I don't believe anyone's life story or recollections can be of any use in understanding how an artist creates. For instance, a certain composer having pneumonia tells me nothing about how or why they mold various sounds together. Or does it? Certainly not directly. However, maybe some human condition info is absorbed through a parallax view in the corners of our eyes—or some shit. But I learn a hell of a lot from what a composer listens or listened to. So, a composer's biography is a combination of the non-music and music related events. I don't really know if the two dissolve into each other or if they exist in two entirely different dimensions. I think they mix, but it's impossible to nail down how. Impossible for me, that is. Anyway, Stravinsky's Autobiography covers about 52 years—from when he was born, in 1882, to 1934. During this time he composed “The Firebird,” “Petrushka,” and “The Rite of Spring.” Plus, a shitload of other lesser known monumental compositions like “Duo Concertant” and “Persephone.” Holy moly!


Stravinsky, like essentially all early 20th Century European (and Northeastern Eurasian bits) composers, grew up in a financially secure setting; amongst peasants and other people in abject poverty. One of Stravinsky's earliest memories of sound is described thusly:


“I can see it now. An enormous peasant seated on the stump of a tree. The sharp resinous tang of fresh-cut wood in my nostrils. The peasant simply clad in a short red shirt. His bare legs covered with reddish hair, on his feet birch sandals, on his head a mop of hair as thick and as red as his beard—not a white hair, yet an old man.


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Fart Concerto #1: Maximus Gaseous!


He was dumb (fyi: couldn't talk), but he had a way of clicking his tongue very noisily, and the children were afraid of him. So was I. But curiosity used to triumph over fear. …he would begin to sing. The song was composed of two syllables, the only ones he could pronounce. They were devoid of any meaning, but he made them alternate with incredible dexterity in a very rapid tempo. He used to accompany this clucking in the following way: pressing the palm of his right hand under his left armpit, he would work his left arm with a rapid movement, making it press on the right hand. From beneath the red shirt he extracted a succession of sounds which were somewhat dubious but very rhythmic, and which might be euphemistically described as resounding kisses. This amused me beyond words, and at home I set myself with zeal to imitate this music—so often and so successfully that I was forbidden to indulge in such an indecent accompaniment. The two dull syllables which alone remained thus lost all their attraction for me.”


The fact that one of Stravinsky's first attempts at composing involved armpit fart noises and complex rhythms is hilarious! It's also very informative. Take “The Rite of Spring,” for instance. The blaring, short fortissimo percussion and low brass staccato snippet-theme explosions in space, are certainly worthy of the title: Galactic Petard! And the rhythms are truly, mind-bogglingly wonderful. So, I thank you, Mr. Ginger Fart-Maestro! Also, all of Stravinsky's music has a “creepy,” haunted-puppet element to it. Totally lovely.


Stravinsky continues:


“Another memory which often comes back is the singing of the women in the neighboring village. There were a great many of them, and regularly every evening they sang in unison on their way home after the day's work. To this day I clearly remember the tune, and the way they sang it, and how, when I used to sing it at home, imitating their manner, I was complemented on the trueness of my ear. This praise made me happy.


And it is an odd thing that this occurrence, trifling though it seems, has a special significance for me, because it marks the dawn of my consciousness of myself in the role of musician.”


When Stravinsky was around 9-years-old, his parents bought him a piano and “piano mistress.” Hmm… In 1970, my dad gave me a hard time LOANING me forty bucks for a used Montgomery Ward electric bass guitar—sans amplifier, of course. I say this to reiterate that Stravinsky was raised in a well-to-do environment. I mean, it was 1891 in Russia!


In any case, Stravinsky loved improvising on the piano, something his piano teacher frowned upon. But these improvisations were early steps in composition. Stravinsky freely admits that he's a composer that uses a piano. Later, Rimsky-Korsakov would tell him, “You will compose at the piano.” Stravinsky said that he never regretted being so. And the fact that he was one of the most amazing symphonic orchestration masters of all time, it's obvious that this traditionally so-called “limitation” didn't cramp his gifts in any way. Everything works different with different people.


