Aspects of Numerology in Stravinsky's In Memoriam Dylan Thomas

 

In Memoriam Dylan Thomas marks Stravinsky's first experimentations with total pitch serialisation. The years after The Rake's Progress saw a profound change in his musical language due partly to his association with Robert Craft, whose enthusiasm for the Second Viennese School focused Stravinsky on the music of Webern and Schonberg.

The text of the song is Thomas' Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Stravinsky and Thomas had met in May 1953 and Stravinsky had 'cherished' the idea of writing an opera to a libretto by Thomas. However, before work could be started, Thomas died so Stravinsky set about composing a work to Thomas' memory.

The main central song utilises a serial unit of five notes which has no pitch repetitions. The cell chomatically spans a major 3rd. Stravinsky introduces an inversion of the Prime Set and subsequently utilised all forms; P(prime), I(inversion), R(retrograde) and R(retrograde) I(inversion) and their transpositions. All vocal and instrumental material is formed from derivations of the Prime 5 note set.

A ritornello occurs seven times throughout the song. In all the ritornelli, apart from number six, the notes C, Db, E and A (pitch classes 0,1,4,9) sound simultaneously approximately 0.6 of the way through. This corresponds to the Golden Section (0.618). Furthermore, if we multiply 55 (the length of the Song by 0.62:

 

55*0.618=34

 

At bar 34, there appears one of the important Do Not Go Gentle refrains. The notes also exhibit a triadic major/minor duality (A, C/Db or C#, E).

Stravinsky uses a 5 note set, there are 5 men referred to in the poem. The Song is in the form of a Villanelle with 5 tercets and in the Dirge-Canons the entries occur 5 beats apart. The initial note of the Prelude and Song is E; the 5th letter of the alphabet. The song is 55 bars in length and the instrumentation is in 5 parts. Thus the importance of five in this particular work cannot be underestimated.

The simultaneous soundings of the 0,1,4,9 set has three interesting Numerological properties centred around five:

 

9+4=5

1+4=5

0+1+4+9=14. This can be 'reduced' to 1+4=5

 

Also interesting are the Numerological manipulations in relation to the letter-number system used initially by the composers of the Reniassance:

 

A - H = 1 - 8

I & J correspond to 9

K - T = 10 -19

U & V correspond to 20

W - Z = 21 - 24

 

The timing of the Prelude in the manuscript is 1'27" while the Postlude is timed at 1'23". The last pair of digits numerically represent Stravinsky's and Thomas' initials:

 

I=9

S=18

18+9=27: 7-2=5

D=4

T=19

4+19=23: 2+3=5

 

Also:

27+23=50

 

  • The timing of the Song equals 270", again rendering I.S.
  • The overall timing of the piece is 7'20", corresponding to THOMAS
  • Furthermore, the 5 syllables in IN MEMORIAM add up to 104. 1+4=5
  • The digits in STRAVINSKY add up to 149, corresponding to the 0,1,4,9 chord so important in the ritornelli.
  • Finally, the individual digits in I.S. and D.T. (27 and 23) when added together equal 14;

2+7+2+3=14: 1+4=5

 

Music is a secret exercise in the arithmetic of the soul, unaware of its counting. Leibnitz