea. The length of the spondee is a variable, too, and so, of course, is the actual speed         of the foot… I cannot say whether the idea of  the  Alexandrines,  that  supremely arbitrary set of prosodic rules,  was  pre-compositional  or  not… but  the  rhythm  of  the  cello  solo  (at   41  in the Calliope variation) with the pizzicato accompaniment is a Russian Alexandrine suggested to me by a couplet from  Pushkin,  and  it  was one of my first musical ideas. The remainder  of  the  Calliope variation is a  musical exposition of  the  Boileau  text that I took as my motto.[57] But even the violin cadenza is related  to the versification idea. I  thought  of  it  as  the  initial  solo  speech, the first essay in verse of Apollo the god.[58]


My first  recommendation  for  a  Perséphone  revival  would  be  to commission Auden to fit the music with new words, as Werfel did in La Forza del Destino. The rhythms are leaden-eared: Perséphone confuse/ Se refuse. (I composed the music for this couplet on a train near Marseilles, whose rhythm was anapaestic.)[59]


            By the year 1934 the word “versification” (“syllabification”) acquires the meaning of some universal principle of composition:


            I was asked to write about the music of Perséphone, but since I barely have the time to do it, I would like to draw the audience’s attention to a single concept which contains the entire programme of the work: syllabe  [Fr., syllable]  and,  as  a  consequence,  the  verb  syllaber   [Fr., to assemble, to put together, to make verses]. My principal task was a realization of these two concepts.


            Contrary to the disorganized chaos of sounds in nature, the syllable is always present in music – an art based  of  organized  rhythm  and  fixed  pitch.  Between the syllable and the general sense - that is, the coming-into-being  of  the  work  of art - there is a connecting-link, and this connecting-link is the word which directs the disoriented motion of a thought to a logical conclusion..[60]


                        Stravinsky says next that the semantic side of a text often hinders the creative thought of the artist, while the purely sonic side, on the contrary, liberates the artist’s imagination: “I must say that words, far from helping, constitute for the musician a burdensome and limiting intermediary.”[61] As a result, in Perséphone he was more interested in setting “the magnificent syllabic structure” provided him by André Gide (1869 -1951), than in the drama per se. At first glance, these statements concern the sonic side of speech in general, rather than poetry or metrics. However, the following two excerpts are helpful in understanding that the syllabic structure of the text and, more broadly, of the music never existed for Stravinsky outside the notions of metre and rhythm, in so far as metre and rhythm represented for him - respectively - the result and the process of adding-up of syllables (syllaber in French, skladyvat’ or slagat’ in Russian). The first excerpt is from a personal conversation with the violinist Samuel Dushkin in the early 1930s, the second - from Poétique musicale (1939-40):



            In mathematics… there are numerous ways of obtaining the number seven. The same is true for rhythm. The only difference between them is that the most crucial for mathematics is the sum total. It is of little importance, whether you add up five and two or two and five, six and one or one and six, etc. But for rhythm, the sum total – seven – plays a secondary role. How it is obtained is far more important: five and two or two and five, because five and two are something absolutely different from two and five.[62]     


The laws that regulate the movement of sounds require the presence of a measurable and constant value: meter, a purely material element through which rhythm, a purely formal element, is realized. In other words, meter answers the question of how many equal parts the musical unit which we call a measure is to be divided into, and rhythm answers the question of how these equal parts will be grouped within a given measure. A measure in four beats, for example, may be composed of two groups of two beats, or in three groups: one beat, two beats, and one beat, and so on…[63]


            Beyond any doubt, Stravinsky’s study of Russian folk songs and poetry had contributed to the development of this vision of musical rhythm as a combination of equal and/or unequal metric units.[64] In his frequent remarks about syllables as something abstract and pure as opposed to words burdened with meanings and emotions,[65] the composer rarely reveals to the interviewer the extent to which the syllabic and poetic-feet structure of Russian folk poetry was the source of his notorious accent-fluctuating rhythmic thinking. The only notable exception, perhaps, is an interview given in Barcelona in 1928, where he compares such works as Svadebka (1914-23) and Oedipus Rex (1926-7). Stravinsky’s words are given in a retelling of the interviewer:


Stravinsky tells us that in Oedipus Rex the word is a simple material which functions musically as a block of marble or a block of stone in architecture or sculpture. Les Noces, for instance, consists of songs which do not bear much logical sense, but instead in these poems their sonic and rhythmic qualities are emphasized. Our language, explains the composer, is inseparable from emotionality and sensuality, which undermine the musical value of the word. That is why [in Oedipus Rex] Stravinsky turns his attention to the dead language of Latin… Stravinsky leaves the Latin text untouched, yet at the same time he emphasizes syllables, poetic feet, etc.[66]


            As should be expected, rhythm occupies the supreme place in Stravinsky’s hierarchy of musical means of expression, as seen from an interview given in Antwerp in 1924:


Rhythm in my understanding is the music itself. For example, the works of Bach, which are standards of comparison for us all, consist of nothing else but rhythm and architecture. Rhythm is an essential and dominating quality of music. But the Romantic composers have destroyed it with their infinite vignettes and ornaments of all kinds. I write my music, as they say, in cold blood.[67]