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The first orchestra he ever heard was Glinka's! They performed “A Life for the Tsar.” Stravinsky considers Glinka one of his main influences on symphonic orchestration:


“I remember hearing another lyrical work that same winter, but it was by a composer of the second rank—Alexander Serov—and on that occasion I was impressed only by the dramatic action. My father had the leading part, a role in which he was particularly admired by the Petersburg public. He was a very well-known artist in his day.” (Ugh. How would you like to be mentioned, and therefore, forever known, in a book by Stravinsky as a “second rank” composer? Jesus Lordem Christ!)


During this time Stravinsky also saw Glinka's second opera, “Ruslan and Ludmilla,” at which he saw “the idol of the Russian public,” Peter Tchaikovsky, in the foyer. He never forgot that moment, and treasured it for the rest of his life. Two weeks later, Stravinsky's mother took him to a concert of Tchaikovsky's Symphony #6, “Pathetique.” The performance was in honor of the composer, who had just died of cholera. (Good one, God.)


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Tchaikovsky's Grave


“The only place where my budding ambition had any encouragement was in the house of my uncle Ielatchitch, my mother's brother-in-law. Both he and his children were fervent music lovers, with a general tendency to champion very advanced work, or what was then considered to be such.”


He said that thanks to this environment, he was exposed to more great pieces and styles in music literature.


This all strikes me as strange, since Stravinsky just got through telling us that his father was an excellent musician in his own right. I wish he would've unpacked that story and filled it in with more detail. Sounds like his home environment was of the “the only good music is Russian music” type. Also, was his father conservative listener and didn't like the composition direction Stravinsky was going in? I mean, Stravinsky's family was treated to his youthful, spastic Fart Concerto. Oh, well, one can only speculate.


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Fyodor Stravinsky—Dear Old Dad


Stravinsky continues in a strange way about his uncle's family:


“They prided themselves on their liberalism, extolled progress, and considered it the thing to profess so-called 'advanced' opinions in politics, art, and all branches of social life. The reader can easily see from this what their mentality was like: a compulsory atheism, a somewhat bold affirmation of 'the Rights of Man,' an attitude of opposition to 'tyrannical' government, the cult of materialistic science, and, at the same time, admiration from Tolstoy and his amateur Christianizing. Special artistic tastes went with this mentality, and it is easy to see what they looked for and appreciated in music.”


Nowadays, a lot of this would seem wildly contradictory, and that Stravinsky might be poo-pooing them in a sarcastic way. Actually, oddly, he uses the “materialistic,” scientific method to gander at these facts with cool, passionless observation. Oh, well, composer brains are all a bit “off.”


As Stravinsky was “fervently” studying the works of Rimsky-Korsakov and Wagner, two of the greatest orchestrators of all time, his parents were planning his education to be more directed at a “stable” occupation, like an administration post or some such thingamabob or another. So, he entered the University of St. Petersburg and, at first, studied law. He pissed and moaned about it to the point where his parents bought a teacher of harmony. However, Stravinsky thought his teacher stunk. In fact, he thought all “dry” musical instruction stunk. He loathed it:


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Rimsky-Korsakov. Ladies and Gentlemen!


“To learn and remember such things, however useful they might be, always seemed to me dull and boring; I was too lazy for that sort of work, especially as I had little faith in my memory.”


But he ended up really getting into studying on his own—especially counterpoint.


“The first contact with the science of counterpoint opened up at once a far vaster and more fertile field in the domain of musical composition than anything that harmony could offer me.”


That was the way I used to feel. And to an extent, Stravinsky was correct. The old way of teaching harmony was pretty much a fail, in my opinion. But, when Heinrich Schenker came along with his new method of analysis, around 1900, it became obvious that harmony and counterpoint are one in the same. They're totally intertwined. One can perform a Schenkerian analysis just as successfully on Bach piece as a Chopin Sonata. A I-ii-V-I is a I-ii-V-I is a I-ii-V-I. The form(ula) is always there in tonal music, from the modal Gregorian Chant to the thick, stretchiness of Chopin. You can boil it all down to the same elements. Even the Russians, like Tchaikovsky, used this system. This explains a lot about Stravinsky's music, though, for it is most definitely not tonal. Thank goodness he didn't “understand” traditional harmony. Frank Zappa said once, for him, school was learning what not to do.


