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Symphony of Psalms by Mind Map: Symphony of Psalms
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Symphony of Psalms


Igor Stravinsky - Russian C20th Composer

Influenced by Russian Orthodox

"It is not a symphony in which i have included psalms to be sung. On the contrary, it is singing of psalms that i am symphonising"

Moved away from extreme sophistication of rhythm and instrumentation towards economy and simplicity

Common use of repeated short melodic and rhythmic patterns

Symphony - Sounding together

Orchestra too large for church, more for concert platform

Inspiration - "A vision of Elijah's chariot climbing the heavens... never before had i written anything quite so literal as the triplets... to suggest horses and chariots."

Four part chorus and large orchestra as equal partners

Word Setting

Creates music with ideas rather than words

Individual phrases are often set with the syllables in the wrong place

More interested in sound of words than meaning


b31 - sforzando chord

b36-40 - crescendo to 'Laudate Dominum' rhythm

b48 - tutti loud chords

b50-52 - sopranos marked 'cantabile non forte'


b10 - 'In sanctis ejus' slow minim movement

b40-47 - triplet figures representing the rise of the chariot and horses to heaven

b65 - the rhythm of idea 2 is shifted forward a quaver to form the setting of the key words of the movement - 'Laudate Dominum' (praise the lord)

b65-98 - homorhythmic scales leading to a second climax at b98

b126-134 - triplets against quavers of 'Laudate Eum'

b146 - 3/2 - in response to the text 'choro' (dance) the minim beat becomes extremely slow from b150 (48bpm) so the dotted rhythms are solemn


Setting of Psalm 150

1 - Alleluia! Praise God in his holy place, praise him in the heavenly vault of his power

2 - Praise him for his mighty deeds, praise him for all his greatness

3 - Praise him with fanfare of trumpet, praise him with harp and lyre

4 - Praise him with tamborines and dancing, praise him with strings and pipes

5 - Praise him with the clamour of cymbals, praise him with triumphant cymbals

6 - Let everything that breathes praise Yahweh. Alleluia!


Music created with ideas rather than words

Phrases set with syllables in wrong place

More interested in sound of the words (phonology)

Crisp, distinctive rhythms with syllabic word setting and use of hockets

Minimal word-painting leads to unexpected treatment of text, Alleluia is 'quiet and reverent' instead of usual celebratory treatment

Instruments are not highlighted in the orchestration - music is mystical and hypnotic, b87-94 praise him sound of trumpets very much in the background, b152 mentions 'timpano' but no use of timpani, b165 - use of word 'cymbals' but no use of them

Bar Refences

b7 - the clashing chords (BITONALITY) resolve to Cmaj triad (the tonic of the movement) on latin word for God

b7-8 - stravisnky highlights the name of God 'Dominum' with simplicity of syllabic setting, choir sings hushed bare 8ves on C with an E added very high in the orchestra - yet again root and 3rd only

b65 - the rhythm of idea 2 is shifted forward a quaver to form the setting of the key words of the movement - 'Laudate Dominum' (praise the lord)

b65-71 - voice takes up the syncopated orchestral rhythms and melodic invention is reduced to a monotone to maximise the percussive impact of the word setting

b146 - 3/2 - in response to the text 'choro' (dance) the minim beat becomes extremely slow from b150 (48bpm) so the dotted rhythms are solemn


3rd and last movement of the symphony

Each section corresponds with the setting of a phrase or sentence of the psalm

An orchestral interlude may appear between choral passages. These are based on similar melodic or rhythmic patterns

b144-146 - Climax

b2, 102, 205 - Three statements of acclamation 'Alleluia' marks the start and end of sections in the movement

b23-52 - first orchestral interlude

b99-149 - varied repeats of earlier material

Orchestral Interludes







Six Key Motifs

A, Homophonic setting of Alleluia, Serves as a very simple refrain, b2-3

B, Hypnotically repeating melodic ostinato, D-Eb-Bb, ending on repeated C, Narrow range and repetitive patterns are like those of Russian folk songs, b4 Tenors/Bass

