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The Rite of Spring: Confronting the Autographs


My oldest personal copy of the Rite of Spring full score is a crumbling Kalmus pirated edition of the revised 1921 score published by Edition Russe I bought in 1959;  it is now peppered with annotations in pencil and three different colors of ballpoint [click HERE to see a page]. The cover fell off years ago. I hope to find time to copy all these notes and corrections into a virgin copy, but it will take hours, if not days. My other references here are two color facsimile volumes: The Rite of Spring / Sketches 1911-1913, published in 1969 by Boosey & Hawkes, with a preface by François Lesure and a separate folder of detailed notes, letters, and commentary by Robert Craft; and Le Sacre du Printemps: Facsimile of the Autograph Full Score, edited by Ulrich Mosch, published by the Paul Sacher Foundation and Boosey & Hawkes, 2013. Added to this is an original edition of the piano-duet score, Le Sacre du Printemps: Tableaux de la Russie païenne en deux parties d’Igor Strawinsky et Nicolas Roerich, with title page in Russian and French, published in 1913 by Édition Russe de Musique. I remember buying this hardbound score for $8.50 some decades ago at Patelson’s, where it was on the shelf next to a new Boosey & Hawkes paperbound revised reprint of the same score for $35.

Stravinsky’s first musical sketches, going by the order of events on the first page, begin with the two grace-note ejaculations that appear in the published score at No. 15 (Stravinsky’s jottings in the piano score: “The old woman” carrying sticks for divination, who actually appears in the Hodson-Archer reconstruction of the ballet). The four-note ostinato, Dflat Bflat Eflat Bflat, that dominates the entire Augures printaniers section, is next on the page; then the repeated Bflats in the bassoons (once again “the old woman”) that come in at No. 19; and in the middle of the sketch page, the famous chord that “the ear accepted with joy” (Eflat7 over Fflat major; No. 13 in the score, double-stop strings au talon, with added accents by the group of eight horns). This is the chord that everyone memorizes, emblematizing The Rite of Spring for students of all ages. Stravinsky sketched in ink up to this point, writing one measure of the chord with repeat marks, and thereafter the entire Augures in pencil for four very detailed pages (pp. 3-6). On one of these, with the famous chord chugging underneath, there is a counterpoint of four bars of clarinet melody that does not form any part of the completed Augures — but we recognize it as the D clarinet melody in the Prelude, just after No. 9 (!). (With one small exception, no other music of the Prelude appears in any of these sketches; Stravinsky’s memoirs indicate that some sketch pages from the Prelude were lost, and in any case the Prelude was the last section of Part I of the ballet to be composed.) Eight pages (34, 117-123) later in the sketchbook are occupied with working out various orchestrated segments of the Augures, on up to 16 staves, many of them to accommodate all the upper-register chromatic scales in fluttered high woodwinds (Nos. 34-36), which are details that we almost never hear in performance because drowned out by high trumpets and strings.

Pages 6-11 mostly take up the chordal treatment of the Veshniye khorovodi (Round Dances of Spring) with the theme that first appears in the trumpets at m. 194 (fifth bar of No. 28), and fully developed in Nos. 48-56. Between the Augures and the Round Dances comes the Jeu du rapt (Dance of the Abduction; Stravinsky at one point called it “Game of chasing a girl”), but the sketches for these appear only later, pp. 29-32 and 124-131, except for one small fragment of five bars of melody on page 7 (Igra umikaniya). Page 12 is labeled “Goroda” (towns; Stravinsky preferred “Tribes”), at the beginning of the most intensely developed pages of sketches for Part I, pages 12-28. Page 14 is labeled Idut’-vyedut’ (Moving-leading, as Stravinsky translated it). The middle-register melody in octaves that memorably appears in four tubas (two tenor, two bass) in the final version (Nos. 64-70, mf, molto pesante) is indicated in the sketches for four muted horns. The galloping pace that begins at No. 62 (m. 413) has an alternating Fsharp-E bass; in the orchestra score this bass pattern continues unchanged to No. 64 (m. 437) where the tubas enter; but in the sketches (pp. 16 and 18), and in the published Russian piano-duet score, this pattern changes unmistakably to Gsharp-Fsharp at m. 431 (6/4 meter change). I don’t know whether this significant discrepancy with the full score has ever been resolved, or even commented on.

In the printed score, Nos. 70-71 offer one of the most spectacular graphic views inside any classical orchestral work — 33 staves on the page, at the climax of the Cortège du sage (Procession of the oldest and wisest one) that began at No. 64. The sketches show that Stravinsky, over and over again, was imagining different ways to build this fascinating orchestral tornado in different metric layers, beginning with the tuba melody (in 4 muted horns), at twice the speed of the final version. The harmonic layer in the lowest register, in arpeggiated diminished-sevenths, was set down at the same time, and the pedal point on D and Gsharp (bassoons, timpani) as well. At one much-developed stage (page 17 of the sketches) the alternating high-register trumpets and trombones are added; there is also a middle melodic layer in horn octaves that was later removed; a rhythm track of two bass drums is also present, 2/2 meter against the prevailing 3/2–6/4. This page is in graphite pencil, black ink, and red ink, with various instrumental indications. (For some reason, this sketch is pitched a semitone higher than all the other sketches of this passage.) What seems to be the final sketch for the climax shows the main melodic line still in horn octaves (no tubas yet), a percussion layer of alternating bass drum and tamtam with a separate bass drum part that later became the guero (gourd). The middle-layer horn octaves mentioned above, later removed, is still in this sketch; in the final version it is replaced by a new melody in horn octaves beginning on high D (third bar of No. 65). There are other elements as well, notably the 4/4 melodic line that appear in the final version as trills: three flutes in unison with upper violins sul ponticello; these are marked fff but this dynamic is a struggle in vain (Stravinsky in 1960: “The first violin part in Cortège du Sage…is badly over-balanced.”). It seems, as well, that Stravinsky worked hard on the details of this climax before composing most of the remainder of the “Tribes” music, although he also worked out, early on, the trumpets-woodwinds traffic screech at mm. 446-447 (two bars before No. 66).     