            One is drawn immediately to this musical-architectural analogy, contained in the last two quotations. As Druskin shrewdly observes in the corresponding chapter of his 1983 monograph, during the neo-classical period Stravinsky consciously developed the spatial aspect of music, possibly inherited from Debussy.[68] A constant advocate of lucid forms and clear lines, Stravinsky is well-known to have possessed the eye of an artist - this “supplementary” talent is revealed not only in his colourful, ornamented and calligraphically immaculate manuscripts, but also in his numerous observations about the nature of the two arts, the visual and the temporal. Because this topic is too vast to be treated in passing, only two pairs of Stravinsky’s statements will be cited here as examples of his multifaceted nature of musical perception. The first pair is taken from conversations with Robert Craft (Memories and Commentaries and Themes and Conclusions, respectively) and is evidence that both visual and linguistic impressions from real life stimulated to a great extent the composer’s creativity:


– Has music ever been suggested to you by, or has a musical idea ever occurred to you from, a purely visual experience of movement, line or pattern?


– Countless times, I suppose, though I remember only one instance in which I was aware of such a thing. This was during the composition of the second of my Three Pieces for string quartet. I had been fascinated by the movements of Little Tich whom I had seen in London in 1914, and the jerky, spastic movement, the ups and downs, the rhythm – even the mood or joke of the music – which I later called Eccentric, was suggested by the art of this great clown…[69]


The origins of the ballet [Jeu de cartes]… go back to a childhood holiday with my parents at a German spa, and my first impressions of a casino there… In fact, the trombone theme with which each of the ballet’s three ‘Deals’ begins imitates the voice of the master of ceremonies at that first casino. ‘Ein neues Spiel, ein neues Glück,’ he would trumpet – or, rather, trombone – and the timbre, character, and pomposity of the announcement are echoed, or caricatured, in my music.[70]


            The second pair of comparisons made by the established maTtre Stravinsky is especially polysemantic for us who study the linguistic aspect of his vocal works. The first one, borrowed from Goethe, evokes the second, also very well-known, comparison:


It is impossible to better define the feeling that music produces on our senses, as to equate it with the impression evoked by contemplation of architectural forms. Goethe understood this well; he used to say that architecture is frozen music.[71]    


What fascinated me in this verse was not so much the stories, which were often crude, or the pictures and metaphors, always so deliciously unexpected, as the sequence of the words and syllables, and the cadence they create, which produces an effect on one’s sensibilities very closely akin to that of music.[72]


Of course, it would be too easy to draw a parallel between a brick in architecture and a syllable (or the smallest metric unit) in music, all the more that it has already been drawn by the composer himself in the passage about Svadebka above. Nevertheless, such a parallel would miss one particular aspect that is absent from the architectural analogy - namely, semantics and, as a constituent, the correct accentuation and the rule of prosody.


            Let us recall the “linear perspective of Japanese declamation.” The reflections of Druskin, who treated the topic in detail,[73] suggest that the young composer probably intended to compare the absence of tonic accents in Japanese to the flat two-dimensional perspective, characteristic of Medieval paintings up until the middle of the 15th century and resurrected in the 20th century under the influence of non-European art by Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse (rather than to the normal three-dimensional perspective of the Renaissance, commonly called “linear”).[74] However, unlike the contemporary cubist painters, the composer of Trois lyriques japonaises did not yet intend to overthrow the existing canon, but to reproduce the natural similarity of the first impression from these poems to the impression of two-dimensional Japanese graphic art:


In the summer I had read a little anthology of Japanese lyrics - short poems of a few lines each, selected from the old poets. The impression which they made on me was exactly like that made by Japanese painting and engravings. The graphic solution of problems of perspective and space shown by their art incited me to find something analogous in music. Nothing could have lent itself better to this than the Russian version of the Japanese poems, owing to the well-known fact that Russian verse allows the tonic accent only. I gave myself up to the task, and succeeded by a metrical and rhythmic process too complex to be explained here.[75]


The composer was able to reflect symbolically the absence of tonic accents in the Japanese language by re-accentuating the vocal part. In order to align accented syllables of the text with metric upbeats of the music, the vocal part was displaced approximately one crotchet ahead of the accompaniment, and so an ambiguity of not only “linear perspective” but also of the meaning of the words was created.