C, Alternation between two notes of a minor third, b9-11 Sopranos

D, Simple chant like melody consisting of 2 notes semitone apart, b14-19 Horns

E, Six-note quaver rhythm, Often metrically displaced, b24 Bassoons/Horns

F, Triplet rhythms, Take place in triadic and semitonal/chromatic figures, b40-45, b40-43 (triadic), b44-45 (semitonal/chromatic)

Two Main Ideas

First Idea, Two linked thirds (minor and major), Recurs at different piches and on different instruments, Notes can also be reorded, b4-11 D to Bb, C to Eb (laudate), This melody suggests Eb Major but accompanied by C Major triads in bass part - BITONALITY, Clashing 3rds resolve onto a pure major third on C in b7 - significantly on capitalized Latin name for God

Second Idea, Six note rhythm, Used to generate excitement, First heard b24, Elijahs chariot climbing the heavens - suggesting horses and chariots

Slowly revolving melodies are reminiscent of cells of Russian folk music and orthodox chant

Constant thread of slowly revolving ostinato patterns - hypnotic effect

b205 - alleluia returns once, followed by complete resolution of all tonal tension with simple C major triad with which symphony ends


Constantly changing

b1 - 4/4

b10 - 3/2

b11 - 4/4

b52 - 2/2

b71 - 3/2

b72 - 2/2

b76 - 3/2

b77 - 2/2

b82 - 3/2

b83 - 2/2

b99 - 4/4

b106 - 3/4

b107 - 4/4

b112 - 3/2

b113 - 4/4

b139 - 2/4

b140 - 3/4

b141 - 4/4

b146 - 3/2, In response to the text 'choro' (dance), The minim beat becomes extremely slow from b150 (48bpm) so the dotted rhythms are solemn

b163 - 4/2 against 3/2, Cross metre effect of 3/2 against the 4/2 feel of the four note ostinato

b205 - 4/4



woodwind, 5 flutes and piccolo, 4 oboes, 3 bassoons, double bassoon

brass, cor anglais, 5 trumpets, 1 trumpet in D, sounds tone higher, 4 french horns, sound perf 5th lower, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba

strings, cellos, double bass, sounds 8ve lower

percussion, bass drum, timpani

other, SATB male choir, 2 pianos, harp

Ensemble consists of a choral and instrumental section, each treated independently and equally

No upper strings - too much vibrato

Stravinsky preferred clear tone of trebles to sopranos for their 'coolness of timbre'

No organ/clarinets - timbre too warm

Wind and brass sections enlargened

Unique orchestra

without romantic timbres of violin, viola and clarinet

enabled stravinsky to create hard-edged timbres and a variety of clear textures - vital to stravinskys concept as much as notes themselves

Although text refers to cymbals, none present

Two pianos add percussive incisiveness

Stravinsky displays innovative handling of natural harmonics which produce different timbres


Textures dominated by ostinati

Hard-edged clarity is a hallmark of Stravinsky's style

Layered textures and sudden textural changes maybe reflect his knowledge of late renaissance and early baroque music

Bar References

b1-2 - widely spaced wind chords

b2-3 - choral homophony (unaccompanied apart from strings tonic and dominant notes)

b4-6 - chorus ostinato plus harp/piano ostinato both in 8ves

b7-9 - tutti chord over 5 8ves, 5th omitted, doubling of 3rd at top, cello/bass ostinato begins

b9-11 - outer chorus parts in 8ves, inner parts swap between major and minor 3rds of C major chord outlined by continuing bass ostinato

b12-20 (as 4-6) - plus sop and alto parts in 3rds, a two note horn ostinato (filling out texture) and doubling of bass ostinato by 5 flutes, Typical example of Stravinsky's layered textures

