Treatment of the piano in the orchestral works of Igor Stravinsky



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Texas Tech University


Igor Stravinsky was one of the first composers to use the pianoforte as an integral member of the symphonic orchestra. The inclusion of piano within the orchestra spans nearly his entire creative output, from L'Oiseau de Feu of 1909 to Requiem Canticles of 1966, in a total of twenty-two separate works. The ways in which Stravinsky treated the piano within the orchestra, and the changes in this treatment which took place during his compositional career, form the basis of this study.

Scores of each work were analyzed in terms of Stravinsky's treatment of the piano within the orchestral texture, particularly in regard to the following: doublings with other instruments; octave usage; pianistic effects such as glissandi, trills, arpeggiated figures, alternating hand passages, and tremolos; percussive effects; use of pedals; solo passage work; proportion of piano usage to entire work; and treatment of rhythm in piano usage. A table showing the analysis of each work is given in the Appendix. The discussion of individual works is divided into three chapters dealing with the early, middle, and late compositional periods, respectively. Treatment of the piano in each work is discussed, accompanied by pertinent examples from the score.

The last chapter of text contains a summary of the material presented and states conclusions which have been drawn: Stravinsky's earliest uses of the piano in the orchestra were primarily as a soloistic instrument or as a doubling instrument within the context of a huge orchestra, in accordance with his Russian compositional training. As he moved toward a thinner, more contrapuntal style which relied on concertato principles, the role of the piano increased in importance because its percussive and pol5rphonic qualities so closely matched the aesthetic he was working to achieve. Finally, when he turned to serialism in the 1950s, the piano's tone became primary in importance as a distinct color in his textural and tonal spectrum, and its usage primarily as a single line instrument reflected the more pointillistic approach to composition in the final works. Composers, conductors, and pianists in particular will benefit from studying his unique treatment of the piano within the orchestra.