Sunday, August 3, 2008

157. Music of the Great Tradition -- 53:Dudki

I'm back, finally, after a long hiatus. Been busy with both professional and real life issues -- all good (mostly great, actually), but also time consuming. Additionally I think I got a bit off my stride in the interval, which has made it more difficult to get back into the blogger mindset. So this will be an experiment to see if I can still write this sort of thing as easily as before.
Now where was I? We were discussing the "Great Tradition," which for me begins in Paleolithic Africa, from before the (theoretical) Out of Africa excursion, a tradition characterized by certain highly distinctive practices currently found among the Pygmies and Bushmen of that continent. And the point I've been trying to make is that I see signs of the survival of this tradition, or at least certain key aspects of it, in a great many places today. Not only among certain indigenous peoples, as I argued in my "Echoes" essay, but also as a significant part of much more recent developments in both the classical and popular music of the "modern" world.

My discussion in this post will center on an especially influential figure in Twentieth Century music, Igor Stravinsky. And one of the most influential compositions of all time: the Rite of Spring. While the Rite has been hailed as one of the most forward looking and advanced works of the "classical" repertoire, it is noted for several stylistic features that have been described as "primitive" -- features that have always reminded me of certain aspects of African music: polyrhythmic juxtapositions, stark repetitions, pentatonic scales, additive structures, etc. I've often asked myself why Stravinsky, whose roots were in Russia, would write music that sounds so African.

The Rite begins with an extended section, featuring wind instruments, that contains some of the most original and remarkable music of the entire piece. While all the parts are independent of one another, each with its own melodic and rhythmic features, the result can't really be described as "counterpoint," but sounds -- and looks -- to me a lot more like the juxtaposition of parts we find in -- you guessed it -- Pygmy and Bushmen music.

Here's a particularly interesting page from this section, as it appears in the original score:

(Remember, you can blow any of these images up to a more readable size by clicking on them.)

And this is what the introduction sounds like, starting from several measures prior to the above and extending to the end of the section: Rite of Spring -- Introduction.

Here's a transcription, by Nicolas England, of a Ju'hoansi Bushmen song for comparison:

The similarities I perceive may not be obvious, but in my next post I'll be going into a more detailed analysis of both examples that should make things a bit clearer. Meanwhile I'll leave you to ponder the meaning of the title Stravinsky originally gave to this section. It's a Russian word: Dudki.

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