Soon after Debussy's death in March 2018, Stravinsky began work on a memorial, the Symphonies d'instruments à vent (1920). This piece was to become iconic both for music-theoretical reflection on modern approaches to musical time and for musicological archaeologies of Stravinsky's debts to ‘Russian traditions’. Along both avenues, particular emphasis has long been given to the work's closing chorale, initially published separately in the 1920 Debussy tombeau issue of La Revue musicale.
This article argues for a radical reappraisal of the Symphonies, which builds anew on Stephen Walsh's 1996 study of the sketches and shifts the emphasis onto temporal questions long neglected under pitch-focused analysis. Exposing ‘thematic’ concerns of rhythmic and metrical parsing (as distinct from unifying motives or pitch sets), and interpreting Stravinsky's hommage in light of Debussy's famous 1907 definition of music as ‘de couleurs et de temps rythmés’, I ultimately bring fresh metacritical perspective to fundamental questions of analytical method and purpose long entertained (e.g.) by Joseph Kerman, Carl Dahlhaus, Kofi Agawu, and Robert Walser.