previous sub-section
3— Stravinsky Re-Barred
next sub-section

Les Noces (1914–23)

When Stravinsky himself first drew attention to the coincidence of meter and phrase in certain passages of irregular barring in The Rite (recalling that in many such instances he had sought "to measure according to phrasing"), he had in mind rather specifically the lengthy, irregular measures of the early sketchbook and printed versions of "Evocation of the Ancestors" and "Sacrificial Dance." Clearly, however, the logic of this coincidence extends to the later application of "smaller divisions" as well. Nor is the progression from large to small confined to the composition and revision of The Rite . An early draft of Les Noces , scored for mezzo soprano, woodwinds, and double string quintet, exhibits the same symptoms in relation to this work's final version of 1917–23.[34]

Labeled A and B, the opening two blocks of Les Noces are reproduced in Examples 19 and 20; Example 19 is from the draft (where the two blocks are set apart by a change in tempo), and Example 20 is condensed from the final version. The earlier version features longer measures of seven, six, and five eighth-note beats that were subsequently sliced up into "smaller divisions" of two and three beats. Nor does the correspondence end here, for the proportions in these two versions of Les Noces are quite different. Just as with the several versions of the "Evocation" examined in Chapter 2, the opening material of Les Noces underwent a process of expansion: Block A is considerably


Example 19:
Les Noces  (early draft)

Example 20:
Les Noces


shorter in the earlier version, while Block B, although very nearly intact, misses the final arrangement by a quarter-note beat. The brackets in Examples 19 and 20 mark off the longer measures of the earlier sketch which, in subdivisions, were retained by the final version.

More critical distinctions between these two Noces texts relate to motivic identity, pulse, and tempo. Notice that the two  image and  image bars that conclude Block A in the early draft were among those retained, with subdivisions, in the finished score. And of special note in this retention is the concluding  image bar with its quarter-eighth-dotted quarter rhythm for the E-D-E segment. For it appears that in making the transition to the expanded dimensions of the later version, this particular figure was at some point singled out for emphasis. Its triple implications are underscored by the later  image subdivision, where, transferred to the opening of the piece, it serves as a motivic point of departure and return for the block as a whole. Hence, from within a seemingly random series of pitch inflections ("a ceaseless alternation between two or three notes," as Gray observed), there emerged the beginnings of a coherent repeat structure. Seized upon as a motivic focal point, E-D-E became a metrically fixed element, a constancy .

Some of these implications are detailed in Example 21, where the two versions of Block A are placed in vertical alignment. The retained  image and  image bars are marked by dotted lines, while an arrow points to the later insertion of E-D-E at the opening of the piece. The two versions appear to be distinguished also by what little may be inferred as to long-range periodicity—or, in view of the successive  image bars for the E-D-E motive, by what may perhaps already be sensed as a commitment, on the part of the finished score, to a triple mold. For in the early draft the quarter-note is assigned the metronome marking, a stipulation obviously at odds with these later implications. Still, as shown in Example 21,  image and  image meters may be imposed from the start of the early draft, and these arrive on target with the concluding  image bar and its E-D-E segment.

Example 21:
Les Noces


More eventful from the standpoint of fixed metric identity is the tiny D-E segment. Marked off by brackets underneath both versions of Block A in Example 21, D-E is a part of E-D-E and of subsequent extensions of this motive as well. Returns to E invariably come by way of D, and the succession is stressed by a doubling in the cello in the early draft (see Example 19) and by octave doublings in Pianos I and III in the final version (see Example 23). Notice, however, that in accord with the longer measures of the early draft, D-E is barred differently on each occasion, while, in the finished score, D-E is always barred as an over-the-barline succession; irrespective of the notated irregularity, D-E assumes the same metric identity. Hence, just as with the E-D-E motive, the finished score latches on to a fixed element or constancy, here in the form of the smaller but more pervasive D-E component. In addition, E, as the registrally fixed pitch of departure and return, always falls on the first beats of the irregular measures. Indeed, as can now readily be seen, the notated irregularity of the final arrangement is in large part determined by these metrically fixed components; they tend, as it were, to regulate the irregularity . The shifting meter seeks, at least in part, to preserve fixed identity in repetition.

A summary of these conclusions appears in Example 22, where a hypothetical scheme further demonstrates just how regular the irregularity is. Observe how the shifting meter revolves around the fixed components, and in particular the over-the-barline identity of D-E. Indeed, according to the hypothesized version, Block A contains only three motivically defined metrical units: a  image bar for E-D-(E), another  image bar for the dotted quarter-note E, and a  image

Example 22:
Les Noces


bar for E-D-B-D. And if we omit the dotted quarter-note, the scheme reduces to only two such units: E-D-(E) and an extension in the form of E-D-B-D-(E). (In the fifth bar of the hypothetical version, the dot of the quarter-note must yield to D as an eighth-note [marked by parentheses] to allow for complete motivic correlation.) So, too, there are only  image and  image bars or "phrases": four  image bars with a total of twelve eighth-note beats, and three  image bars for a total of fifteen beats. (The implications of three as common denominator will be discussed just below.) And since a  image bar with the E-D-(E) motive serves as a point of departure and return for the block as a whole, the  image bars are recognized as extensions of the latter (or as metrical troublemakers): each  image bar delays, by two beats, the return of D, the inflection, to E.