Around 1920, Stravinsky got to show some of his work to Rimsky-Korsakov. He didn't think Igor's music was that “bitchin'.” He didn't say it was terrible, either. He advised Stravinsky not to study music at University; he thought his personality didn't fit in with the voluminous, pedantic studies required of music students. But, he suggested that Stravinsky take on a private teacher of harmony and counterpoint. Stravinsky tried that again and was bored—again. So, he surrounded himself with artists experimenting outside the conservative, Academic world. That world REALLY didn't like these guys (and I do mean guys—women weren't even seen as complete human beings at this time). They had a particularly intense animosity toward a man in the “outsider” group named Diaghileff, for he was a loud critic of the “old ways.” It was during these times Stravinsky got to listen to the “outrageous” French composers like Franck, Faure, and Debussy. Igor once asked Rimsky-Korsakov what he thought of Debussy, to which answered, “Better not listen to him; one runs the risk of getting accustomed to him and one would end by liking him.” Ah, politics, less filled with wisdom than trendy credentials, unfortunately. But, although Stravinsky was deeply embedded with the outsiders, he emphatically says: “It mustnot be imagined that my inclination towards the new tendencies, of which I have just spoken, meant any diminution in my adoration for my old masters, because all the appreciations expressed above were then only subconsciously germinating, while consciously I felt an imperative need to get a foothold on my profession.”


Apparently, Stravinsky learned a shit-load of stuff from one-on-one attention from Rimsky-Korsakov. Lucky bastard. This is a testament to Igor's raw talent. I can't imagine a giant like Nikolai wasting his time on a dead-end no-talent. Ultimately, however, Stravinsky still said his greatest influence musically, at this time, was Glazounov. He writes, “Glazounov reigned supreme in the science of the symphony.” It was 1905, and Stravinsky was 23-years of age, which was quite old when compared to the goofy, precocious prodigy-driven Classical and Romantic eras.


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When Stravinsky started the concept for “The Rite of Spring” (“Le Sacre Du Printemps”) he discussed it with his friend Nicholas Roerich, who was a painter specializing in pagan subjects. They ended up collaborating on this creation. After looking at some of Roerich's paintings, I can see a lot of his influence in “The Rite of Spring”!


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Roerich Painting


I can also see his influence on Roger Dean—the artist that created Yes album covers.


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Dean Painting


Stravinsky had to work up to the task of actually composing “The Rite of Spring.” Just formulating in his mind was an exhausting task. So, before even starting on the actual physical work on The Rite of Spring, he decided to work on another piece. He said this was to “refresh” himself by composing a piece that was centered around the piano.


“Having finished this bizarre piece, I struggled for hours, while walking beside the Lake of Geneva, to find a title which would express in a word the character of my music and, consequently, the personality of this creature.”


The creature is an annoying puppet brought to life—“Petrushka” (“Petroushka”). So, all the time Stravinsky was composing “Petrushka,” he was juggling “The Rite of Spring” around in his head! And ya know, you can hear it in the music. The work that went into the composing and production “Petrushka” is a major drama all on its own. Amazingly, he composed even more pieces right before “The Rite of Spring”:


“I composed a cantata for choir and orchestra, Zuezdoliki (The King of Stars), which was dedicated to Claude Debussy. Owing, however, to inherent difficulties involved in the execution of this very short piece, with its important orchestral contingent and the complexity of its choral writing as regards intonation, it has never been performed.”


Well, he did eventually hear “The King of Stars” performed. This autobiography only covers around half of his life. Anyway, to say the least, the relatively short period prior to composing “The Rite of Spring,” was not peaceful or meditative. It was more of an intense boot-camp, of sorts.


Anyway, Stravinsky got together with Roerich and “settled on the visual embodiment of the 'Sacre' and the definite sequence of its different episodes." Another important associate of Stravinsky was impresario extraordinaire Sergei Diaghilev (the “futurist” that the traditionalists hated)—and Diaghilev was set on getting Vaslav Nijinsky to choreograph “Sacre.” I'm not really sure why Diaghilev was so insistent on this matter. People like Diaghilev were very important during this time of switching from financing through Royalty, essentially, going to the rich exclusively, in a political-chameleon way, for cash. I don't remember any mention of this pivotal man in any of my music history classes. In fact, I never received any instruction on the business end of music. That is a terrible mistake, in my opinion. Musicians need cash—especially composers—and especially in a capitalistic, consumer zombie society! The only school I know of at the moment taking this area seriously is Berkeley in Boston. Pathetic.


