Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms

Continuing on the theme of counterpoint, I listened to Stravinsky’s ‘Symphony of Psalms’, the second movement of which is written as a fugue.  It starts with a single oboe line, adding in flute, then second flute, third flute, second oboe, fourth flute, and finally piccolo, bassoon, cor anglais and trombone, before the voices and finally strings.  As the different instruments come in they take turns at playing the fugal theme on the tonic and the dominant.

It’s a very chromatic piece; it starts off being identifiably C minor, but already the third note (B natural) played without the context of any adjacent notes takes you by surprise, and creates quite a tense and atmospheric mood.  I really like the instrumental introduction, the individual lines although chromatic work very cleverly together, and the rests at the beginnings of the phrases are effective in building up the tension.

When the voices come in, the fugal theme is played by the lower strings and the whole mood of the piece starts to become more and more threatening in the build up to the climax.


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