“The dances of the second part were composed in the order in which they now appear, and composed very quickly, too, until the Danse sacrale, which I could play but did not, at first, know how to write.” This is what Stravinsky wrote in 1960 about composing the most graphically complex part of Le sacre du printemps. The sketches tell a good part of the story: the harmony, the way Stravinsky realized it in notes while trying it out on the piano. Translating it into an orchestral score was more complicated. Here is the way the first and second violin parts at No. 142-143 appear in the autograph full score (I have condensed the notes onto a single staff and omitted the viola doublings):                                                                                                                                

This passage was changed substantially in the 1921 published full score:

In the published score the 5/16 bar was divided into a 2/16 and a 3/16 bar, which possibly helped to simplify the conductor’s beat. More important, the chords marked pizz. became arco throughout, and that change is easy to understand: in a constantly loud texture, the plucked sound carries very little weight compared to bowed notes au talon. (You can hear the difference in Stravinsky’s 1940 recording at Nos. 186-187, where the effort to hear the plucked notes in violins and violas is desperate indeed.) In the published score, the D chords attacked on the second sixteenth of a 3/16 bar are indicated as eighths; in the autograph, these are sixteenths followed by a sixteenth rest. Is there supposed to be a qualitative difference, with each showing a sharp accent mark? Or did Stravinsky just make the sixteenth-plus-rest into an eighth because it might be slightly easier to read? Even though both notations are assumed to be sharp staccato, there seems to be an actual intent in some recorded performances to hold onto the staccato eighth a millisecond longer than the sixteenth. The Russian piano-duet score, which has some errors on this page, doesn’t help much to decide.

Other issues, as well as those I have hurriedly described here, are addressed more carefully in an article by Louis Cyr, “Writing The Rite Right,” in Confronting Stravinsky, edited by Jann Pasler (University of California Press, 1986). I am still trying to locate a lost reference, a brief mention of when Stravinsky and Ravel, out for a walk in Paris, probably in 1911, visited a small shop that Ravel knew about, that sold exotic clothing and other imports from South America. There was a shelf of Latin percussion instruments, and Stravinsky was attracted by a notched hollow gourd with a wire rasp, which he later called his “cheese grater.” The râpe guero made it into the Cortège du sage climax at No. 70, into the full score, although it doesn’t show in the sketches. (Not to be confused with the real cheese grater, râpe à fromage, that Ravel wrote into the teapot-teacup scene in l’Enfant et les sortilèges.) New light is thus shed on Stravinsky’s 1960 note: “Amateurs of the older versions have been disturbed by the fact that the last chord has been changed. I was never content with this chord, however; it was a noise before, and is now an aggregation of distinct pitches.” Only one distinct pitch was changed between autograph and published score: the D in the second trombone moves up to E. But Stravinsky’s “noise” most likely means the solitary scrape on the guero in the autograph; it disappears in the published score.

Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert on the music of Alban Berg, Debussy, and other early 20th-century composers. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (Ph.D., 1967), he has published on many music subjects, and edited the revised fourth (1978) and fifth (1987) editions of Harmony by his teacher Walter Piston.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Thanks for this wonderful article, Mark. Two trivia points: The 50th anniversary of IStr’s death is April 6th. How well I remember that day, hearing about it on WQXR/1560AM, how thet played the recording he made of spoken remarks on Le Sacre in 1959. WHRB will observe this anniversary on April 5th.

    Two: Name a famous conductor who seldom conducted Stravinsky’s music yet drafted a revision of the Danse Sacrale. Answer: Toscanini. 13 Years ago, the NY Public Library produced an exhibit of AT memorabilia for the 50th anniversary of his death. One item was a hand-drafted red-ink version renotating rhythms throughout. Since I don’t read nusic I can’t specifically say what he altered, but it was so interesting so see a great conductor’s thought process applied to a work he never conducted.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — February 28, 2021 at 10:54 am

  2. That is really interesting information about Toscanini and the Danse sacrale. It would be worth a trip to the NYPL, where Toscanini’s archive is housed, to look at that draft in detail. I knew that Toscanini had conducted Petrushka in performance, and Stravinsky’s Memories and Commentaries (1960) praises Toscanini’s rehearsals for a performance of The Nightingale at La Scala that Stravinsky conducted (the other half of the program was Hansel and Gretel, which one assumes Toscanini conducted, not Stravinsky).

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — February 28, 2021 at 7:25 pm

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