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Stravinsky's "Great Passacaglia": Recurring Elements in the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments.

Stravinsky's "Great Passacaglia": Recurring Elements in the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments. By Donald G. Traut. (Eastman Studies in Music.) Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2016. [x, 161 p. ISBN 9781580465137 (hardcover), $70; ISBN 9781782048480 (e-book), $45.] Music examples, tables, facsimiles, appendix, bibliography, index.

Igor Stravinsky's music has been studied from a variety of perspectives over the past century. One particular time period in the composer's life that has to this day left a number of unanswered questions, however, is the beginning of his neoclassical compositional period in the early 1920s. As Donald G. Traut argues convincingly in this book, the composition of the Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1924) in particular serves as a nexus between several new and old facets of the composer's life and career. Of the several important studies concerning the composer's transition to his neoclassical style, one recent and notable example is Maureen A. Carr's After the Rite: Stravinsky's Path to Neoctassicism (1914-25) (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). Traut's book, however, is unique in that it presents a focused, detailed study of one specific work from that transitional period rather than a broad examination of Stravinsky's neoclassical style through an examination of several compositions.

Traut acknowledges that focusing on this particular work might seem odd given that "it is neither his most famous neoclassic piece nor his most critically acclaimed" (p. 1). Stravinsky's concerto contains many features common to his other neoclassical works, however, such as its use of Baroque gestures, tonal centricity, rhythmic energy and variety (reminiscent of both George Frideric Handel and Scott Joplin), and clear formal divisions (rather than block textures more common in his earlier compositions). Thus, the concerto can be said to represent his process of establishing a new style after achieving fame from works composed in his Russian phase. The concerto also corresponds to the beginning of the composer's evolution as a performer, in that he wrote several other works for the keyboard around this time that he could premiere himself--presumably to both make more money and control the artistic integrity of his new compositions. In terms of Stravinsky's compositional process, his work on the concerto also represents a change in his approach, as he began concentrating on a single composition rather than multitasking several projects, as was his practice earlier in his career.

Though Stravinsky's concerto generated many varying critical opinions, one shortcoming common to both positive and negative reviews was the frequent "mention of only one movement or, more common still, just part of one movement, with little concern for context" (p. 2). Traut thus approaches his analysis using what he dubs "Recurring Elements" (REs), which are (primarily four) motives prominently featured at multiple structural levels of all three movements (p. 4). This approach is particularly effective in that it allows Traut to analyze compositional elements that other theorists describe as surface references to Baroque gestures, and to demonstrate a variety of ways in which these same gestures impact all three movements of the work on the deepest structural levels. It also allows the author to engage with criticisms previously leveled against the piece (and Stravinsky's neoclassical style) on their own terms. For example, Traut provides methods for understanding Stravinsky's use of counterpoint to engage with Heinrich Schenker's negative critique of this piece and the composer's neoclassical style in general.

The chapters divide the book neatly in half, with the first three providing a historical and analytical backdrop, and the last three each focusing on analyses of individual movements of the concerto. Brief introductory and concluding chapters serve as bookends. Chapter 1 examines historical sources (letters and sketch materials) and includes several high-quality black-and-white photographs of Stravinsky's sketches from the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel, Switzerland. Of particular interest is a page from a pocket calendar dated Tuesday, 17 July (1923), which would become the earliest known sketch for the concerto. This "calendar sketch" (reproduced on p. 9) is also Traut's source for understanding the genesis of the REs that serve as the basis for his analysis of the piece. In chapter 2, he presents four ways in which the concerto served as a catalyst in Stravinsky's career and his reception. These points include Stravinsky's career as a performer, his reception among critics (especially of his contrapuntal practices), his relationship with Vienna (specifically with Arnold Schoenberg and Heinrich Schenker), and the reception of this piece by later critics (in particular Constant Lambert and Theodor W. Adorno). In chapter 3, Traut establishes his analytical framework, which he bases largely on the four recurring elements: RE 1 is a repeated-note gesture and a lower-neighbor gesture; RE 2 is a descending stepwise [0135] tetrachord; RE 3 is a [0147] tetrachord used in both harmonic and melodic contexts; and RE 4 is an ascending stepwise bass line that provides contrapuntal motion against RE 2. The author argues that all four of these REs are initially heard in the first four measures of the concerto; they are then repeated and varied on multiple structural levels throughout all three movements, effectively creating the "great passacaglia" to which Stravinsky referred in his own description of this work (p. 3).

Traut's analysis of the first movement in chapter 4 begins with the solo passage first identified from the calendar sketch. To engage with Schenker's reading, Traut recomposes (rebars and realigns) the passage to study the more extreme types of displacements commonly used by Stravinsky but that Schenker may have avoided in his analysis. Traut's description of the prevalent use of RE 1 and RE 4 in this movement depicts an efficient use of motivic content similar to the type of Baroque compositions that other critics cite for comparisons.

In chapter 5, Traut applies his analysis of the second movement to revisit some of Lambert's criticisms of the work, which primarily focused on Stravinsky's inability to properly construct a melody and create linear cohesion in the classical style (Constant Lambert, Music Ho! A Study of Music in Decline [London: Faber and Faber, 1934]). Traut effectively illustrates that Stravinsky's use of RE 2 and RE 3 in this movement allows him to create a high degree of motivic connection, as well as coherent linear and melodic spans.

The third movement of the concerto is discussed in chapter 6, where the analysis focuses on a prominent use of octatonicism along with RE 3 and RE 4. Also discussed is the use of a recurring rhythmic motive that Stravinsky estate lishes in the opening of this movement and repeats with subtle variations throughout, as well as an increased use of imitation (another "Back to Bach" aspect of neoclassicism) (p. 38). A brief concluding chapter offers a holistic summary of how Stravinsky used all four REs throughout the concerto, including a large-scale tonal graph of the entire work derived from RE 4.

Throughout the book, Traut presents several convincing arguments for his analysis of Stravinsky's concerto in particular and the composer's neoclassical style in general. His focus on REs, as both a connection to Baroque compositions and as a way of demonstrating structural coherence, works well as an analytical tool and a means of arguing against some of the criticisms previously leveled against Stravinsky. As Traut summarizes, "it is difficult to know how to respond to accusations that the Concerto demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of its models of inspiration. How can one claim that Stravinsky misunderstood earlier music when the object of scrutiny (i.e., the Concerto) relies on misreading as a central force?" (p. 137). He presents readers with several tools to analyze and understand the various ways in which Stravinsky may have intentionally misread older compositional models. This is significant because it demonstrates a rather unique way in which Stravinsky was able to maintain a high level of motivic coherence and connection to the Baroque models alluded to throughout the concerto, and also to distort those same models on the musical surface, creating the neoclassical textures that would continue to define his style for decades to come.

As Traut indicates in the introduction, "anyone with basic skills in music theory and a willingness to hear the Concerto in sometimes novel ways should have no trouble comprehending the analyses" (p. 3). This seems true for the most part, given that he presents his arguments, approach, and evidence in a very clear manner (with beautiful examples). Readers with basic music theory skills will find most of the analyses in this book to be approachable. That being said, some of Traut's points--in particular, those pertaining to linear analysis--might require a more advanced music theory background in order to fully appreciate his insights. This in no way detracts from the book as a whole, however, which should provide a great resource for scholars, conductors, and performers interested in deepening their understanding of Stravinsky's concerto and his neoclassical style.


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Author:Schumann, Scott C.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2018
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