                        Later in his life, when the interplay of musical and textual accents would become, so to say, a “visiting card” of the composer’s mature style, there were frequent incidents of misunderstanding, complaint, and frustration - either from critics and colleagues (such as Myaskovsky) or directly from the librettists. André Gide, for instance, explained his absence from the premiere of Perséphone as follows:


The very night [of the premiere], throwing the whole thing up in disgust, I left for Syracuse in search of a classically antique setting of the sort I had wanted for [Perséphone]. I think Stravinsky has never quite forgiven me for not attending the first performance of his very beautiful score, but it was more than I could stand. The music, I think, was applauded… If ever this ‘ballet’ is revived (and Stravinsky’s score deserves to be heard again), I beg the producer to adhere strictly to the directions that I have given.[76]


Says Craft regarding Perséphone’s reception and Stravinsky’s attitude to text-setting in general:


Of all composers, Stravinsky - the supreme inventor of rhythmic structures, of changing meters, of asymmetrical phrase lengths, and, at another extreme, of rhythmic repetition (the ostinato) - was the one most fascinated by the exploitation of verse rhythms in music. What puzzles the listener in Perséphone is, on the one hand, the composer’s acceptance of a text written in rigidly fixed quantities, which he frequently follows, and, on the other, his no less frequent disregard of the spoken verbal requirements of accentuation and stress. Stravinsky’s argument was that to duplicate verbal rhythms in music would be dull; but the conflict that sometimes arises in his treatment of syllables as independent sounds, rather than as components of words, continues to disconcert part of his audience. Prose might have suited him better, except that ‘En vérité, il n’y a pas de prose… Toutes les fois qu’il y a effort au style, il y a versification’ (Mallarmé).[77]


Perséphone was the first full-scale experience of French text-setting (notwithstanding the two Verlaine songs written in 1910). Being attracted to the Alexandrines in the first place - sometimes he sketched directly on the poetic text, as he also did for his Russian vocal works[78] - Stravinsky became increasingly annoyed with Gide’s directives that concerned not only the French prosody but also the desired musical setting (“outburst of laughter in the orchestra” and so on). In his turn, the composer disregarded Gide’s warning that, above all, the words should be comprehensible to the audience:       


There are at least two explanations of Gide’s dislike of my Perséphone music. One is that the musical accentuation of the text surprised and displeased him, though he had been warned in advance that I would stretch and stress and otherwise ‘treat’[79] French as I had Russian, and though he understood my ideal text to be syllable poems, the haiku of Basho and Buson, for example, in which the words do not impose strong tonic accentuation of their own.[80]


                        Another explanation is that Gide had little interest in vocal music and text-setting in general, thinking rather naively that his text would have already provided the composer with a close approximation of the musical rhythm.[81] The very fact of collaboration with Gide on the libretto of Perséphone was rejected by the late Stravinsky,[82] whereas the cooperation with W. H. Auden (1909-1973) on the libretto of The Rake’s Progress (1947) was remembered as one of the most intellectually enriching experiences of his life:


Auden fascinated and delighted me more every day. When we were not working he would explain verse forms to me, and almost as quickly as he could write, compose examples; I still have a specimen sestina and some light verse that he scribbled off for my wife; and any technical question, of versification, for example, put him in a passion; he was even eloquent on such matters.[83]


Wystan had a genius in operatic wording. His lines were always the right length for singing and his words the right ones to sustain musical emphasis. A musical speed was generally suggested by the character and succession of the words, but it was only a useful indication, never a limitation. Best of all for a composer, the rhythmic values of the verse could be altered in singing without destroying the verse. At least, Wystan has never complained. At a different level, as soon as we began to work together I discovered that we shared the same views not only about opera, but also of the nature of the Beautiful and the Good. Thus, our opera is indeed, and in the highest sense, a collaboration.[84]


            Apart from Auden’s receptiveness to re-accentuation and his readiness to make changes to suit the music,[85] the English language also gave Stravinsky more flexibility of accent than French. Nonetheless, after the first performances of the opera in English-speaking countries, the composer was blamed repeatedly for his insensitivity to the language.[86] The fact that he did not speak that language fluently enough cannot be given as an excuse, for both Auden and Robert Craft were already at his disposal to mark the accents (which they did). As his sketches for The Rake’s Progress demonstrate,[87] at times Stravinsky changed deliberately correct scansion into incorrect, balancing up rather tactfully the artificial and the natural,[88] and at other times he simply added a new text to the existing music - the practice he favoured beginning from Bayka.[89]   


            In his late vocal works written in the 1950s and 60s, there is a further move towards the so-called “reversed” perspective of text-setting, combined with a more scrupulous approach to dramaturgy.[90] In these text-settings Stravinsky distanced himself more and more from the every-day language. In doing this, the composer undoubtedly took into account the “ignorance” factor, that is, the fact that his (mostly American) audiences would be unfamiliar with the historical English or Biblical Latin (or Hebrew, for that matter), which would force them to pay more attention to the music. His practice of further abstracting syllables from words reached a pinnacle in the serial work Threni, where capital Hebraic letters (Aleph, Beth, He, Caph, Res) were set to music.[91] Still, the accent-fluctuating and word-painting technique B la russe continued well into the late period.[92] Zinar brings up a very interesting point, based on her analysis of Stravinsky’s settings of Latin (Oedipus Rex, Symphony of Psalms, Threni, Canticum Sacrum). While the composer considered music “by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all,”[93] he repeatedly took the opportunity to word-paint with all harmonic, melodic, dynamic, and rhythmic means available to him, being equally concerned “with the expression of the thoughts, moods, and words of the text.”[94]


