Electronic Composition
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Can texture be a story telling device?

In the hands of a great composer anything can be a story telling device, texture is no different. Let’s take a look at how Igor Stravinsky used texture in his masterpiece, The Rite of Spring.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XyTWt82XQM&t=90s&ab_channel=Boosey%26Hawkes

This ballet tells the story of a tribal ritual sacrifice in pre-history Russia. The first movement, titled Adoration of the Earth starts with call and response that eventually evolves into a polyphonic texture. In the original choreography we see dancers rising from the ground and moving as if waking up for the day.

The calls from soloists and ensemble responses could be see as different characters waking up and greeting the day/earth. The first movement ends with a distinctive eighth note motive that will persist in some way for the duration of the work.

The second movement serves a stark contrast to the freedom of the first movement. Rather than flowing melodic lines and polyphony a strict homophonic texture dominates. The strings provide a rhythmically unpredictable stream of eighth note chords that persists even as new themes are introduced. This drastic change in texture combined with the rhythmic uncertainty and lack of clear tonal center creates an uneasy feeling to this movement. Towards the end of the movement the woodwinds play cascading scale runs while the strings continue the persistent eighth notes and the brass play the melody. At this point and many other times throughout the work Stravinsky’s dense orchestrations come close to cacophony. A musical texture that is so dense that its essentially little more than noise.

What story point do you hear when listening to this piece?