b21-23 - tutti chord as b7-8 but with Bb (flattened 7th) in 2nd cello

b24-39 - rapidly repeated bassoon and horn chords alternate w/ostinato strings overlaid w/2nd ostinato

b40-52 - new diatonic versions of bass ostinato plus motif of repeated chords overlaid w/woodwind triplet figures, Build to homophonic climax b48-49, Followed by loud tonic chord of Cmaj b51

b53-64 - two ostinati plus soprano chant with alto countermelody

b65-98 - repeated chords of b24-39 above ostinato, then cantabile choral melodies with repeated chords and homorhythmic scales leading to a second climax b98

b73-99 - smooth choral writing (bass only) accompanied by angular orchestral sounds

b80-86 - vocal duet accompanied by complex instrumental texture

b100-104 - 'moment of repose' woodwind and brass gurgle

b150 - canon - soprano/bass above simple triadic ostinato for dble bassoon and b.trombone

b150-156 - canonic passage involving instruments and voices

b156 - choral parts are imitative but not canonic

b150-160 - imitative counterpoint, but effect is restrained. homophonic alleluias

b161-162 - massive tutti chordal passage

b163-198 - new version of choral chant accompanied by four-note ostinato stated 31 times, cuts across barlines, 3 statements of ostinato to four bars choral chant

b187-198 - ten independent contrapuntal strands w/many dissonances - but you only hear bass ostinato and homophonic voices wreather in aura of high pitched sound


Stravinsky's treatment of tonality described to be 'an escape from the excesses of late Romantic chromaticism'

Use of bitonality

melody suggests Eb major but is accompanied by a bass part outlining a c major triad = BITONALITY, frequently used by Stravinsky


Many factors contributing to the cacophony of dissonance to be heard during parts of the movement

Bar References

b4-11 - the melody suggests Eb major but is accompanied by a bass part outlining a c major triad = BITONALITY, frequently used by Stravinsky

b53-64 - C major tonality with Bbs

b65-72 - E minor tonality

b104 - Eb major

b115-121 - in recapitulation the rhythm of idea 2 is sung to a series of chords that rise from C major

b126-128 - E major

b132 - Bb major

b150 - D major but tonality constantly undermined eg b154 - F naturals

b205 onwards - complete resolution of all tonal tension with a final C major triad ending the movement


b1-3 - Voice parts slide around chromatically leading to a cadence into C minor

b4-11 - Clashing chords (BITONALITY) resolve to C major triad (tonic) in b7 on latin word for God

b6(3) - Shock E natural in bass part. FALSE RELATION between Eb in the voices and E natural in instrumental parts (bass and timp)

b7-8 - Tutti chord over 5 8ves

5th omitted

Doubling of 3rd at top

b10 - 'In Sanctis Ejus' - slow minim movement, Eb voice clash with E natural bass

b10-11 - FALSE RELATION in soprano and alto parts, E nat and Eb

b21-22 - 'Laudate Dominum' quiet C major chord almost tutti. 1st section ends with TIERCE DE PICARDIE

b23-24 - Drops to just dble bass and cellos who have flattened 7th Bb which is a v.modern sound, no 5th in chord

b32-43 - chords used to generate excitement as it steps up in the horns from C major triad to a D major triad (secondary dominant' then an E major triad (secondary dominant of D)

b40-47 - triplet figures culminate in massive D major chords with bass G#

b51(4) - loud tonic chord C major

b144-146 - massive E major chords with A# bass

b149 - F# major triad

b150-156 - G major arpeggio in bass trombone and dble bassoon heard against different arpeggiated chords in voices

b150 - Dmaj

b151 - Gmaj

b152 - Emin

b153 - Cmaj

b154 - Dmin

b155 - Gmin

b156 - Dmaj

b155 - FALSE RELATION bass trombone and dble bassoon Bb against B natural

b205 onwards - Complete resolution of all tonal tension with final tonic C major triad ending the movement. Only root and 3rd (accentuates major)