            In the case of Russian-language works of the Swiss years, however, the strict observance of the rule of prosody co-exists peacefully and alternates with a few deliberate violations thereof. The balance was found in 1916, in the course of the composer’s collaboration with C.-F. Ramuz on the translation of Bayka. It was real fifty-fifty team-work, as seen in the following paragraph from Ramuz’s Souvenirs sur Igor Stravinsky (1928):


Stravinsky read me the Russian text verse by verse, taking care each time to count the number of syllables in each verse, which I would write down in the margins of my paper; then we made the translation, that is, Stravinsky translated the text for me word for word. It was word-for-word so literal as to be often quite incomprehensible, but with an inspired (non-logical) imagery, meetings of sound whose freshness was all the greater for lacking any (logical) sense… I wrote down my word-for-word; then came the question of lengths (of longs and shorts), also the question of vowels (this note was composed to an o, that one to an a, that one to an i); finally, and most important of all, the famous and insoluble question of tonic accent and its coincidence or non-coincidence with the musical accent. Continual coincidence is too boring; it only satisfies our sense of rhythm and measure. But it would totally contradict the inner essence of the music which was first sung to me, then played on the piano with an accompaniment of cymbals, then sung and acted out at the same time – the music that was coming to me alive. To obey the rules meant to betray the inner essence of this music. To go against the rules at all costs meant to turn the logic inside out, which would be no less deceitful and no less tedious.[95]


                        Later in life, Stravinsky would return to the same question in his conversation with Craft about “subtle parallelisms”:


RC – I have often heard you say ‘an artist must avoid symmetry but he may construct in parallelisms.’ What do you mean?


IS – The mosaics at Torcello of the Last Judgment are a good example. Their subject is division, division, moreover, into two halves suggesting equal halves. But, in fact, each is the other’s complement, not its equal nor its mirror, and the dividing line itself is not a perfect perpendicular… Mondrian’s Blue FaHade (composition 9, 1914) is a nearer example of what I mean. It is composed of elements that tend to symmetry in subtle parallelisms.[96]


Druskin, the editor and commentator of the Soviet omnibus edition of the dialogues with Craft, draws attention to the similarity of “subtle parallelisms” to the concept of “dynamic calm” from chapter 2 of Poétique musicale.[97] Both ideas should be understood in the context of the division of all music into chronometric (coinciding with the normal psychological experiencing of time) and chronoametric (emotionally charged, sharply contrasting, “Dionysian”) as described in an article by Stravinsky’s close friend Pierre Souvtchinsky.[98] The “dynamic calm” is what one experiences while listening to the music of the first, “Apollonian” kind. Although for Stravinsky the composer striving for unity is fundamentally more important and always precedes plunging into contrast, “the coexistence of the two is constantly necessary, and all the problems of art… revolve ineluctably about this question.”[99]


                        No doubt, the precursors of these concepts were discussed with Ramuz who should be credited with half-opening the door to their creative method “in the making.” Gordon argues (1983: 218) that the close interaction between the writer and the composer resulted not only in a list of greater and lesser works, but, much more importantly, in “a mutually evolving aesthetic.” Ramuz’s receptivity to Russian folk verse was, in fact, an interest of a professional novelist with a university degree in literature. In October 1913, following a personal crisis, Ramuz made a pilgrimage to Aix-de-Provence, Cézanne’s native land, a trip that made him abandon Paris for his native rural Switzerland in 1914. In the summer of 1915, he was introduced by Ansermet to Stravinsky who, seeking the links to his own native soil in folk poetry, “succumbed to the contagion of Ramuz’s affection and, at least temporarily, adopted the Vaud countryside as his own.”[100] The writer’s newly-found aspiration to “paint with simple words” so as to free himself from the shackles of conventionality, abstraction, and discursive logic was a fertilized soil into which Stravinsky’s seed of the “rejoicing discovery” was dropped.[101] One year later (1916) the collaboration began. The writer’s and the composer’s daily efforts on putting together the French versions of Renard, Les Noces, Pribaoutki, Berceuses du chat, Souvenirs de mon enfance, Trois histoires pour enfants, Quatre chants russes, and the libretto of Histoire du soldat led to an intimate friendship which would long be the object of the most cherished recollections for both.[102] Later in his life, Stravinsky would deny the linguistic accuracy and the artistic quality of these translations, as evidenced by his letter to the Concerts Catalonia, which had invited him in 1929 to conduct Svadebka:


I do not like to hear Les Noces in French: too different from the prosody of the original… In my view, the French translation… does not render the character of the rhythmic accentuation which constitutes the basis of the Russian chant of this work.[103]  


            The translation of Bayka was also attacked impartially in Conversations with Igor Stravinsky:



However, back in 1916, the composer was rather pleased with the final product of his association with Ramuz (see below an excerpt from his letter to the Princess de Polignac, dated October 5, 1916), and he spoke favourably in Chroniques de ma vie of the ability of his Vaudois friend to grasp the essence of a language that was totally unknown to him:


