Stravinskij's Chansons Russes: An Interaction of Music and Poetry

Marina Lupishko, University of Toronto

Stravinskij's conscious exploration of Russian folklore started during his forced exile in Switzerland from 1914-1920. This was a way for the young man to express his patriotism, but a more pragmatic incentive was the loss of regular income from Ballets Russes performances, from his rural estate in Russia, and from the publication of his works in Germany. During that time Stravinskij became utterly fascinated with the musico-rhythmic qualities of Russian folk verse. As the composer noted much later in one of his conversations with Robert Craft, one important characteristic of Russian popular verse is that the accents of the spoken verse are ignored when the verse is sung (Expositions: 121). Richard Taruskin bases his treatment of the metro-rhythmic elements of the Russian songs composed during these years on this quotation (Taruskin 1996: 1206-36). The problem with this treatment is that shifted accentuation is a normative feature of Russian folk verse, but not only of the verse set to music. While choosing his texts, Stravinskij saw that the literary accentuation had to be sacrificed in order to preserve the homogenous metric scheme of the folk verse. The additional possibility of a deviation from the established metric scheme each time the line is repeated as a typical trait of any oral folklore attracted the composer enormously. Moreover, verses with an irregular number of syllables in each line (so-called accentual verse) presented a good opportunity to the modernist Stravinskij to abandon square musical structures altogether while retaining the strophic form. My paper will try to establish some of the characteristic patterns of Stravinskij's metro-rhythmic thinking influenced by his understanding of Russian folk poetry, as seen in Pribaoutki (1914), Berceuses du chat (1915) and Trois histoires pour enfants (1915-17).