Abstraction, abstracted : continuation of Russian neonationalist ideals In Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex
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Igor Stravinsky’s 1927 opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex (with libretto by Jean Cocteau) contains quintessential Neoclassical qualities: it is a reduced, mechanical, and austere version of the Sophocles play, using older operatic devices within static harmonic momentum and ambiguous functionality. A closer look into the conception and intrinsic fabric of the work, however, betrays certain ideological bonds with the Russian neonationalist movement of the late 19th century. This movement had its origins in the visual arts but soon its principles carried over to music. The neonationalists valued the intrinsic properties of the folk subject (ornamentation in art, geometrical aspects of line, folk song) rather than the folk subject itself. In other words, the abstraction of the folk subject’s innate qualities, rather than mere quotation, served as the means to a wholly modern artwork. Neonationalist ideals would serve as the catalyst for Stravinsky’s modernist revolt in Le Sacre du Printemps (as explored by Richard Taruskin.) Although the movement itself is distanced from Stravinsky’s Neoclassical period and Oedipus Rex, its ideals can be traced from Le Sacre to Oedipus and beyond. In addition, the social and cultural milieu of Jean Cocteau in interwar France serves to position this work as distinctly modernist mainly through its abbreviation of the original source. In this study, I will explore the perpetuation of these ideals in Oedipus through its musical language and abstraction from sources to place it as an entirely new musical concept.