I saw a great deal of Ramuz at this time, as we were working together at the French translation of the Russian text of my Pribaoutki, Berceuse du chat and Renard. I initiated him into the peculiarities and subtle shades of the Russian language, and the difficulties presented by its tonic accent. I was astonished at his insight, his intuitive ability, and his gift for transferring the spirit and poesy of the Russian folk-poems to a language so remote and different as French.[105]


            Enclosed is the finished translation of Renard, which M. C.-F. Ramuz made at my request… This [translation] was a considerable task, much more difficult than I had thought it would be; I insisted   that the French text preserve the flavor of the original, without [sounding] translated… I think that we have been successful in this task, which we did together (of course, I participated only whenmusical questions arose)… Let me assure you, besides, that Ramuz’s translation is not only the best that I know but is very close to the original as well.[106]


                        The last part of the last sentence should not be taken too literally, as no translation in general (and of poetry in particular, let alone of poetry already set to music) can do without divergences from the original. Meylan points to several specific places in Ramuz’s translation of Les Noces, Renard, and chansons russes,[107] concluding that lyric passages of the folk sources on the whole turned out “amazingly well,” whereas certain images of Russian folklore, evocative for a native speaker (e.g., of a nightingale who sings all night long), were omitted from the French version “for the sake of rhythm.” It should be remembered, however, that the composer could be held equally responsible for these imperfections.


                        Overall, it is possible to hypothesize that Stravinsky, although not a linguist, grasped (as did Ramuz in his turn) the intricate structure of Russian folk poetry and the logic of Russian folk  accentuation  so  intuitively  that  he  was  able  to  reproduce them in his vocal works. It is important to remind ourselves that in these works the composer is still quite remote from the artificiality of prosody, typical in his settings of Latin, French, or English. In these works, “linear” and “reversed” perspectives of Russian declamation (that is, literary and folk accentuation) are combined practically in the same proportion that is found in Russian folk verse. His main companion on this journey was (together with Ramuz, of course) his native language that allowed such experiments - the language that is both rich and flexible, lexically, semantically, phonologically, and rhythmically. Lastly, Stravinsky’s admirable sensibility to his native language at the time he was equally distant both from Russia and from Parisian émigré circles should also be applauded.





Example 3: Renard Rehearsal Number 87







This article explores why, during the Swiss years, the composer was systematically turning to Russian poetic folklore for inspiration. Several factors were instrumental in this respect, from his personal interest in languages and linguistics to the general trends in Russian and European art, including the influence of such heterogeneous figures as the painters Goncharova and Larionov, on the one hand, and the writers Ramuz and Cingria, on the other.


             The author argues that the main impulse for production of so many settings of Russian folk poetry - namely, the six vocal cycles and Bayka, which are short-term but significant deviations from the main project of the period, Svadebka - was Stravinsky’s fascination in sonoric and metric qualities of Russian folk verse, rather than song. The interest in poetry and versification grew steadily during later periods of the composer’s life. However, it should be re-emphasized that Stravinsky’s frequently pronounced slightly obsessive concentration on “syllables” as something pure and unspoiled with meaning should not be taken for granted, as individual syllables do not yet contain any metric element. In other words, the main creative impulse came not only from verbal sound but also from verbal rhythm, that is, the organization of individual syllables into repetitive and/or non-repetitive metric patterns.








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            Them                Stravinsky, Igor, and Robert Craft. Themes and Conclusions. London: Faber and Faber, 1972.





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[1] Conv: 82.


[2] Dial: 32.


Stravinsky, Craft 1978: 148.


See his description of this method and the reasons behind its dependence on folklore in Poétique musicale (Poet: 115-7). In his lectures, Stravinsky sets off the “unconscious utilization of folklore” by Glinka and Tchaikovsky against the Mighty Five who consciously “sought to graft the popular strain upon art music” (Poet: 97-8). The composer sees himself as a follower of the former of the two traditions of folklorism. Yet ibidem, there is another much-revealing statement: “I use [academic musical formula] as knowingly as I would use folklore. They are raw material of my work.” (Poet: 88).

            [5] See his well-known declaration of 1928: “I don’t consider myself very Russian. I am a cosmopolite, although some of my strains are inherently natural to a Russian.” (Varunts 1988: 85).

            [6]  For details, see Walsh 1999: 241, 262, 477-84.

                        [7] Komsomol’skaya Pravda, September 27, 1962, cit. in Vershinina 1967: 8, Mazo 1990: 99, and Taruskin 1996: 13. See also: “Even now, a half-century since I left the Russian-speaking world, I still think in Russian and speak other languages in translation.” (Expo: 18). Robert Craft confirms the composer’s constant unwillingness to speak other languages than Russian: “And in Hollywood, or anywhere, he will go through the day, if possible, speaking only his mother tongue.” The author concludes his account of the composer’s visit to the USSR as follows: “I am certain of only one thing: that to be recognized and acclaimed as a Russian in Russia, and to be performed here, has meant more to him than anything else in the years I have known him.” (Craft 1994: 329).

                       [8] Taruskin 1996: 1135.

                        [9] Taruskin 1997: 409.

                        [10] Chron: 90.

