The First Movement of Three Pieces for String Quartet
A Shaking and Cracking of Dancing Bones
This chapter uses the first movement of Stravinsky's quartet as a sample, demonstrating how it brings stasis and movement, infinity and passage, into relation. It focuses on the nature and degree of interaction between repetition and continuity rather than the privileging of one over the other. It begins by examining the violin melody, commonly described as an unchanging—and thus unending—repetition, instead as a series of phrase-like gestures marked by processes of opening, growth and development, and closure, both as a single ostinato and as a recurring theme. Its subdivisions are referred to as both segments (highlighting their identities as subsets of the ostinato) and as phrases (highlighting their formal functions within the ostinato). From there the chapter turns to the interaction of the melody with the other parts, highlighting both its contrapuntal and heterophonous relations with them. Along the way it examines sketch materials from the movement, describing how the composer's adaptation of the original four-hands piano version into a movement for string quartet greatly amplified its dual characteristics. Ultimately, that such varied implications can be drawn from such a limited set of materials points not only to Stravinsky's ingenious inventions, but also to a fundamental aspect of temporal experience. Stravinsky's music encourages us to perceive time both as the experience of discrete, “present-tense” moments and as a larger flow among them.
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