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Ca$h Man and Art Fanatic: Diaghilev!


Another influence on Stravinsky during the production setup period of “Sacre,” a very extended and complicated production setup period, was one Claude Debussy.


“I was seeing a good deal of Debussy, and was deeply touched by his sympathetic attitude towards me and my music. I was struck by the delicacy of his appreciation, and was grateful to him, among other things, for having observed what so few had then noticed—the musical importance of the pages which precede the juggling tricks in 'Petroushka' immediately before the final dance of marionettes in the first act. Debussy often invited me to his house, and on one occasion I met there Erik Satie, whom I already knew by name. I liked him at once. He was a quick-witted fellow, shrewd, clever, and mordant. Of his compositions I prefer above all his 'Socrate' and certain pages of his 'Parade.'” Stravinsky thought Debussy was an amazing pianist, as well.


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When Debussy died, Stravinsky said this:


“I was sincerely attached to him as a man, and I grieved not only at the loss of one whose great friendship had been marked with unfailing kindness towards myself and my work, but at the passing of an artist who, in spite of maturity and health already hopelessly undermined, had still been able to retain his creative powers to the full, and whose musical genius had been in no way impaired throughout the whole period of his activity.


While composing my “Symphonies” [“Symphonies Of Wind Instruments,” 1920, dedicated to Debussy] I naturally had in mind the man to whom I wished to dedicate them.”


Note: Stravinsky revised “Symphonies” in 1947.


I was never told, in a music history or literature class, of this direct as direct could be, French connection between Debussy and Stravinsky. And from the very time of the composing of “The Rite of Spring”! He also had serious conversations with Ravel, at this time. Holy Blue Cheesus, Batman! Important much?


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For some reason, Stravinsky goes on a spiel about religion and music. What sets him off on this rant is him attending a performance of Wagner's “Parsifal,” which is loosely based on “Parzival” by Wolfram von Eschenbach, a 13th-century epic poem of the Arthurian knight Parzival and his quest for the Holy Grail. Also, and more importantly, Wagner himself looked upon music as a kind of religious event. He thought that music should be based on god-like entities from a culture's past. And that makes some sense as far as his belief in the superiority of the Aryan “race.” At least that's what's usually taught in music literature classes. Yet, there's always been something about that that didn't add up for me. Wagner, well, the actual whole of Romantic composers, we're blown away and quite obsessed with Shakespeare. And we all know Shakespeare was the ultimate humanist. When I say Wagner was obsessed with Willy, I'm not exaggerating. He wrote on miles and miles worth of parchment trying to convince everyone that Beethoven was the musical equivalent of Shakespeare. He didn't convince me, however. (Also, it's interesting to note that when Berlioz saw one of Willy's plays he could barely contain his amazed enthusiasm. And he didn't understand a word of English at the time! Any musician worth anything should instantly feel the rhythmic perfection of Shakespeare's writing. If you don't, you have my deepest sympathies. Heh, heh.)


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Willy Boy!


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Berlioz taking a crap?


Let's get back to Igor. Even though he uses the word sacrilegious, I get the impression he's talking about music as an intellectual entity. Kind of an anti-Romantic thing, if you will. He's saying that the emotion evoked with music is not a spiritual thing in any way, because one would miss the profundity by throwing a cheap, hollow supernal label on it.


When beginning the actual performance preparations of “The Rite of Spring,” Stravinsky was shocked by Nijinsky's lack of music knowledge.


“His ignorance of the most elementary notions of music was flagrant. The poor boy knew nothing of music. He could neither read it nor play any instrument, and his reactions to music were expressed in banal phrases or the repetition of what he had heard others say.”


Can you imagine Stravinsky nerves during this time? He was probably crapping his pants wondering how “Sacre” was going to be pulled off. It's this “unusual” worrisome state which hints that Stravinsky knew that “Sacre” was different; something that was going to blow peoples' minds. Stravinsky, as far as I can tell from this book, was a quite confident fellow. So, this was, indeed, something unusual.