                      [11] See his letter to Lev Bakst, dated September 7/20, 1914, in D’yachkova, Yarustovsky 1973: 487 and Varunts 2000II: 290.

                       [12]  Chron: 90.

                        [13]  Stephen Walsh has questioned the authorship of Themes and Conclusions (personal conversation, October, 2004). Without going into detail about the entire Craft-Stravinsky polemics, I will continue to treat Stravinsky’s statements from his dialogues with Craft as if they belonged to him, supposing that Craft had no reason to misrepresent Stravinsky’s views on such specific issues as Russian folk verse.

                        [14]   Chron: 3-4; Expo: 38-40.

                        [15]  White, Noble 1980: 250.

                        [16]   See the “Rejoicing Discovery” chapter of his monograph, Taruskin 1996: 1119-1236, as well as the chapter “Notes on Svadebka” in Taruskin 1997: 389-467.

            [17]   Taruskin 1996: 1126, White, Noble 1980: 251, Varunts 2000II: 479-80.  According to Varunts and Walsh (Varunts 2000II: 479; Walsh 1999: 456), Craft has deliberately exaggerated Arthur Lourié’s influence on the composer’s thinking in order to justify his own important role in Stravinsky’s life (Stravinsky, Craft 1978: 220).

                        [18]  Taruskin 1996: 949; Varunts 2000II: 436.

                        [19] Gordon 1983: 222.

                       [20] Ramuz 1997: 16, transl. in Gordon 1983: 223.

                        [21] Taruskin 1996: 1319.

                        [22]  “Anti-programme-ness” or “anti-plotline-ness” see Varunts 1988: 439.

                        [23]  Daily Mail, February 13, 1913, cit. in Walsh 1999: 194.

                       [24]  Muzyka, Warsaw, 1, 1924, cit. in Varunts 1988: 44.

                       [25] Varunts 988: 438.

                       [26] Walsh 1999: 223.

                       [27]  Varunts 1988: 438.

                       [28] See a letter from Sanin, dated February 17/ March 2, 1913, in Taruskin 1996:1321-22 and Varunts 2000 II:36.

                       [29] Varunts 2000 II: 112; Taruskin 1996: 1322.

                       [30] D’yachkova, Yarustovsky 1973: 486.

                       [31] Expo: 121.

                       [32] Druskin 1983: 35.

                       [33] Taruskin 1996: 1370.

                       [34] Taruskin 1996: 1138-43, 1423-40; Varunts 2000 II: 274-6; see also Vershinina’s comments in Stravinsky 1982 I: 197 and Stravinsky 1988 II: 305.

                       [35] Stravinsky, Craft 1978: 619; Taruskin 1996: 1142-3.

                       [36] Druskin 1983: 4-5.    

                       [37] Varunts 1988:  437.

                       [38] Taruskin 1996: 1135, 1142-43, 1169, 1212-14

                       [39] Druskin 1983: 35, fn. 14.

                       [40] Druskin 1983: 35.

                       [41] D’yachkova, Yarustovsky 1973: 488 and Varunts 2000 II: 360, italics in the text.

                       [42]  Varunts 2000II: 350, italics mine. This is not meant to diminish the great impact of Russian folk song on Stravinsky’s output. From 1910 on, he repeatedly asked his mother and Russian friends (Vladimir Rimsky-Korsakov, Stepan Mitusov, etc.) to send various folksong collections to him (Varunts 1998I: 238; 2000II: 112). There is ample evidence that he studied these collections very closely. But the “rejoicing discovery” came only in 1914, after Stravinsky had procured the Afanasiev and Kireyevsky anthologies of folk texts without melodies while on his trip to Ustilug and Kiev.

                       [43] See “The music of Renard begins in the verse.” (Expo: 120). “My wish was… to present actual wedding material through direct quotations of popular - i.e. non-literary - verse.” (Expo: 114-5). “I was compelled to [the text of PodblyudnVe] for their musico-rhythmic qualities, after a single reading.” (Expo: 119).

                       [44] “We are not in possession of a documentary material that could prove the influence of the essentially similar tendency in Russian [literary] poetry of this time. It had quickly become obsolete in poetry, but in the works of Stravinsky it was preserved up until the end of his life, perhaps precisely because his steadfast interest in the sonic side of verse never took an exaggerated form, characteristic of the poetic experiments of Khlebnikov, the futurists, etc.” (Varunts 1988: 438-9). There is an article by Victoria Adamenko, “Stravinsky and Khlebnikov: A Study of Russian Avant-garde Art,” Music Research Forum 7 (1992): 38-61, which might shed some light on this problem (unfortunately it was unavailable at the time of this study).

                       [45] Varunts 1988: 438-9.

                       [46] Dial: 108.

                      [47] Expo: 17-18.

                       [48] Allen 1986: 330.

            [49] Viktor Varunts explains the difference between the pitch-governed and the intensity -governed accentuation as follows:

In our Russian comprehension, there are indeed no accents in Japanese. More characteristic for this language is a type of so-called musical stress, achieved by a change in the vocal pitch (the same type of stress is typical for Lithuanian, Serbian, Burmese, Vietnamese, Chinese and other languages). In Russian, as well as in English, …accentuation is achieved by a muscular tension of the vocal cords and by exhalation reinforcement. (Varunts 1988: 21, fn. 2).

