School of Music


Master of Arts in Music Education (MA)


Keith Currie


Stravinsky, psalms, symphony, Burton, Oakwood, Liberty




"Stravinsky's own account of the composition of this great work follows and needs no addenda. But since composers don't always point out their greatest masterstrokes, here are a few additional comments. Listen closely to the first chord it recurs several times during the opening minutes of the first movement for although it is a simple e minor triad, in Stravinsky's hands even a conventional chord becomes distinctive. In assigning the triad's notes to the instruments of the orchestra, Stravinsky hands out twice as many G’s (minor triads) as the root of E or the fifth of B, contrary to what textbooks teach and then concentrates these pitches either in the high reaches of the flutes, oboes, harp, and pianos, or in the low register of the bassoons, trombones, and basses with nothing in between. Moreover, Stravinsky marks the chord not fortissimo, as one would expect, but plain mezzo-forte having learned long ago that he didn't have to raise his voice to speak with force and power. The final pages of the Symphony of Psalms, with the pianos, harp, and timpani moving slowly back and forth through three notes (E-flat, B-flat, F), like the solemn tolling of church bells while the chorus intones its words of praise, make this one of the most celebrated passages in Stravinsky's output. It is all the more impressive for being slow, quiet, austere, and repetitive. When E-flat finally rises to E-natural, and the music sinks into C major, Stravinsky achieves a simple power rare in music of any century. The Symphony of Psalms was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Koussevitzky fell ill the week of the premiere, which was then postponed until later in the month; in the meantime, Koussevitzky gave permission for the European premiere to go ahead according to schedule, thus making that the world premiere."

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