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Background

The Infernal Dance of King Kastchei is the third movement of The Firebird Ballet Suite. In this part of the story, King Kastchei and Prince Ivan begin to argue. King Kastchei then sends his magical creatures upon Prince Ivan. Luckily for Prince Ivan (the hero) the Firebird intervenes, casting a spell on King Kastchei and his creatures, sending them into a relentless, furious and energetic dance (The Infernal Dance). King Kastchei and his creatures eventually collapse in exhaustion and fall asleep.

The music composed for this movement is fiery and rhythmic, culminating in an explosive and heightened coda before it transitions into the next movement. The compositional elements that define Stravinsky’s writing in this movement include:

  • use of non diatonic pitch material including chromaticism, the use of the tritone and unusual scales.
  • energetic and mostly simple rhythms with use of syncopation
  • multimetre
  • colourful orchestration and tone colour combinations with varied textures
  • dissonance
  • layering of ostinatos
  • extensive dynamic range and sudden dynamic contrasts
  • motific development including fragmentation
  • recurring melodies

Structure

Section Bars
Theme 1 1 - 38
Development 39-74
Transition 75-98
Theme 2 99-142
Theme 1 143 - 192
Coda 193-258

Stravinsky's pitch material

Stravinsky’s pitch material for the main theme of The Infernal Dance of King Kastchei uses a version of the Dorian mode called the Ukrainian Dorian Scale. Here is the Ukrainian Dorian Scale starting on A:

Musical Score

This scale is similar to the octatonic scale which Stravinsky used in other movements of The Firebird. The interval of the tritone which this scale facilitates (A – D#), is prevalent throughout the entire work as a form of melodic and harmonic dissonance. Stravinsky’s choice of modulation to the Eb Ukrainian Dorian Scale used in Theme 2 of this movement further suggests his interest in the tritone.

Mark the intervals in the scale as either tone, semitone or augmented 2nd. Play through the A Ukrainian Dorian Scale on your instrument.

Composition/Performance Activity

Aim: To recreate a version of The Infernal Dance of King Kastchei in either it’s entirety (approximately four minutes of music) or a section or two if your time is limited. The musical material will be entirely composed by the students through improvisation and experimentation, with a focus on collaborative, project based learning. Defining musical characteristics derived from the original work will be used as the stimulus for the composition process.

Method: Each section of the work is listed below with the corresponding compositional tasks. Each section is designed to be split between the members of the class so that small groups of students are given one task per section to work on, before combining all the newly created musical material into a cohesive section of music as a class with assistance from the teacher. Some activities are to be completed as a whole class. All tasks should utilise the A Ukrainian Dorian Scale unless otherwise specified.

Theme 1

Task 1 - Menacing Melodies

  1. Create a menacing melody consisting of 4 bars in ¾ time which utilises syncopation.
  2. Create a rhythmic variation of this melody.
  3. Transpose your original melody up a major 3rd. (Not every harmonisation will be a major 3rd due to the scale being used)

Task 2 – Motivic Interjections

  1. Split the group into pairs of similar instruments.
  2. Create a 2 bar motif in ¾ using only quavers and crotchets -  this motif should feel like it is jumping.
  3. Create two shorter fragments taken from the original motif.

Task 3 – Rhythmic Rumble and Sforzando Stabs

  1. Working together as a whole class, create an A minor tonic triad sforzando stab in the most menacing orchestral voicing as possible.
  2. Underneath this, produce a rhythmic rumble by playing repeated semiquavers on the tonic in the bass.

Final Theme 1 Task

As a class, and with the assistance of your teacher, layer the musical ideas from each of the tasks accordingly for the most desirable musical outcome. Refer to Theme 1 on the recording for structural ideas. Changes to the musical material can be made accordingly for a successful outcome.

Development

Task 1 – Legato Melody

  1. Split the group into pairs.
  2. Create a sweeping, legato melody consisting of 2 bars in 2/4 time.
  3. Repeat this melody between the 2 instruments using dovetailing or imitation back and forth to create 8 bars of musical material.