“It was exasperating and we advanced at a snail's pace. Nijinsky began by demanding such a fantastic number of rehearsals that it was physically impossible to give them to him. It was all the more trying because Nijinsky complicated and encumbered his dances beyond all reason.”


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Nijinsky: Dance Man


Well, anyone who's heard “The Rite of Spring” can imagine Nijinsky soiling a lot of underwear during this time, also. “The atmosphere was always stormy. It was evident that the poor boy had been saddled with a task beyond his capacity. He appeared to be quite unconscious both of his inadequacy and the fact that he had been given a role which, to put it shortly, he was incapable of filling in so serious an undertaking as the Russian Ballet. No matter how much Stravinsky would complain, Diaghilev would not get rid of Nijinsky. He was a true believer in Nijinsky's “plastic vision.”


Stravinsky worked on the score throughout the winter of 1912-1913. I'm sure there were rumblings of WWI at this time—lovely, a real stress reducer! During this time he met Richard Strauss. Strauss expressed appreciation for Igor's music. Stravinsky remembers a “humorous” anecdote involving Strauss: “Among other things, he [Strauss] said something which amused me: 'You make the mistake of beginning your piece in pianissimo; the public will not listen. You should astonish them by a sudden crash at the very start. After that they will follow you and you can do whatever you like.'” This is another thing I never learned in any theory, composition, history, or music literature class. Now, Lyle Miller told me something akin to what Strauss suggested to Stravinsky. “Ya gotta wake up the crowd with your first number!,” he said. Lyle led a band that played both types of music—country AND western. Another gem Lyle would share over the mic to an inebriated “audience” was: “Remember, folks—motel spelled backwards is let'om!”--this usually happened at the end of the night just before the bartender switched on the ugly, hyper-bright fluorescent lights and yelled, “Okay! Okay! Everybody out!” I wonder if Lyle was related to Strauss in any way? Stravinsky also first met Schoenberg during this time. Igor listened to a performance of “Pierrot Lunaire,” and thought it was merely trying to be “new.” But at the same time, he also said the orchestration and writing were obviously masterly. As we all know, Stravinsky would later change his mind and adopt much of Schoenberg's particular approach to dodecaphony, in his own manner, of course. Stravinsky's serial period was later, and is not covered in this book.


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Richard Strauss: Task Master and Composer of Punishments!


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“A horrible little man!” Don Ray, who was one of my composition teachers (UCLA), told me this. Don was taught by Schoenberg himself at UCLA. Don was a music supervisor at CBS TV, and a great teacher.


Again, I must stress that Stravinsky was a busy bastard from when he first conceptualized “Sacre,” up until its first, “nightmarish” performance. About that first performance of “Sacre”: Stravinsky left the audience in the auditorium during the first few minutes of the opening.


“As for the actual performance, I am not in a position to judge, as I left the auditorium at the first bars of the prelude, which had at once evoked derisive laughter.”


Then Stravinsky went backstage and watched everything unravel. There were demonstrations and counter-demonstrations which developed into total pandemonium in the audience.


“I had to hold Nijinsky by his clothes, for he was furious, and ready to dash on to the stage and create a scandal. Diaghilev kept ordering the electricians to turn the lights on or off, hoping in that way to stop the noise.”


Heh, heh. I'm reminded of the bartender that turned on the bright, magnesium-like light overhead the barflies in the dark.


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Stravinsky and Nijinsky: A Much Romanticized Relationship


There was no mention of Stravinsky having to exit the building out a back window. That story seems to be nothing but a myth—as far as this book is concerned, that is. But. But! BUT! Stravinsky then goes on for several paragraphs about how it’s impossible to remember clearly what happened twenty ago. But. But! BUT! In the very next breath, he describes in detail the performance of his opera, “Le Rossignol”—which was put on with, “the utmost perfection,” just some months after “Sacre”! So, somethin' ain't addin' up. And then he goes on to describe the next twenty years in great detail! So, again, somethin' ain't addin' up. A year later, “Sacre” was performed in Paris with great success. And the critics did a one-eighty, also. Funny that Stravinsky never mentions any critics of the performance that happened a year prior to Paris.


