Tuesday, August 5, 2008

159. Music of the Great Tradition -- 54:Dudki

On September 26, 1911, Stravinsky writes to his scenarist, Nicholas Roerich as follows: "'I have already begun to compose, and have sketched the Introduction for dudki, and the Divination With Twigs, in a state of passion and excitement." The introductory section of the Rite was, in fact, originally entitled Dudki. So, what are "dudki"? Literally the word means "pipes." But for Stravinksy and his collaborator, dudki had a special meaning, as we can gather from the following excerpt from Roerich's essay, "Joy in Art" (as translated in Peter Hill's Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring):

A holiday. Let it be the one with which the victory of the springtime sun was always celebrated. When all went out into the woods for long stretches of time to admire the fragrance of the trees: when they made fragrant wreaths out of the early greenery, and adorned themselves with them. When swift dances were danced . . . When horns and pipes [dudki] of bone and wood were played . . . [ p. 5].

It's difficult to say whether the dudki reference originated with Roerich or Stravinsky and there is no way to tell for sure whether or not the composer ever heard real peasants playing such instruments. According to his autobiography, however, he and his family regularly spent their summers in the Ukrainian countryside and some of his earliest childhood memories are of peasant music (pp. 3 -4).

According to Olga Velitchkina "pipes" of various kinds are still played in parts of Russia, Ukrainia, Lithuania and the Komi Republic. We've already seen her all too brief video of a Russian panpipe ensemble in an earlier post.

According to Velitchkina, such pipes have been referred to by various names, including "dudki, kuvikly, vikushki, etc." She adds: "On first listening, this music seems closer to African forms (for example, to the Ba-Benzele pygmy music) than to any European folk instrument traditions."

To see how Stravinsky's "dudki" also suggest African forms, let's take another look at the scores I presented last time, but in somewhat more detail:

(Again, please note that you can enlarge any image by clicking on it.)

I've blown up the page from the Rite of Spring so we can more easily analyze the upper wind parts. There are several things to take note of. First, compare the hocketed interplay between the four highest parts (flutes and piccolos) with the very similar interplay among Voices 1 through 4 in England's transcription of the Bushmen Eland Song. Second, compare the general outline of all the parts in both examples, noting the high degree of melodic disjunction in all except those parts that are completely chromatic. Thirdly, note how the musical fabric of both examples is built up from the continual repetition of brief, interlocking motives.

If one follows the the Rite from the beginning up to this point, the fundamentally additive nature of Stravinsky's musical strategy becomes apparent. New parts continually enter and leave and are often simply superimposed over what came before. Additive structure of this sort is characteristic of many portions of the Rite of Spring, as with many other works of his "Russian" period. And as England and many others have noted, additive structure is also a characteristic feature of Bushmen music -- and Pygmy music as well -- where each participant may enter and leave at will, singing or playing his or her own independent part.

While Stravinsky's harmonies and melodies are noted for their dissonance and complexity, all but the most chromatic parts in the upper winds (first Flute, second and third Oboes, first and second Clarinet) are limited to notes drawn from a single pentatonic scale: F, A flat, B flat, C, E flat. An additional note, G, is present only in the English Horn part (8th staff from the top). The stark simplicity of the scalar structure is disguised by the spelling of certain notes (G sharp instead of A flat and D sharp instead of E flat in the Piccolos) and also the fact that the English Horn, the "Piccolo Clarinet" (Cl. Picc., in D), and the Clarinets (in A and B flat) are transposed. When we evaluate the tonal structure at concert pitch, we see that it is in fact very close, intervallically, to the scale of the Bushmen example, an incomplete pentatonic on G: G, B flat, (C), D, F.

There are a great many examples of Pygmy/Bushmen style singing and wind playing in various parts of Africa that could be compared with Stravinsky's remarkable dudki. For example, from the Ju'hoansi Bushmen (from the CD "Chants de Bushmen Ju'hoansi," recorded by Emannuelle Olivier): The Eland -- Girl's Initiation -- and the Aka Pygmies (from the CD set "Musical Anthology of the Aka Pygmies," recorded by Simha Arom): Divining Music

An especially intriguing ensemble of interweaving flutes was recorded by Stanley Diamond among the Anaguta people of the Jos Plateau region of Nigeria. It's from a Folkways LP, Music of the Jos Plateau and Other Regions of Nigeria, that I edited and annotated in collaboration with Diamond back in 1966. The striking resemblance to the Rite introduction was immediately apparent and very puzzling at the time. The typically African additive structure is especially clear thanks to Diamond's request that they enter one at a time: Anaguta Flute Octet.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

158. NB: Commentaries, Discussions, Discourses, Disagreements and Debates

Before continuing with my discussion of dudki and the Rite of Spring, I'd like to squeeze in this brief note, calling your attention to several very interesting and pointed commentaries by a poster calling himself "maju." Maju modestly describes himself as an amateur archaeologist, but may well be as knowledgeable in this field as many professionals. And unlike most archaeologists he also has an excellent grasp of the same type of genetic research that's been fascinating me so much over the last few years. He has a very interesting blog of his own: leherensuge

Maju's excellent and often extensive commentaries (and criticisms), with my equally extensive responses, can be found in the "Comments" sections of posts 153 and 123. There are over 60 comments so far, which should be of interest to anyone following this blog with any degree of serious attention.

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.