Task 2 – Tippy Toe Bass

The Tippy Toe Bass rhythm
  1. Create a 2 bar pizzicato descending bass line ostinato in 2/4 of just 4 notes using the previous rhythm
  2. Transpose this bass line up a tritone.

Task 3 – Chromatic Swells

The Chromatic Swells rhythm
  1. Using chromaticism and ONLY moving in semitones or repeated pitches, create 8 bars in 2/4 of ascending and descending swells using the following rhythm:
  2. Create a harmony part to this motif by choosing one note to act as a drone, whilst using the same rhythm.

Final Development Task

  1. As a class, and with the assistance of your teacher, layer the musical ideas from each of the tasks accordingly for the most desirable musical outcome.
  2. Return to the musical material created for Theme 1, however create a new, developed version. Ideas to develop this material may include: call and response, fragmentation, imitation, rhythmic augmentation or diminution, or combining Theme 1 with the new Development legato melody.
  3. Finish this section with tutti, accented crotchets on A and E.

Theme 2

Task 1 – Soaring Melody

  1. Using the notes of the Eb Ukrainian Dorian Scale, create a 4 bar soaring legato melody in 2/4.
  2. Create a 2nd phrase for this melody also consisting of 4 bars.

Task 2 – Countermelodic Bass

  1. Using the notes of the Eb Ukrainian Dorian Scale, create a 4 bar melody in 2/4 using simple note values.
  2. Create a 2nd phrase for this melody also consisting of 4 bars.

Task 3 – Glittering Glissandi

  1. Split the group into pairs of similar instruments.
  2. Using the notes of the Eb Ukrainian Dorian Scale, each pair is to create 2 versions of glittering ascending and descending glissandi in unison in 2/4.
  3. Harmonise each version using 3rds.
  4. Create a longer version of these glissandi patterns by using call and response.

Final Theme 2 Task

As a class, and with the assistance of your teacher, layer the musical ideas from each of the tasks accordingly for the most desirable musical outcome.

Transition

Task 1 – Flittering Insects

  1. Split the group into pairs.
  2. Create a one bar flittering motif in ¾ using only intervals of 2nds and 3rds. Chromaticism is ok to use here.
  3. Now create a two bar flittering motif.
  4. Harmonise each motif.

Task 2 – Harmonic and Rhythmic Accompaniment

  1. The bass line ostinato is provided, however the harmonic accompaniment should consist of repeated quavers using a tritone above the bass note. Complete the notes of the harmonic accompaniment below:

Final Transition Task

As a class, and with the assistance of your teacher, layer the musical ideas from each of the tasks accordingly for the most desirable musical outcome. Try to incorporate sparse textures to allow the timbres of the individual instruments to prevail with a largely polyphonic approach.

Theme 1

Repeat the Theme 1 material as already prepared.

Coda

Task 1 – Menacing Fanfare

  1. Create a menacing fanfare in a very fast ¾ (played in 1)
  2. Harmonise this fanfare in 3rds either above or below the original theme.

Task 2 – Chordal Jabs

  1. Create six interesting colourful chords or tone clusters. Any additional notes outside of the A Ukrainian Dorian Scale can be used.
  2. Place these chords in the most desirable consecutive order to create a chord progression. You may use each chord more than once.
  3. Create a second chord progression using the same chords.
  4. Experiment playing each chord progression as either sustained chords or short, accented chordal jabs.

Task 3 – Fleeing Footsteps

  1. Create a series of short fast notes moving only in 2nds and 3rds in a very fast ¾. (played in 1). Any additional notes outside of the Eb Ukrainian Dorian Scale can be used.
  2. Create both a short version and a long version of these fleeing footsteps.
  3. Harmonise these footsteps in 3rds either above or below the original motif. You may like to create more than 1 harmony.

Final Coda Task

As a class, and with the assistance of your teacher, layer the musical ideas from each of the tasks accordingly for the most desirable musical outcome. Finish the movement intensely with a tutti chord using the notes A C# and F.

