Ellen Bakulina

Tonal Duality and the New Russian Choral School

The question of tonal duality and tonal pairing has been explored with regard to several 19th-century composers, including Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, and Brahms (in the writings of Robert Bailey, Harald Krebs, William Kinderman, Peter Smith, and others). Some of these studies explore tonal pairing within monotonal contexts, others investigate the less normal cases where two keys acquire equal hierarchical status.

None of the existing studies, however, have so far addressed the question in relation to Russian music. In this paper, I introduce one layer of Russian music into the discussion: liturgical repertoire. Using Schenkerian analytical technique, I show that pairing of relative keys is highly typical for Russian church music at different structural levels, including the background level (directional tonality).
The principle of fluctuation between relative keys, which Robert Bailey termed tonal pairing, is called in Russian ‘parallel’no-peremenny lad’’, or ‘relative mutability’. I focus on a specific type of mutability, which originated in the anonymous body of Russian liturgical repertoire that formed in the second half of the 19th century. Later in the century, a compositional trend appeared that the modern scholar Vladimir Morosan calls the New Russian Choral School. Some of its representatives, such as A. Kastal’sky, A. Sheremetev, S. Rachmaninoff, and others, fused together harmonic techniques of the anonymous church repertoire and those of Western tonal music. The resulting style offers intricate harmonic structures where relative keys often closely interpenetrate each other. Such interpenetration gives us grounds to interpret some pieces as displaying two tonics of equal hierarchical status, i.e., as directionally tonal. Though this principle has been shown in Western music, Russian church pieces often include specific harmonic techniques uncommon in Western repertoire. Thus, Russian church musical practice can be considered another alternative to monotonality, alongside many works by Western romantics.