Well, it is Spring, after all. So, here are some of my past (w)ritings on the subject:
The Rite of Springfield
But the most striking semantic effects of Stravinsky's primitivism results from the utterly modern sophistication with which it is treated. There is an exciting friction here of conflicting forces: after all, here's a thoroughly twentieth century composer writing prehistoric music. It's a glorious misalliance, producing glorious offspring - a synthesis of earthy vernacular embedded in stylistic sophistication. (359)OK, so I suppose it's a pretty obvious point anyway, and I'm sure many others have made it. And I'm sure others have critiqued Stravinsky for appropriating his own idealized idea of the past into something that really reflects the present, but that's a question for another day.
[of a specific passage] That page is sixty years old, but it's never been topped for sophisticated handling of primitive rhythms...[more broadly] it's also got the best dissonances anyone ever thought up, and the best asymmetries and polytonalities, and polyrhythms, and whatever else you care to name. (357)I'm particularly intrigued by that idea of writing "the best asymmetries" because I've listened to this music countless times, and I still find that it sounds unpredictable, even though I pretty much know exactly what's going to happen. As with a great suspense novel or horror film, what Stravinsky has managed is to create a sort of permanent meta-unpredictability; he's encoded the idea of unpredictability into something that's stable, yet volatile.
There are great beauties hidden in this music, only they're not so immediate as we expect them to be. They lie beneath the surface, so to speak, but because they do, they don't rub off so easily; they last and last.Bernstein spends the remainder of that program (with the "help" of an absurdly dressed choir) highlighting some of those hidden beauties. There's more skepticism in our current culture about this sort of directed listening approach; for some, being told what to listen for can apparently take the joy out of the listening experience, making it seem more like an exam than something pleasurable. All I can say is that reading Bernstein's The Joy of Music (which includes the tele-script for that Bach program) more than two decades ago was ridiculously exciting for me.
No one could defeat deathBach responds to this challenge with three achingly drawn-out sets of "Hallelujahs": the first is little more than two overlapping, descending scales, intensified by constant suspensions as the alto lags a step behind the soprano. In the second set, the soprano starts up higher (an outburst of weeping?) on the unstable seventh scale degree, and now lags behind the alto; the mood is one of quiet desperation. The third set brings the two voices back towards each other, with the alto now rising up to meet the soprano; this leads to a fourth and final "Hallelujah" which is shorter and unified at last. These Hallelujahs remind us that there is power in word and truth, even in the darkest hour.
among all humanity,
this was all because of our sins,
no innocence was to be found.
Therefore death came so soon
and took power over us,
held us captive in his kingdom.