Glossary

Term Definition
Ukrainian
Dorian Scale
Octatonic Scale
 
Tritone
Modulation
Dissonance
Chromaticism
Motif
 
Fragmentation
Sforzando
Dove Tailing
 
Imitation
 
Call and Response
 
Pizzicato
Ostinato
Drone
 
Rhythmic Augmentation
Rhythmic Diminution
Polyphonic
 
Glisando
Tone cluster
 

Aural/Musicology Activity

Listen to The Infernal Dance of King Kastchei whilst following the score and answer the following questions:

  1. Name the instruments used in this movement.
  2. Describe the use of duration in Bars 1 – 38.
  3. How is the theme stated and then developed throughout this section? (bars 1 – 38)
  4. Describe the differences between Theme 1 (bars 1 – 27) and Theme 2 (bars 99 – 128)
  5. How is tension explored in the Coda? (bars 185-end)
  6. Explain the following terms and signs:
Terms/signs Bar Instrument Explanation
sfff
 
1 tutti
sign for trombone at bar 1 1 trombone
pp subito 1 timpani
a 2. 3 bassoon
> 3 bassoon
sign for clarinet at bar 15 15 clarinet
sign for cello at bar 19 19 cello
pizz. 27 violin
sempre 31 flute
tutti con sordini 35 trombone

Firebird Forensics - Music composition task
Answers

Stravinsky's pitch material

Composition/Performance

Transition task 2

Glossary

Ukrainian Dorian Scale: A scale similar to the Dorian mode but with a #4 (tritone)

Octatonic Scale:An eight note scale in which the notes ascend in alternating intervals of a whole step and a half step

Tritone: an interval spanning three whole tones

Modulation: change of tonality or key within a piece

Dissonance: a quality of sound that is unstable or ‘clashy’

Chromaticism: a scale that uses successive half steps

Motif: a short musical idea which is developed throughout a composition

Fragmentation: using only part of a motif

Sforzando: to accent the note with force

Dove Tailing: overlapping single lines of material by using a linking note

Imitation: a compositional device of repeating a melody or motif in multiple instrumental parts, often with variation.

Call and Response: a pattern where one voice or instrument is answered by another

Pizzicato: plucked

Ostinato: short repeated melodic or rhythmic figure

Drone: a note or notes, usually in the bass that are sustained throughout an entire piece or section

Rhythmic Augmentation: increasing the note lengths of a motif

Rhythmic Diminution: decreasing the note lengths of a motif

Polyphonic texture: two or more melodic lines performed at the same time

Glissando: A rapid slide up or down a scale

Tone cluster: A dissonant chord made up of notes only a half step or whole step apart

Aural/musicology activity

1. Name the instruments used in this movement:

Piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet in A, bassoon, horns in F, trumpet in C, trombone, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, bass drum, xylophone, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, piano, harp, violin 1, violin 2, viola, cello, double bass.

2. Describe the use of duration in Bars 1 – 38.

Answers may include the following observations:

¾ time signature, presto tempo, regular bar lengths, strong beat is emphasised by tutti sfff chords at the beginning of phrases, repeated rhythms (bar 3 - 8) maintain driving momentum and motion, heavy use of syncopation using rests in the main theme,  ostinatos (bar 1) in timpani and double bass, note values are mainly short consisting exclusively of semiquavers, quavers and crotchets until bar 32 where dotted minims are used, and semiquaver sextuplets are used in bar 38.

3. How is the theme stated and then developed throughout this section?

The theme is first played in unison by the bassoon and horns at bar 3 using the A Ukrainian Dorian Scale in their low register using crotchets played on the off beat creating syncopation. The theme is structured in 2 bar subphrases utilising intervals of 2nds and 3rds with use of the tritone in bar 6. The timpani and double bass accompany using a semiquaver ostinato drone on the tonic A. This is then interjected by the trombones in bar 9 who play a short quaver motif to complete the first statement of the theme.

The theme is then developed from bar 11 with the bassoon and horns now playing the theme up an octave and the trumpet doubling the trombone interjections at bar 17. The texture is then thickened at bar 19 with the entry of the strings providing harmonic support.

At bar 22-25 the brass motif is fragmented and repeated and doubled in all brass parts. At bar 27 the theme is now scored for the flute, piano and harp providing timbral contrast through the use of the higher register and more detached articulation and rhythm. The texture here thins slightly with the ommission of bass instruments and brass, resulting in a more glittering overall sound.