Notice, too, that the natural stresses of the Russian syllables underscore D-E as a metrically fixed unit in the final version.[35] As is shown by the stress markings for Block A in Example 20, these stresses coincide with the (musically) stressed D of the D-E unit for all D-E repeats except the final two. In contrast, the repeats of D-E in the draft (Example 19), although doubled by a solo cello, lack this support. In view of the tradition of flexible accentuation in the singing of Russian popular verse, the coincidence here of natural stress and musical accent (for the upbeat D of the D-E unit) takes on an obvious significance.[36] A peculiarly Stravinskian trait in these opening passages is the stutter effect, the repeat, in the fourth and fifth measures of the final version, of the individual syllable ko of Kosal ', meaning "braid." Within the framework of a bride's ritualized lament, the stutter suggests a sob or sigh.

Up to this point the logic of the barring has been pursued solely from the standpoint of metrically fixed elements. What may be termed the opposite


side of this rather elaborate coin—the opposite side, that is, of fixed metric identity or constancy—is "displacement," the notion of a "modification of accents," as Adorno expressed it—presumably, metrical accents. For, as can readily be seen from the irregular barring of the finished score, displacement is not here graphically a part of the invention. On the contrary, and as suggested, each of the designated components assumes, in relation to the shifting meter, a fixed identity: E-D-(E) is barred as a  image bar, D-E as an over-the-barline succession, while E falls on the downbeats of the measures in question. But the notion of displacement implies just the opposite of what is here notationally evident, namely, a change in the metric accentation of a reiterating component, fragment, chord, or configuration. And while references in this connection have frequently been made to the mere shifting of accents, at times to the shifting merely of "phenomenal accents" or stresses[37] and at other times merely to the resultant design or pattern, the implications for the listener are in truth far more dramatic. They materialize more immediately in the form of a shift in the metric identity of a component; while interval order and note values remain intact, metrical placement is altered. (To emphasize accent or pattern at the expense of motivic identity is to emphasize cause at the expense of perceived effect.) Moreover, displacement is irrevocably linked to steady metric periodicity, since shifts of this kind can be perceived only with reference to a periodic grain. So, too, these shifts materialize in the form of upbeat-downbeat (weak-strong) or offbeat-onbeat contradictions. A reiterating component, introduced on the upbeat, is contradicted by a subsequent downbeat appearance (or vice versa), while another such component, introduced off the beat, is contradicted by a later onbeat appearance (or vice versa).

There is little difficulty in rearranging the opening blocks of Les Noces accordingly. As is indicated by the brackets in Example 23, a  image meter is inferred from the E-D-E motive of the opening measures and is imposed on the block as a whole. It is with reference to this background periodicity that displacements in the metric identity of the reiterating components materialize.

Thus, in the opening two measures, the stressed D-E succession falls on the third beat of the  image bar, with D-E assuming its over-the-barline, upbeat-downbeat identity. But subsequent repeats contradict this identity, for, in terms of the  image periodicity, the D in this succession falls on the second beat at m.3, and then on the first beat at m.6. Hence a carefully patterned cycle of displacement is exhibited: the D of the D-E succession is introduced on the third beat, is subsequently displaced to the second and first beats, and then, in the completion of the cycle, is displaced yet another notch back to the original third beat, at which point D-E resumes its over-the-barline identity in con-


junction with the return of the E-D-E motive in the final bars of the block. Moreover, the  image meter emerges on target with the foreground irregularity in these final measures. The two conflicting meters are aligned as the block draws to a close. This serves to intensify the "feel" of the steady  image periodicity, along with the displacements which, as indicated, depend for their apprehension on this presence.

Example 23:
Les Noces


Example 23

Similar inferences may be drawn from the material of Block B. Here, however, the periodicity is duple rather than triple. Moreover, the foreground irregularity comes by way of a subtactus unit, while in Block A it surfaces by way of the tactus. In other words, while Stravinsky doubles the marking for the eighth-note from 80 to 160 at Block B, the listener is far more apt to hold on to the marking of 80, which becomes the marking for the


quarter-note (as tactus). And with the eighth-note relegated to a subtactus unit (and given, as well, the brevity of Block B in relation to Block A), the  image meter becomes far more conspicuous than is the  image scheme in Block A. Notice also that, just as with Block A, the steady meter arrives on target with the foreground irregularity, a circumstance that here, too, heightens the sensation of periodicity.

With Block C the dotted quarter-note is given the marking of 80, which in turn stipulates a triple division of the retained pulse. And while the stressed F image-E image figure falls on the downbeat of the first bar, F image-E image is more readily heard as a stressed upbeat to the punctuating E; in both Blocks A and B, the inflection is stressed as an upbeat to E as the point of departure and return. Observe, too, that the  image periodicity of Block B favors this alternative, since, as outlined by the brackets, an extension following the repeat sign emerges at Block C with an extra eighth-note beat to spare. Further along, the invention follows a familiar path. Subsequent repeats of F image-E image-(E) are irregularly spaced, a circumstance that tends gradually to undermine the inferred  image periodicity. (The irregular spacing nonetheless comes closest to a  image scheme, which, in view of the  image periodicity of Block B, would in any case have been the "preferred" reading.) The result here is a kind of tension between the implied  image mold and the irregular spacing of the F image-E image-(E) repeats, which usually miss a  image or  image delineation by one or two eighth-note beats. Contradictions similar to those noted in connection with Block A could in fact have been plotted on behalf of F image-E image-(E). Moreover, the irregularity emerges on target with the  image meter at the conclusion of Block C. Block C is then followed by slightly varied repeats of Blocks A and B.

Example 24 re-bars the material of Blocks A and B in accord with the  image and  image periodicities bracketed in Example 23. The brackets underneath Block A refer to the stressed D-E succession whose patterned cycle of displacement was noted just above.

Example 24:
Les Noces  (re-barred)


previous sub-section
3— Stravinsky Re-Barred
next sub-section