It was around this time that Stravinsky composed his only string quartet. (Man, is that piece GREAT!) And as he was traveling away from Russia, in route to Warsaw, via train, World War I began.


“My profound emotion on reading the news of war, which aroused patriotic feelings and a sense of sadness at being so distant from my country, found some alleviation in the delight with which I steeped myself in Russian folk poems.”


With Stravinsky's introduction of poetry, in this book, he starts a rather unusual diatribe about music lacking the ability to “express anything at all, whether a feeling, and attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc….'Expression' has never been an inherent property of music. That is by no means the purpose of its existence. If, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion and not a reality.” Holy scheiße! That's quite a shocking bit of thinking, especially considering the fact that its being uttered by one of the best composers of music ever to exist on earth! He believed that music brought the listener to the “now.“ He agreed with Goethe who said “architecture is petrified music.“ Once music is constructed, like a building, “there is nothing more to be said.“ This is one of those kooky contradictions when artists take to rambling on and wax poetic.


This goes back to his anti-Wagner, anti-Romantic thoughts. It is a valid position in a way, but there are no scientific-like “laws,” when it comes to music. (However, music is being studied scientifically in a s-load of ways.) Stravinsky goes out of his way to say that these thoughts only scratch the surface of his reflections on the subject. It's funny, because Schoenberg, who's always been thought of as a radical in comparison to Stravinsky, loved everything about Romantic Music. He even said, “No one should study my music, they should study Brahms!” Yet Stravinsky gets no “hate” and Schoenberg gets all the hate from modern-day Romantic Music fan-boys. Again, I never learned this stuff in any music school. Anyway, Stravinsky's anti-Romantic sentiment is all well, but Igor was a super-fan of Tchaikovsky and especially Glinka. All these chaps ever did was mimic the Romantic composers. Again, somethin' doesn't add up. Perhaps he'll clear all this up a bit in his book, “Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons,” which is coming up on my reading list.


During this this period, Stravinsky experimented with composing for the pianola/player piano. He was searching for ways to get “exact” performances of his music. The pianola piece itself, “Madrid,” was later orchestrated by Stravinsky. The ultimate master of player piano music was Conlon Nancarrow (1912 – 1971). Stravinsky was 60 when Nancarrow was 30, so I don't know if Stravinsky ever heard of Nancarrow, much less, heard his music. Nancarrow didn't really start to catch on until the 1980's. Both of these composers would have loved the technology of today, but, no doubt, they would have to have put up with their music being called too “mechanical”—even though these same people praise the absolute mechanical performances of Nancarrow's player piano pieces. Ugh, the “Trendoids.”


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Pianola Music Machine


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Nancarrow: Incredible Bad-Ass!


At the end of 1917 Stravinsky was 35-years-old (The age Mozart died), was strapped for cash, and estranged from the newly communist Russia. So, like all composers in the 20th-Century, he had to beg for jobs, or, had to start, in some ways, anew. During this time Stravinsky worked on a “show” made up of a collection of Russian tales. Due to budget restraints, he had write the music for piano alone, instead of any type of orchestra. Many years later, John Cage, because of low buck flowage, would have to do something similar. Hence, his “prepared piano” was created (c. 1938). Stravinsky thought about using a harmonium. However, being that the harmonium had the same dynamic poverty of a heavy metal band, only in reverse, he decided against it. But in the end, Stravinsky decided to use a very stripped-down orchestration rather than the piano. One of the main reasons was that he believed using the piano alone would reveal the low budget of the performance. He was keeping up appearances, so to speak. He ended up using violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, and percussion. This setup inspired his “L'Histoirie d'un Soldat” of 1918.


Interestingly, Stravinsky thought that music history, composition, et al., should be taught “backwards.” That is, teach the new first and trace back to the beginning. I think this is a good idea. I was attracted to classical music via Humphrey Searle, John Cage, Charles Ives, and Arnold Schoenberg. Humphrey Searle composed the soundtrack for the 1963 movie, “The Haunting.” Amazingly, Searle studied with Anton Webern for a bit, who, in turn studied with Schoenberg! So, I inadvertently got into 12-Tone music when I was around 9-years-old! Even when I was a total teen-sensation-wannabe rocker, I really loved movie soundtracks; horror and science fiction movies, TV, Spaghetti Westerns, and James Bond. Movie music covers the whole of “classical” music—from Gregorian chant – to Bach – to Mozart – to Beethoven – to Liszt – to Stravinsky – to Schoenberg – to electronic. I had a lot of vinyl soundtrack LPs. So, I think Stravinsky makes a great point—especially considering that he believed this “backwards” route would lead to a better appreciation of modern music.