The end of the section is characterised by tutti accented chords using crotchets at fortissimo.

4. Describe the differences between Theme 1 (bars 3-10) and Theme 2 (bars 99 – 128)

Theme 1 is characterised by the following:

Syncopated, accented crotchets are played in unison by the bassoon and horns in F in their low register using the A Ukrainian Dorian Scale with the use of the tritone apparent in the 4th bar of the theme. The main theme is in ¾ and is made up of 4, 2 bar subphrases, making it 8 bars in total. The melody has a dark, booming timbre due to the voicing of the melody in the bass coupled with the resonant timbres of the bassoon and horn. The accompaniment consists of repeated semiquaver ostinatos by the timpani and doublebass on the tonic of A. The texture here is homophonic and moderately thick, and performed at the dynamic of mezzo forte.

Theme 2 is characterised by the following:

The time signature is now 2/4 and the tonality of Theme 2 is now in Eb Ukrainian Dorian with the melody played by the violin 1 and cello in it’s upper register and momentarily doubled at times by the oboe and bassoon. The phrases are 4 bars long with the 2nd cello and doublebass providing a countermelodic bass line underneath the melody. The legato articulation and long, sweeping high pitched melody is distinctively contrasting to theme 1 in character. The remaining strings and woodwinds play decorative, lightly articulated short note values to further thicken the texture which is quasi polyphonic at times. These accompanying motifs are presented in a call and response fashion from bars 115 – 128. The overall dynamic here is forte and the texture is very thick, resulting in a full, grand orchestral sound.

5. How is tension explored in the Coda? (bars 193 - 258)

Tension is instantly achieved through the accelerando transition into the coda section, reaching a presto tempo in ¾ felt in 1. This is supported by the expressive term Piu mosso meaning ‘more movement’ at bar 193. A menacing fanfare is played by the trumpets and horns in bars 193 using dissonant tone cluster chords which is reinforced by the heavily marked bass drum on beat 1. Dissonance is utilised throughout this entire section as Stravinsky uses chromatic notes outside the A Ukrainian Dorian Scale, resulting in colourful harmonies which are often unresolved, creating harmonic tension. In conjunction with this is the ongoing use of the tritone as both a melodic and harmonic device.

At bar 209, multimetre is employed with a time signature change to 2/2, creating rhythmic momentum and drive which is reinforced by the tutti crotchet rhythm played by all instruments. The absence of beat 1 in the phrase by all instruments other than the bass and percussion, results in rhythmic unpredictability, further contributing to the tension. The texture here is incredibly thick with a large use of accents creating syncopation at a fortissimo-fortississimo dynamic. Expressive techniques such as rolls in the cymbals and tremelos in the strings at bar 244, trills in the strings at bar 209 and rapid glissandi in the piano and harp at bar 221, creates harmonic and rhythmic instability, further contributing to the tension in the music.

Stravinsky also explores dynamic contrast to create climactic tension, such as at bar 229 where the texture thins dramatically with the strings playing at a piano dynamic with pizzicato in the viola and cello. The passage immediately builds once again to a fortississimo dynamic at 247 through the addition of instruments and a gradual crescendo throughout this section, resulting in an extremely thick, dissonant, rhythmically unified end to the work.

Other compositional techniques that Stravinsky has employed that facilitate tension include the use of polyrhythms such as in bars 255-256 where semiquavers are played against quaver triplets, and heavily marked articulation such as accents and sfff.

6. Explain the following terms and signs:

Terms/signs Bar Instrument Explanation
sfff 1 tutti Sforzando – to perform the note with emphasis and then at the
dynamic indicated which is fortississimo (very very loud)
sign for trombone at bar 1 1 trombone tenor clef
pp subito 1 timpani pianissimo – suddenly very soft
a 2. 3 bassoon the part is to be played by 2 bassoons
> 3 bassoon accent – to play the note strongly
sign for clarinet at bar 15 15 clarinet to play the part up an octave
sign for cello at bar 19 19 cello harmonic
pizz. 27 violin pizzicato - plucked
sempre 31 flute always
tutti con sordini 35 trombone all with the mute

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