Assignment 4

The task for this assignment was to analyse and compare the following pieces: Pulcinella by Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971) and Symphony No.1 in D – major, Op. 25 Classical Symphony, by Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953). Both pieces are early works of the in the 20th century developed style neo – classicism.

Neo – classicism started shortly after the first world war and continued until around 1950. Working again with several movements, original compositions and other forms from the past, often from the Baroque era, the compositions of the neo – classicism try to combine these older forms with the new developed techniques of the 20th century whilst trying to aspire the clear forms developed in the Baroque and Classical era. Nonetheless, being influenced by the nationalistic movements of this period, the style also refused to use the emotional colours developed during the Romantic – era. 1,2

The main aim of Classical and Baroque music was normally to reach perfection by creating clear, full and contrasting melodies. Furthermore, the composers preferred to use an alteration of different instrumental sections, in order to develop different colours of sound. Alterations of keys were always linked to one another and several clearly structured forms, such as the sonata and the symphony were developed. 3

Comparing the approach to the two compositions, it has to be mentioned, that Stravinsky’s Pulcinella is a collection of 21 altered pieces which were originally written by the Baroque composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710 – 1736) whilst Prokofiev wrote the themes from his Classical Symphony on his own, trying to follow the Classical style. This on one side, had the effect, that Pulcinella seemes overall more like a collection of tightly connected small ideas, which were put together in a contrasting way. The Classical Symphony on the other hand, can be seen as one whole piece, involving reappearing, contrasting motifs with clearly defined four movements. Even though Classical Symphony was written two years before Pulcinella (premiered in 1920), the latter is historically seen as the first example of neo – classicism. 4,5

The idea of composing Pulcinella came after a request from the director Sergei Pawlowitsch Djagilew (1872 – 1929). Composing the piece, Stravinsky stated the following:

I began by composing on the Pergolesi manuscripts themselves, as though I were correcting an old work of my own … I knew that I could not produce a ‘forgery’ of Pergolesi … at best, I could repeat him in my own accent (Huscher, P.). 6

Thus, it wasn’t Stravinsky’s intention to completely rewrite different ideas, but to work through them again, whilst keeping the characteristics the same. One of the best examples for this approach is probably the first few bars of Pulcinella compared to the opening bars from Pergolesi’s trio sonata in G:

Stravinsk’s version, keeping the same harmonic outlines
Pergolesi’s original version

Unlike Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, Pulcinella has a modern structure, as the movements are only occasionally departed. Furthermore, the chosen themes often don’t seem related to one another in any way. Nonetheless, they are ordered in a contrasting way, focusing on differences between the tempo, rhythm and tonality. Stravinsky often made use of ornamentation and different playing techniques, such as glissandi and pizzicato, which weren’t used often in the Classical era.

The longer one listens to Pulcinella the more features from the 20th century seem to appear. The first and second piece Allegro Moderato and Serenata: Largetto, for example, both have a main melody which can easily be distinguished from the accompaniment. The second piece involves several alterations between the major (Eb) and minor key (c). One short counterexample would be the continuous change of the time signature in bar 11.  

During the pieces Poco piu vivo, Allegro and Andantino, the melody isn’t presented as the most important part of the piece, as it can’t always be heard clearly. Even though the themes appear overall really sturdy and clear, some parts, for example within the No.5 –Allegro (below), involve some themes with irregular rhythms.

The transition between the different themes are often either non – existent or arranged with unusual key changes. Sometimes, however, there is a big emphasism on a change in tempo, which is occurring at the beginning of the Scherzino and takes the audience by surprise.

There are furthermore a few pieces, starting at the centre of the ballet, which initially sound more modern than Classical, such as No 8 “Allegro Assai”. This is caused by the strong, dissonant chords put together without presenting a memorable, leading melody.

By now, musicologists have found out, that not the entire piece came originally from Pergolesi, apparently Stravinsky also took themes from several other composers, Domenico Gallo (born around 1730) among them. Overall, Stravinsky only re-orchestrated those piece, managing to leave most of the original patterns as they were written. The major changes he made often appear in the rhythmic patterns, instrumentation and texture. Interestingly, throughout the whole ballet, Stravinsky seems to use different kinds of orchestration, to demonstrate the involvement of 20th century music.7

Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony was written between 1916 and 1917 during the time of the Russian revolution, it premiered one year later, and is known as the shortest of his symphonies. After getting an idea from his teacher Nikolai Tscherepnin (1873 – 1945), Prokofiev decided to write the whole piece without using a piano as support. He believed, that the orchestral colours would therefore sound purer. Furthermore, amongst several people, the use of a piano for compositions was seen as “cheating”, and only the talented composers where able to work without one. 8, 9

The Classical Symphony has overall a very clear structure, which uses most forms from the Classical period, often inspired by Haydn’s compositions. A few counterexamples for the traditional style can nevertheless still be found: A change of the time signature, which often lasts for only a few bars as well as several non – related key shifts. The third movement is not traditionally in a minuet form, but written as a Gavotta, which is a similar form of dance – movement.

Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony follows all traditional structures, starting the first movement in sonata form. The melody of the first subject area consists of 4 bars, which fits to the normally even numbered phrases used in the Classical period. The second subject area is, also traditionally, kept in the dominant key A. Those two themes, are, as it was the ideal for the Classical era, contrasting to one another.

First page of first theme
Second Page of first theme
Second Theme

I personally had the impression, that the development was slightly chaotic, due to the often occurring modulations of different keys, as well as the use of short, unrelated motifs. Interestingly, the development starts in a C – major key, which is, not following the classical rules, not related to the tonic D. Nonetheless, the introducing main theme is initially played in d – minor, before the key shifts several times. The recapitulation is also not entirely held in the tonic key, but keeps on modulating.