            [50] A. Brandt, the compiler and translator of Yaponskaya lirika (Japanese lyrics), St. Petersburg, 1912. These poems are double translations from German (Varunts 1988: 21, fn. 3).

                       [51] cit. in Varunts 1988: 20.

                       [52] cit. in Stravinsky 1982I: 193.

                       [53] Taruskin 1996: 1215, 1224-25, 1259.

                       [54] Taruskin 1996: 1170.

                       [55] Dial: 22.

                       [56] Dial: 28-9. 

                       [57]  Que toujours dans vos vers, les sens coupant les mots,

                Suspende l’hemistiche, en marque le repos. 

                (L’Art poétique by Nicolas Boileau (1636-1711), cit. in Dial: 33, fn. 7).

                       [58] Dial: 33.

                      [59] Dial: 37.

                        [60] Avant-propos of Perséphone, publ. in Excelsior, Paris, May 1, 1934, cit. in Varunts 1988: 108 (italics mine). Here is the original: “Dans la musique, qui est temps et ton réglé, par opposition au son confus qui est dans la nature, il y a toujours la syllabe. Entre elle et le sense tout B fait general - le mode qui baigne l’oeuvre – il y a le mot qui canalise la pensée éparse et fait aboutir le sense discursif.” (White 1983: 587). The French-Russian translation of this text in Varunts (1988: 108) is somewhat closer to the original than the French-English translation made by Craft (1985III: 482-3). See also White (1979: 579-581).

                      [61] Ibid. “Or le mot, plut^t qu’il ne l’aide, constitute pour le musicien un intermédiare encombrant.” (White 1983: 587). Stravinsky was so delighted with the phrase coined by Mallarmé in a letter to Degas, that he had cited it twice in his published writings: “One does not create rhymes with ideas but with words.” (cit. in Taruskin 1987: 196). Both Stephen Walsh (1999: 663, fn. 80) and Maureen Carr (2003: 153) point to the assistance of Charles-Albert Cingria (1883-1954) for at least a portion of the Excelsior article, which is evident from his letter to the composer of April 30, 1934 (Craft 1985III: 117). This influence might account for the Nietzschean overtones, particularly the notion of sovereignty of music, expressed in the philosopher’s essay “On Music and Words” (Carr 2003: 153, fn. 1).

                      [62] Varunts 1988: 34, italics mine – M. L. The citation is taken from Strawinsky: Wirklichkeit und Wirdung (Stravinsky: Reality and Becoming), Bonn, 1958, p. 83 (Varunts 1988: 34, fn. 3).

                      [63] Poet: 29, italics in the text.

                       [64] This is indirectly confirmed by his article, published in Comoedia (Paris) on May 15, 1921, where Stravinsky compares Andalusian and Russian folk songs and finds that they both possess “a rich sense of rhythm,” deeply rooted in their “common oriental origins.” Then he goes on to make a similar distinction between rhythm and metre, as above (Varunts 1988: 33).

                       [65]  “The Areopagite maintains that the greater the dignity of the angels in the celestial hierarchy, the fewer words they use; so that the most elevated of all pronounces only a single syllable.” (Poet: 145).

                        [66]  La Veu de Catalunya, Barcelona, March 25, 1928, cit. in Varunts 1988: 83 (italics mine).

                      [67] Le Matin, Antwerp, January 10, 1924, cit. in Varunts 1988: 402 (italics in the text).

                       [68] See the “Space” chapter in Druskin 1983: 122-38.

                       [69] Mem: 95.

                       [70] Them: 43.

                       [71] Beaux Arts, Paris, February 28, 1936, cit. in Varunts 1988: 122.

                       [72] Chron: 91.

                       [73] Druskin, 1983: 143-5.

                       [74] Says Druskin in his commentaries to the Soviet omnibus edition of conversations with Craft: “During these years [1912-13], Diaghilev was very enthusiastic about Gauguin, his colourful primitivism…” (Stravinsky 1971: 343).

                       [75] Chron: 78.

                      [76] Gide’s Journal, March 31, 1948, cit. in Craft 1985III: 192, fn. 15. 

                        [77]   Craft 1985III: 478, italics in the text – M. L.. Stravinsky disagreed with this last sentence in “A tribute to the librettist” of The Rake’s Progress: “I have never been able to compose music to prose, even poetic prose.” (cit. in Griffiths 1982: 3). The composer’s obsession with “syllable” as something pure and unspoiled with meaning (see fn. 60, 65 above) should not mislead us into thinking that poetry for him was indistinguishable from prose. The metric element that verse provided was clearly one of the sources for his inspiration. It was also a kind of “compositional limitation to be worked within or, more commonly, against” (Straus 2001: 45) that he voluntarily imposed onto himself before composing, one of the “solid and concrete element[s]” to hold on to, along with the seven notes of the scale and the downbeats and upbeats of musical rhythm (Poet: 67).

