Symphony of Psalms: Movement III

  • Background Information & Performance Circumstances
  • Styles
  • Instruments & Voices
  • Text Setting
  • Texture
  • Structure
  • Tonality
  • Harmony
  • Melody
  • Rhythm & Metre
HideShow resource information

Background Information & Performance Circumstances

  • In 1910, Stravinsky became famous for the Firebird.
  • Became notorious three years later for The Rite of Spring, which caused a riot because of its often harsh dissonant music, and is now regarded as one of the most important compositions of the 20th century.
  • With the onset of the First World War he started writing small scale works, and eventually became a prominent figure in the neo-classical style.
  • His reworking of the 18th Century work Pulcinella composed in 1920 is one of the most important example of neo-classical music.
  • The 'Symphony of Psalms' was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for its 50th anniversary celebrations.
  • The style is not easily classified as it contains Baroque, jazz and traditional Russian orthodox church music features, as well as 20th century music elements.
1 of 12

Neo-classical and Jazz Styles...

Neo-classical elements include...

  • Many tonal characteristics, such as frequent return to a C major chord, e.g. on the word Dominum in bar 7.
  • The short imitative section at bar 150 evoking the age of Handel.

Jazz elements include...

  • Instrumentation dominated by woodwind, with no upper strings.
  • The pizzicato double bass ostinato reminscent of jazz walking bass.
  • Frequent syncopation, particularly in faster sections, e.g. from bar 25.
2 of 12

Russian Orthodox Church Music and 20th Century Sty

Russian Orthodox Church Music elements include...

  • The chanting effect at the beginning.
  • The emphasis on the choral sound.
  • The often slow, static music which evokes ancient church rituals, e.g. from bar 163.

20th Century elements include...

  • Frequent dissonance, e.g. opening vocal chords.
  • Use of bitonality, e.g. the choral music at the start suggest E flat major, whilst piano and harp chords outline C major.
3 of 12

Instruments and Voices

  • Large symphony orchestra, but with no violins, viola or clarinet.
  • 5 trumpets, including high pitched trumpet in D.
  • Quintuple woodwing including 5 flutes.
  • Double bass plays pizzicato frequently.
  • Also two pianos and a harp.
  • Voices are arranged in the traditional four voice frouping of Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass.
  • Stravinsky originally intended for all voices to be sung by male voices, including boy trebles, but this didn't happen at first performances.
4 of 12

Text Setting

  • Psalm text in Latin is generally syllabic, like the opening Alleluia.
  • Stravinsky often does a kind of reverse word painting, e.g. at the mention of trumpets, they are barely audible; the word cymbals is not accompanied by cymbals in the orchestra, but is actually sometimes set to very quiet choral music.
  • Words and phrases are often repeated, e.g. laudate sum.
  • Sometimes words are broken up by rests in the manner of French hocket, e.g. from bar 65.
  • Individual syllables are often accented for the rhythmic effect, rather than for meaning, e.g. bar 104.
5 of 12


  • The opening section includes homophony for the voices, e.g. on the word Dominum.
  • At the first 'laudate' words, tenors and basses sing in octaves.
  • There is two part vocal texture for sopranos and altos at bar 53.
  • The imitative section for four voice parts beginning at bar 150 is sometimes loosely doubled by instruments.
6 of 12


  • This is the third and final movement.
  • The movement begins and ends with the same music, the slow moving Alleluia sections, which also occurs briefly in the middle of the movement.
  • A faster section dominated by a 6 note repeate motif starts in bar 24, and this idea dominates the movement as a whole.
  • Sopranos have a new theme in bar 53 which is based on the 'laudate' theme from bar 4, and this theme is extended and developed until the music reaches a Tutti climax in bar 144, leading nicely into the imitative section in bar 150.
  • A slow chanted section which is marked molto meno mosso has all the voices singing together, interrupted by a series of repeates notes sung by the tenor and bass in octaves, before the final alleluia section returns.
7 of 12


  • There are tonal elements, for instance the C major chord in the final three bars. 
  • The section at bar 150 starts by emphasising tonality of D major, before outlining chords of G major, E minor and A minor.
  • Bitonality is another feature, for example in the opening where the voices suggest E flat major, while the piano music is in C major. 
8 of 12


  • Non functional - no sense of building towards cadences, 7th chords don't suggest a need to resolve onto another chord. 
  • Dissonance, for example on the third syllable of 'alleluia' in bar 3, where the G in the bass clashes against the A flats. 
  • There are also simple consonant chords too, for example the root position C major chord at the end. 
  • Many harmonic effects are a result of the ostinatos, for example the repeated four note motif, each a fourth apart, which plays towards the end of the movement (from bar 163) and creates a variety of chordal sounds above. 
9 of 12


  • One of the most distinctive melodic features is the use of repeated notes, e.g. at the start of the second section with the six repeated notes idea from bar 24. 
  • Many other passages have smooth flowing conjunct music, such as in the opening Alleluia section. 
  • Sometimes a melody line comprises of only two notes, for example the section where the altos and sopranos sing together at bar 53. 
  • The altos have a very narrow range melodically. 
  • As the music builds towards a climax the sopranos sing part of a whole tone scale, in bars 62-63. 
  • Sometimes the voice outlines chords, such as the D major chord at bar 150. 
  • At climax points, intervals become larger, such as the diminished 7th and diminished octave at bar 161 in the soprano part. 
10 of 12

Rhythm and Metre

  • Sometimes the music is very static, moving in minims and crotchets at a slow tempo. 
  • Other times the music is intensely rhythmic, e.g. at the beginning of the second section in bar 24 where there are repeated quavers and 'walking' bass line in crotchets. 
  • Syncopation is frequent, in the second section, where weak beats and off beats are often emphasised. 
  • In the second section, as the music builds up there are many triplet quavers in the orchestra music. 
  • There are occasional changes of time signature. 
11 of 12



  • 5 flutes
  • Piccolo
  • 4 oboes
  • Cor anglais
  • 3 bassoons
  • Double bassoon
  • 4 horns in F
  • Trumpet in D
  • 4 trumpets in C
  • 2 trombones
  • Bass trombone
  • Tuba
  • Timpani
  • Bass drum
  • 4 voices
  • Harp
  • 2 pianos
  • Cello
  • Double bass
12 of 12


No comments have yet been made

Similar Music resources:

See all Music resources »See all resources »