Stravinsky got a bit into jazz around this time. His “Ragtime” for eleven instruments is quite delightful, but it's barely jazz. More accurately, it a fusion piece with a dash of jazz concepts within it. But it's still a lovely little piece.


Stravinsky was very pleased with the production and performance of his ballet, “Pulcinella.” The sets were designed by Picasso. Stravinsky admired and appreciated Picasso tremendously. It was at this time, that Stravinsky and his family settled in France. “[France] had become my second motherland.”


Stravinsky was not into nationalism, which he likened to making music a religion. Tchaikovsky was also not a fan of nationalistic music, which is why he wasn't considered to be part of “The Five/The Balakirev Circle/The New Russian School/The Mighty Handful.” This is probably one of the reasons Stravinsky loved Tchaikovsky so much. In 1921, Stravinsky wrote some arrangements of Tchaikovsky's “Sleeping Beauty” (Shakespeare, anyone?) for the Ballets Russes. He did this not only because of a deep appreciation of Tchaikovsky's music, but because of his love for classical dancing.


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Picasso! Taking a well-deserved break from the laborious task of abusing his wife.


“In classical dancing, I see the triumph of studied conception over vagueness, of the rule over the arbitrary, of order over the haphazard. I am thus brought face to face with the eternal conflict in art between the Apollonian and the Dionysian principles. The latter assumes ecstasy to be the final goal—that is to say, the losing oneself—whereas art demands above all the full consciousness of the artist. There can, therefore, be no doubt as to my choice between the two. And if I appreciate so highly the value of classical ballet, it is not simply a matter of taste on my part, but because I see exactly in it the perfect expression of the Apollonian principle.” Heh, no wonder his jazz is “jazz.”


While Stravinsky was working on “Mavra,” a one-act opera buffa (c. 1921), he became connected with the Pleyel Company, yet another mechanical piano outfit.


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Pleyel Piano


“My interest in the work was twofold, In order to prevent the distortion of my compositions by future interpreters, I had always had been anxious to find a means of imposing some restriction on the notorious liberty, especially widespread today, which prevents the public from obtaining a correct idea of the author's intentions.”


Igor even tried writing mechanical piano pieces to be performed with a live orchestra. But he said it was a clusterfuck that conductors and musicians couldn't (or wouldn't) deal with. Good thing there are composers around to “crack-the-whip” on these dusty old, stuck-in-a-rut curmudgeons. We'd be stuck with Gregorian Chant if composers—aka, the original music fanatics—didn't come into play.


“This possibility was now afforded by the rolls of the mechanical piano, and, a little later, by gramophone records.”


Stravinsky didn't have the vision of Nancarrow, and decided, ultimately, to go with recordings. It was in this format that he could, and did, conduct his pieces and preserve his intentions for future musicians to reference. Stravinsky was very proud of his recordings. However, he knew that probably no conductors would use them as guide to performance. He knew the egos would never allow it. Now these are GREAT recordings that every Stravinsky fan should have. But, there are some other interpretations out there that are kick-ass, as well. Herbert von Karajan, Seiji Ozawa, and Georg Solti are a few I'm amazed at.


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Grandpa Stravinsky Conducting


Stravinsky was always bothered by music having to have a “middle-man” of sorts.


“[I] envy the lot of painters, sculptors, and writers, who communicate directly with their public without having recourse to intermediaries.”


Now, not too long ago, in this review, Stravinsky was agreeing with Goethe that music was like petrified stone. And here he says that it's always changing because of various interpretations. Hey, he's a musician—close enough. Heh, heh. My opinion? Music is no different from any other art. Every time I see a Giacometti sculpture, I see something “different.” So, there ya go.


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“The terror of emptiness!” Sartre on Giacometti


Stravinsky really hated the “conservative” movement—that Mozart, et al—were the only “worthy” composers.


