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Variable Meter

Variable meter is a musical method invented by Boris Blacher, where the different meter changes systematically occur in each bar, following ‘a preconceived arithmetic plan.’ (Friskin and Freundlich, 1973: 194) In adapting Shoenberg’s idea of serialism to the rhythm, Blacher was also influenced by rhythmic structures of Stravinsky. This is why I decided to start with Stravinsky’s pieces that have alternating meter, and then, after listing all the Blacher’s pieces I listened to, I will also include other composers that have experimented with the concept of the variable meter.

Igor Stravinsky – Rite of Spring (1913)

Reading about Blacher’s variable meter, I found McCredie (2002: 71) talking about the historical conceptual sources of the system, starting with Stravinsky’s Danse Sacrale (Sacrificial Dance) in Sucre du printemps (Rite of Spring). I have known about the piece since completing the course on EdX ‘First Nights – Rite of Spring’ some time ago. It mentioned the Sacrificial dance, and I remember finding the rhythm and the changing time signatures – 3/16, 2/16, 2/8, 5/16 very intriguing. As such, this was a great opportunity to learn more about Stravinsky’s rhythmic pattern. I came upon Messaien’s analysis, in which he stated that Stravinsky, consciously or unconsciously, used the Hindu taal simhavikridita (Fig. 1), which is divided into two rhythmic cells, one that progressively augments and diminishes by a basic value, while the other stays the same. (Benitez, 2013: 7) Messaien did a whole scheme of the rhythmic pattern. (Fig. 2) Interestingly, I have already done some research about the Indian taal system for Project 1 Example 3 for finger cymbals, and thus, this was very exciting to read. Click here to see this post.


Fig. 1. Simhavikridita taal with the counting


Fig. 2. Sacrificial Dance, rhythmic scheme by Messaien Continue reading “Variable Meter”