Maureen Carr

Climbing the Tower of Additive Construction: The Final Movement of Stravinsky’ Symphony in Three Movements

Symphony in Three Movements (completed 10 August 1945) was premiered by, and dedicated to, the New York Philharmonic with Stravinsky conducting on 24 January 1946. The program notes were written by Stravinsky’s friend Ingolf Dahl, who began his narrative by pointing out the distinction between Symphony in Three Movements (1942–45) and Symphony in C (1938–40).

“The musical world, which has hardly taken cognizance of the fact that in Stravinsky’s Symphony in C (1940) it was given a masterful example of classical symphonic procedure, already will have to take notice that with his new Symphony (1945) Stravinsky has moved on to the exact opposite of traditional symphonic form. . . .Here, on the contrary, we have another example of that additive construction, for the invention of which Stravinsky is justly famous and which has proved so influential on the younger composer. It is a formal principle which conceives of music as the succession of clearly outlined blocks, or planes, which are unified and related through the continuity through the continuity of a steadily and logically evolving organic force. This, of course, is the exact opposite of classic and romantic thought, just as the comparable additive principle of Romanesque architecture is differentiated from the interlacing connectivity of the Gothic or Baroque.”

Dahl’s comparison of Stravinsky’s compositional method of additive construction to architectural design sets the stage for a discussion of the fugal process as it evolves in the final movement of Symphony in Three Movements. Following the path of Stravinsky’s sketches to the score for this fugue demonstrates a strong echo of his approach to the fugue in Babel (1944), written either prior to, or simultaneously with, Symphony in Three Movements. This consideration helps explain a melodic allusion to Babel at R-152 of Symphony. Earlier in the third movement, the bassoon duet that begins at R-148 is generated by a series of intervals that are sometimes rotated and that anticipate similar motives in the fugue that comes into focus two measures before R-170, also reminiscent of Babel. The motivic network is enhanced by the unique combination of trombone, harp, and piano as seen in the continuity sketch.

That the resulting block form of the fugue in Symphony in Three Movements is reminiscent of the Rite of Spring — this time with a more atonal outcome — should not be a surprise, given the fact the presence of texture layering within blocks that enabled Stravinsky to refine his interval writing technique. There is a similar approach in the “Arioso” of the Concerto in ré (Basler Concerto, 1946); returning to the musical ideas evident in some of Stravinsky’s earliest works, including the recently-discovered Funeral Song (1908) and Firebird’s (1910) “Carillon Section.”

Presentation would include a continuity draft (with transcription), and potentially sketches, from the Stravinsky Archive (Paul Sacher Stiftung, Basel). Also of potential interest is George Balanchine’s choreography for Symphony in Three Movements from the Stravinsky Festival in 1972.


Pennsylvania State University, USA

Is Distinguished Professor of Music Theory and recipient of the Faculty Scholar Medal at the Pennsylvania State University. Her works examining Stravinsky’s use of Neoclassicism include Multiple Masks: Neoclassicism in Stravinsky’s Dramatic Works on Greek Subjects and her most recent book, After the Rite: Stravinsky’s Path to Neoclassicism (1914–1925). She is also the author of Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat: A Facsimile of the Sketches and Stravinsky’s Pulcinella: A Facsimile of the Sources and Sketches (winner, SMT Citation of Special Merit). She is currently under contract with Oxford University Press for another project tracing Bach’s influence in Stravinsky’s later works: After Apollo: Stravinsky’s Path Through the Models of Bach (1929–1965). The Rite at 100, recently won the American Musicological Society’s Solie award.