This study presents Stravinsky's well-known ballet Les Noces as seen by an ethnomusicologist familiar with wedding rituals and, particularly, laments of Russian villages. The music of Les Noces, statements made by the composer himself, and the data gleaned from published sources of folk music (those Stravinsky is known to have come in contact with or those accessible to him) are juxtaposed with observations obtained in field interviews with Russian villagers who themselves were participants in wedding rituals and performers of wedding laments. The conceptual and structural ideas of Les Noces are compared to those of the village ritual. The examination of the role of laments and songs in the unfolding of the ritual, the use of ostinato, the analysis of the manner of singing and voice quality in laments, and an inquiry into the polyphonic forms based on polymorphic texture enable a fresh insight into Les Noces and the way Stravinsky handled materials derived from folk practice. The general conceptualization of the composition with its coalescence of high emotional intensity and, at the same time, personal detachment is traced to folk ritual where the episodes, being part of the ritual, embody primarily impersonal responses to the requirements of a ritualized situation, even though they are presented as highly tense and emotionally charged.
- Copyright 1990 The American Musicological Society, Inc.