“It alienated me from Beethoven for many years.” Holy crapulous, Batman!


That's saying something, because Stravinsky LOVED him some Beethoven!


Stravinsky's first tour of the United States was in 1925. He worked with several notables during that time including Koussevitzky and Fritz Reiner.


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A friend of mine (Kevin) drew this picture under a Fritz Reiner album while we were in a university audio lab preparing for a listening exam. We couldn't stop laughing. Not much got done that day.


In and around 1934, Stravinsky was hanging out in Britain. He was really impressed with the musicians of England. One musician he was particularly impressed by was a guy named Sir Henry Wood. I had to include this because that name cracks me up.


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Sir Henry Wood, thrashing an orchestra with his giant baton!


Now, Stravinsky was totally pro-technology, but he thought that it had its downsides, as well. He feared that radio and recordings made people “lazy.” He believed recordings were an “ersatz” of the original, “live” music.


“The danger lies in the very fact that there is always a far greater consumption of the 'ersatz,' which, it must be remembered, is far from being identical with its model. The continuous habit of listening to changed and sometime distorted, timbers spoils the ear, so that it gradually loses all capacity for enjoying natural musical sounds.”


This is an ongoing “argument” that only gets more complicated and that'll probably never be resolved. So much for the V–I cadence, eh?


Stravinsky didn't like “unintellectual” listening. If that sounds elitist, it really isn't.


“Obviously such an attitude presupposes a certain degree of musical development and intellectual culture, but that is not a very difficult of attainment.” I emphasized that last bit.


He wasn't very optimistic when it came to music education, either.


“Unfortunately, the teaching of music, with a few exceptions, is bad from the beginning. One has only to think of all the sentimental twaddle so often talked about Chopin, Beethoven, and even about Bach—and that in schools for the training of professional musicians! Those tedious commentaries on the side issues of music not only do not facilitate its understanding, but, on the contrary, are a serious obstacle which prevents the understanding of its essence and substance.”


When Stravinsky was writing his violin concerto, he consulted another, perhaps even greater orchestrator, Paul Hindemith!


“Before beginning the work I consulted Hindemith, who is a perfect violinist. I asked him whether the fact that I did not play the violin would make itself felt in my composition. Not only did he allay my doubts, but he went further and told me that it would be a very good thing, as it would make me avoid a routine technique, and would give rise to ideas which would not be suggested by the familiar movement of the fingers.”


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I'm amazed by this interaction. Stravinsky, the guy who composed “The Rite of Spring,” was so open minded as to bounce ideas off other master composers. His humbleness is amazing. And Hindemith's down-to-earth advice is as impressive, as well.


“At the beginning of my career as a composer I was a good deal spoiled by the public. Even such things as were at first received with hostility were soon afterwards [sic] acclaimed.”


But Stravinsky goes on to explain that he was expected to write compositions in the style of “The Rite of Spring,” et al. But Stravinsky was through with writing for giant orchestras.


“What moves and delights me leaves them indifferent, and what still continues to interest them holds no further attraction for me.”


Now that makes perfect sense to me. But he goes on to say:


“For that matter, I believe that there was seldom any communion of spirit between us. Unfortunately, perfect communion is rare, and the more the personality of the author is revealed the rarer that becomes.”


Contrarily, that is foggy, and kind of useless.


“It is very doubtful whether Rimsky-Korsakov would ever have accepted 'Le Sacre,' or even 'Petroushka.' Is it any wonder, then, that the hypercritics of today should be dumbfounded by a language in which all the characteristics of their aesthetic seem to be violated?”


So, we arrive at 1934, the end of the period covered in this book. And Stravinsky ends on a rather Buddhist-like note:


“I live neither in the past nor in the future. I am in the present. I cannot know what tomorrow will bring forth. I can know only what the truth is for me today. That is what I am called upon to serve.”


“I can only know what the truth is for me today. That is what I am called upon to serve, and I serve it in all lucidity.”


And with that little final quip-thingy, you can forgo the painful experience of reading an English translation of Herman Hesse's “Siddhartha.” Ugh. He-he-he.


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Stravinsky not only kicked ass, but got HIS ass kicked too! But this happened in his U.S. of A. days—not covered in this book.