This article reassesses Stravinsky’s early neoclassic music through the prism of Bakhtin’s literary theory concept of dialogised heteroglossia (other voices). In close readings of extracts from the Concerto for Piano and Winds and the Octet, the paper considers the problematic metaphor of Bach’s voices in Stravinsky’s music. Forcefully dismissed by Taruskin and others as little more than constructivist sleight of hand on the part of the composer to re-imagine Bach as an architectonic icon in Stravinsky’s own image, I argue that to obliterate Bach’s ‘other voice’ from the early neoclassic works impoverishes the music, depriving it of its vital dialogical discourse between an imagined classical voice of Bach and Stravinsky’s native Turanian voice. Building on Bakhtin’s notion of the sideward glance at the reflected discourse of an absent interlocutor, semiotic theory and Cone’s three ways of reading music (like a detective story), the paper confronts a number of partial- and mis-readings of neoclassicism ranging from Schenker, Taruskin, Hyde and Straus. The paper thus re-imagines the machine-like contrapuntal textural excesses of Stravinsky’s neoclassicism in dialogical terms and, in the process, elevates Stravinsky’s marginalised stylistic discourse as a vital hermeneutic counter to the more privileged appraisals of his neoclassic syntax.

The author, Nicholas McKay, is Head of Music and Senior Lecturer at the University of Sussex, U.K. where he has worked in the Music Department since completing his PhD on the semiotics of musical meaning in Stravinsky’s music at Durham University in 1998.
He was awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship to complete his monograph on the semiotics of quotation, allusion and topical reference in Stravinsky’s music. He is an Associate Editor of The Journal of Music and Meaning and is an elected member of council of the Royal Musical Association. He regularly presents papers at international music and semiotics conferences around the world.

Read Nicholas McKay’s article here.