Vera Valkova

The Category of ‘Spread-Out’Theme in Contemporary Russian Music Theory

In Russian musicology of the past three decades the category of ‘spread-out theme’ has been used in the studies of folk music, new compositional languages of the 20th-21st centuries and, to a lesser degree, music that was formed before the 20th century. The same phenomenon is also often referred to as ‘microthematicism’. The demand for this term occurred in 1970s. One of its sources is Reti’s The Thematic Process in Music. It is used in the texts of Abram Jusphin, Victor Bobrovsky, Yevgeniya Tchigaryeva, Ekaterina Rutchyevskara, Ljudmila Skaftymova, Vera Valkova and others. There are two types of spread-out theme.  The first is a short motive or intonational cell that plays the role of a full-fledged theme (in Skaftymova’s term it is microthematicism, in Bobrovsky’s—‘spread-out theme’. Such a theme can play an important independent role either when a classical theme is present or when it is absent, as in the works based upon textural, timbral and rhythmic structures. Inna Barsova’s idea of ‘intonational fabula’ belongs to the same category. The second aspect (which is used more widely) is ‘thematic and intonational connections’, which is emphasized in the teaching of Yekaterina Rutchyevskaya. These include, in her own words, besides short motives, the “diffused or spread-out connections, such as the related types of melodic patterns, rhythm, texture, as well as separate intervals, rhythmic formulae, and small melodic cells”. The independent role of such elements in the music of the 20th century allows considering them as one of the functional embodiments of musical thematicism—the spread-out theme. Analytical perspectives of these two aspects of the spread-out themes will be demonstrated on examples from music of Lutoslawski (his Second symphony), Schnittke (Second violin concerto) and Rachmaninoff (First symphony).