Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” as a “Song of Ascents”


According to Euthymius Zigabenus, 15 «songs of ascents» (Psalms 120–134) «had this superscription since, more
than the other Psalms, they lead the people of God from <…> the confusion of the present life <…> to the heavenly
Jerusalem». The songs of ascents, as well as the рsalm texts in the Symphony of Psalms (Ps. 39:13–14 in the
First movement; Ps. 40:2–4 in the Second movement; Ps. 150 in the Third movement), begin with the cry and supplication
to God (Ps. 120 and 39) and conclude with praising (Ps. 134 and 150).
The idea of ascension is expressed in music through the aspiration to the finale. This is the «new song», which
was told about in the end of the Second movement (Ps. 39:3). The ascent from weeping to praise also was expressed
through the change of stylistic prototypes: Gregorian chant, baroque fugue and an «echo of the Russian
liturgy» (S. Savenko).
According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the 150th рsalm which finishes the last of five parts («steps») of the Book
of Psalms, «uninterrupted praise to God» is heard. Something similar is present in the third movement of the
«Symphony», which was written on the text of this Psalm. The call to praise God «with the sound of the trumpet,
<...> with the lute and harp, <...> with the timbrel and dance, <...> with stringed instruments and flutes, <...>
with loud cymbals, <...> with clashing cymbals» finds its expression not only in the diversity of choral and instrumental
sound. There are also repeated «Laudate» motifs which consist of one, two, three… tones; performed
loudly or softly; chanted, melodious, using marcato or light staccato; producing unisons, chords or imitations.
The article contains a number of examples — a kind of “dictionary” of the praise motifs which includes musical
quotations as well. Аmong them — «hvalite» (“praise”) from Rachmaninoff’s «All-Night Vigil» composed of the
same sounds b–c–c, as one of «Laudate» motifs from the III movement of the Symphony.