Dualities in Igor Stravinsky’s Compositional Process as seen in "The Nightingale" (1908-1914)

Open Access
Grant, Aaron Benjamin
Area of Honors:
Music Theory
Bachelor of Music
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Maureen Ann Carr, Thesis Supervisor
  • Taylor Aitken Greer, Faculty Reader
  • Charles Dowell Youmans, Honors Advisor
  • Hans Christian Andersen
  • Sketches
  • The Nightingale
  • Igor Stravinsky
  • Stravinsky
  • Compositional process
  • Dualities
  • Nightingale
Igor Stravinsky’s opera The Nightingale (1908-1914), based on a fairy tale by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), provides a unique example of the composer’s evolving compositional process. Stravinsky finished the opera’s first act in 1908, but the commission of The Firebird (1910) delayed The Nightingale’s completion. Not until 1914, after the premiere of The Rite of Spring (1913), did Stravinsky complete his opera. The Nightingale is significant because in the opera Stravinsky attempted to find his own voice while striving to abandon the influences of Romanticism. With the exception of Richard Taruskin’s analysis of selected musical sketches, the work has received limited in-depth scholarly attention. This may be due to the juxtaposition of Romantic and Modernist styles within the opera, resulting from the period of time separating the completion of the last two acts (1913-1914) from the first (1908). However, that abeyance in Stravinsky’s compositional process provides an opportunity to observe, in a single work, Stravinsky’s transition from Romanticism to Modernism. This thesis provides an analysis of The Nightingale that examines passages that illustrate the duality between Stravinsky’s compositional styles, such as the contrast between the Real and Mechanical Nightingales. Set theory and Pieter van den Toorn’s observations about Stravinsky’s use of octatonicism and bitonality provide the framework for some of my analysis. Musical sketches for Stravinsky’s opera, housed in the Stravinsky Archive of Paul Sacher Stiftung will also be used to investigate the duality between the compositional processes Stravinsky used to compose the first act (completed in 1908) in and the subsequent two acts (completed in 1914).