The second movement also introduces two themes at the beginning, which appear several times throughout the rest of the movement. One can notice, that Prokofiev passed on the themes between different instrumental groups, often putting a focus on the woodwind section.

The Gavotta, is, unlike the normal minuet, in a 4/4 rhythm, but follows nonetheless an A – B – A pattern. In comparison to the other movements it is kept rather short. The last movement involves 3 themes altogether, which are always linked by a short transition part, whereas the first theme appears 3 times in different variations. Interestingly, the second theme involved irregular phrases, some of which had an uneven bar number, which would again be a feature used in the 20th century.

It has to be mentioned, that Classical Symphony is linked directly to the Classical era, whilst Pulcinella uses themes which were written in the Baroque period. Both composers decided to use a Classical period – sized orchestra. Stravinsky purposely didn’t include clarinets as they weren’t used during the Baroque period either. Prokofiev doubled, in addition to strings and timpani, the following instruments: flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoon, trumpets and horns. Whilst Stavinsky went for a similar set of instruments (with an added trombone and just one trumpet), he also included a solo soprano, tenor and bass, to create more emphasism on the plot of Pulcinella. 10, 11

All in all, both pieces above have several features linked to Classical music, nonetheless, looking at the outline as well as some details of the pieces, Prokovief’s classical symphony definitely shows more aspects of traditional music. This is mainly caused by Stravinsky relying on an original source of music onto which he added some musical 20th – century musical features, whilst Prokofiev tried to compose a piece on his own in an almost entirely classical style. Nonetheless, neo-classicism is normally known to combine the modern with the traditional style, thus Pulcinella is definitely a more accurate example of the term “neo – classicism”

1 Ardley, N; Arthur, D; Chapmanth, H; Perry, J; Clarke, M; Crisp, C; Cruden, R; Gelly, D; Grigson, L; Sturrock, S. (1977) The book of music. London: Macdonald Educational Ltd, p. 425

2 Heukäufer, N. (2014). Musik Abi. Berlin: Cornlesen Scriptor, pp. 188 – 189.

3 Heukäufer, N. (2014). Musik Abi. Berlin: Cornlesen Scriptor, pp. 140 – 143 & 158 – 161

4 Carr, M. (2014). After the Rite: Stravinsky’s Path to Neoclassicism (1914 – 1925).[ebook]. Oxford University Press USA – OSO. Available at: [Accessed: 12.08.2020]

5 Dotsely, C. (2018). A Modern Classic: Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. [online]. Houston Symphony. Available at: [Accessed: 12.08.2020]

6 Huscher, P. Pulcinella, Ballet in One Act with Song. [PDF]. Programme notes. Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Available at: [Accessed: 12.08.2020]

7 concentus alius. (2017) Igor Strawinsky – Pulcinella.[online] Available at: [Accessed: 12.08.2020]

8 Bazayev, I. (2018). An Octatonic History of Prokofiev’s compositional oeuvre. [online]. Chicago: Music Theory Online, Vol. 24, Iss. 2. Available at: [Accessed: 12.08.2020]

9 Dotsely, C. (2018). A Modern Classic: Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. [online]. Houston Symphony. Available at: [Accessed: 12.08.2020]

10 IMSLP. Pulcinella (Stravinsky, Igor). Available at: [Accessed: 12.08.2020] (+ score extracts)

11 IMSLP. Symphony No.1, Op. 25 (Prokofiev, Sergery). Available at: [Accessed 12. 08. 2020] (+ score extracts)

Reflective Account

I was surprised that I found it more difficult to make listening log entries in comparison to the previous part of the course. Unlike the first and second course part it wasn’t a problem of what to write, but how much detail I should put into a piece I’ve listened to. As some structural features were easier to discover than others, some of the entries are much shorter than other ones.

I had the impression, that most of the coursework seemed to be based on listening exercises. I enjoyed working on the exercise Enjoying Classical music where I had to describe music without using any terminology. I initially thought that, as a non-English native, I would find it easy to describe the structure of pieces in a simple way, nonetheless, in terms of music I am more used to the English terminology than the German I had to find a completely new approach of describing music.

To have listened to several more composers of the Classical era apart from Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven was in my opinion really interesting, especially as some of them had an influence on them. Also interesting was the research point about the differences of orchestras, as I haven’t been aware of the different approaches of Classical music being played today.

The most difficult exercise for me was the Research point about music publishing as I initially couldn’t find a point to start. It was furthermore difficult to find sources which provided the information I was looking for and even though I think it’s a very important topic in music history, barely anyone talks about it.

In comparison to most of the rest of the course, I found the Assignment especially challenging. For a start, I found it really helpful to compare the most important features of Classical music as well as neo – classicism, for which I reread some notes I made during part 2. Whilst analysing Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony was a simple task, due to the obvious layout of a symphony from the classical era, Pulcinella was slightly more difficult to analyse. I wasn’t quite sure how many words I should use describing the background of both pieces, as they weren’t part of the main task of the Assignments but nonetheless important for the approach of writing the music. Furthermore, it was difficult to balance the essay between comparing the pieces and analysing the them, in addition to knowing how detailed I could describe them.

I overall enjoyed working through this course. I had a good insight in the development of the Classical style as well as some of the most important representatives of the era, furthermore it was interesting to see what lead to the opening of the Romantic era. Nonetheless, even though the Listening Log entries as well as a few exercises and research points were challenging in an encouraging way, most of the coursework was easy to be done, and I personally would have enjoyed several more challenging exercises. On the other hand, I thought that the Assignment was really difficult to write and it was the first one which didn’t only focus on the knowledge developed during this part of the course.