A Microtonal Analysis of Igor Stravinsky’s Concept of Pitch and Its Resulting Scale

Keywords: Igor Stravinsky, overtone series, higher harmonics, microtonality, bassoon, pitch, 128-note-per-octave scale


Igor Stravinsky towers as the most prominent composer of the 20th century. When asked on a television broadcast what the Maestro believed to be the next direction in music, Stravinsky claimed that it would be microtonality. The author of the article, who is a prominent specialist in microtonality, proposes a microtonal interpretation in performances of Stravinsky’s musical compositions. He substantiates the validity of such an approach from Stravinsky’s particular spelling of certain chromatic intervals in his musical works, which clearly infer certain intervals from the overtone series, as well as the composer’s words pronounced in his written texts. What Stravinsky had in common with other musical geniuses of the 20th century and earlier times was the inner hierarchical ordering of a constellation of tonal relationships. However, each of these composers had a completely different model of idealized intonation constituted in their respective minds. The author’s additional experience with microtonality was his thorough study of historical European and non-European alternate tunings and temperaments, as the result of which he has been able to determine which of them are appropriate for being employing in performing music by composers from past epochs, such as J.S. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. This provides additional substantiation for microtonal interpretations of performances of Stravinsky’s music. Citing the northern Lithuanian folk music tradition as expressed in the Sutartines, as being close in its essence to the microtonal interpretation of the great composer’s oeuvres, the author presents the 128-note-per-octave scale created by him for use in his own musical compositions, based on the extension of the overtone scale to the eighth octave as a viable tuning to apply to Stravinsky’s music.

Author Biography

Johnny Reinhard, Manhattan School of Music

composer, microtonal music specialist, Master of Music Degree (MM), Manhattan School of Music;
Founder and artistic director of the American Festival of Microtonal Music (1981), and Microtonal University (2021)

The Art of Music