                       [78] Craft 1985III: 491ff.

                       [79] Stravinsky in a footnote: “I will admit, however, that my habits of musical accentuation have misled meaning in at least one instance. The line Ego senem cécidi in Oedipus Rex accented on the ce, as I have it, means ‘I fell the old man’, whereas it should be accented ‘Ego senem cecRdi’ and mean ‘I killed the old man’. This can be corrected in performance, but remains awkward.” (Mem: 150, fn. 1). This lapsus can hardly be corrected in performance, as the pitch corresponding to ci is the shortest and least metrically important of the entire phrase (rehearsal number 119).

                      [80] Mem: 150. Hayku, a traditional 14th-century form of Japanese poetry, is a short verse of seventeen syllables in three metrical sections of 5-7-5 syllables. A compact yet evocative form, it gives both a subjective opinion and a fleeting image of the subject. In Trois lyriques japonaises, Stravinsky set Russian translations of tanka, a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic structure which dates from the 8th century.

                       [81] Walsh 1999: 527.

                       [82] Mem: 198. Regarding Oedipus Rex, Walsh points out that the degree of Stravinsky’s       participation in the Cocteau-Daniélou libretto is difficult to establish, although double and triple re-accentuations of one and the same word and other devices suggest that he took a hand in it (Walsh 1993: 92). As the same author observes, “there seem grounds for supposing that Stravinsky was later anxious to discredit Cocteau’s contribution to the success of Oedipus, just as he played down Gide’s to that of Perséphone, precisely because he knew that a crucial part of the musical perspective was provided by their texts.” (Walsh 1988: 136).

                      [83] Mem: 157.

                       [84] cit. in Griffiths 1982: 4.

                       [85] Says Auden: “[T]he verses which the librettist writes are not addressed to the public but are really a private letter to the composer. They have their moment of glory, the moment in which they suggest to him a certain melody; once that is over they are as expendable as infantry to a Chinese general: they must efface themselves and cease to care what happens to them.” (cit. in Griffiths 1982: 15).

                       [86] Falby 1988: 267-8.

                       [87] Taruskin 1996: 1233-6.

                       [88] e.g. “Although I weep, it knows of loneliness” from Anne’s aria “Quietly, night,” cit. in Taruskin 1996:1234.

                      [89] Taruskin 1987: 194-5. Boys (1957: 17, 18) cites two more examples from Stravinsky’s settings of English (Shakespeare Songs and Cantata), where accentuation is “left to the intelligence or powers of divination of the singer.” The author speaks in favour of such practices, pointing to the “fresh rhythms” and “wonderfully evocative qualities” Stravinsky finds in the English language (Ibid.).  

                       [90] Somfai 1973: 43.

                       [91] Ibid.: 39.

                       [92] Zinar 1978: 183-8; Taruskin 1996: 1605ff.

                        [93]  Chron: 91 (italics in the text). In Chroniques de ma vie, this passage directly follows a description of the “rejoicing discovery”: “What fascinated me in this verse… ” etc. (Chron: 91). The new vision of language as a sound object, made clearer in his discussions with Ramuz (see below), was one of the consequences of the gradual orientation of the composer towards anti-expressivity during this period. Taruskin confirms: “[The ‘rejoicing discovery’] was fundamentally bound up with his Turanian revolt and with his post-Sacre determination to depersonalize his art.” (1996: 1212).

                       [94] Zinar 1978: 188.

                       [95] Ramuz 1997: 29-30, partly transl. in Walsh 1999: 267, italics mine.

                       [96] Conv: 19.

                       [97] Stravinsky 1971: 371.

                      [98] Poet: 31-4.

                       [99] Poet: 33.

                       [100] Gordon 1983: 222.

                       [101]  Says Gordon: “Composer and writer had arrived at virtually identical theories of language independently and prior to meeting one another. Their collaboration on the translation offered them the opportunity to confront the same problems without having to be much bothered about invention.” (1983: 229).

                        [102] “Une amitié qui dure toujours, mais qui a été précédée par cinq ans de vie en commune, B  tant d’objects aimés ensemble, B tant d’événements vécus ensemble...” (Ramuz 1997: 33). “I was very much wrapped up in this collaboration which cemented still more firmly the bonds of our friendship and affinity of mind.” (Chron: 104).

                        [103] Stravinsky, Craft 1978: 145.

                        [104]  Conv: 35. In Expositions, he would go as far as to downplay Ramuz’s literary talent – “the liveliest of men (an impression not easily deduced from his books…)” – while exaggerating their age difference (eight years, while in reality it was only three). According to Gordon, “[these] are cheap shots aimed to diminish the important role Ramuz played in his life during the Swiss years” (1983: 240, fn. 10). Meylan argues that Stravinsky’s scolding of translations in general and of Ramuz’s translations in particular are addressed predominantly to English translations of his works, “dont quelques-unes sont totalement insuffisantes” (1961: 72).

                      [105] Chron: 104.

                       [106] Craft 1985III: 29, fn. 11.

            [107]  Meylan 1961: 39-40, 50-1, 71-2, etc.