• Email
  • Single Page
  • Print

Igor Stravinsky: Obiter Dicta

[1919] A true creator should not lose his time discoursing about the tendencies and consequences of his art….1 [1926] And I do not want to be a critic. I am in the world to create my own way….2

[1937] We do not know about the future. The future does not exist; it is something that will exist. One supposes it will exist. What will exist? The music that has always existed will always exist. If you ask me about the music of the future, I cannot say because this is music that does not yet exist….3 [1929] As for the past, I prefer to refrain from pronouncing on that, since it no longer exists. And I try to abstain from speaking of the present, not being certain of the justice of my judgments, since I am in them myself.4

[1926] What is “modern”? Who is modern? No doubt everyone now living and working considers himself modern. Of course, there are some who live with yesterday’s wigs on their heads. Yet they are exceptions. Most of us try to give, or to contribute, something fresh and new, man always being under the influence of growth…. In France one speaks of a “Compositeur de la musique,” which seems quite enough. In my passport, I have purposely put “inventor and composer of music” as my occupation. Thus a composer is not only an architect but also an inventor, and he should not build houses in which he cannot live. I fear that many such houses are being built today. After all, anybody can compose, and if one is even slightly talented, the absence of the “inventor” may be overlooked.5

[1948] The workmanship was much better in Bach’s time than it is now. One had first to be a craftsman. Now we have only “talent.” We do not have the absorption in detail, the burying of oneself [in craftsmanship] to be resurrected a great musician.6

[1936] There are different ways of loving and of “appreciating” music. One of them…I would call selfish love, that which asks music for general emotions such as joy, sorrow, the subjects of dreams…. But why not love music for itself? Why not love it as one loves a painting—for the good qualities of the painting, the design, the composition? Why not give music a value in itself, independent of sentiments and images?…Music does not need an adjuvant…. Nothing is more difficult to talk about than music, and the moment one leaves the ground of its technique, one plunges into a wave where one founders [“on plonge dans le vague et on divague“]. Robert Schumann, than whom few can have thought more deeply on the subject, concluded by declaring that in music nothing can be “proven.”7

[1926] That which is unnatural in form can be mystifying, which is the reason why one stands with some respect before those skyscrapers whose entrances are on the roof and whose tops are on the street. But such structures cannot have lasting value. The machine-man is possible, of course, but only where there is no soul. Besides, he would be interesting only for a very short time.8

[1936]…Style is not a framework into which the…work is inserted, but the work itself. Form is not a means to an end…but creation itself…. Human work is conceivable only in form…. The Russian word stroi, loosely translated as “agreement” [expresses what I mean]; we need a working “agreement” between ourselves and the surrounding chaos…. When I compose, a great number of musical combinations occur to me. I have to choose and to select. But what standards should I use? Simply that only one form pleases me and the others do not….9

[1937] It is harder to be a composer than anything else in the world today, first because of the many noises which one must hear and guard against. The streets, the neighbors, the radios—even when the radio is turned off, the vibrations that I know are going on everywhere, waiting to be released in…malevolent sounds from that little box, have the power to disturb. But it has always been difficult to be a composer. A doctor confirmed for me that inside one’s ears are the instruments for balancing the whole body. One tiny muscle there is drawn tightly all the time with the effort to receive and transmit the sensations made by the music I am hearing in my mind, together with the impressions or interruptions from the outside, and this affects the whole nervous system. Sometimes I have staggered when I got up to walk about after a long period of concentration on composition.10

[1953] When music is not so noisy we feel better, our nerves are better, our nostrils feel better. At home I compose on an…upright piano, muted, covered with felt; then I hear everything. I can enjoy….11

[1939]…even when I do not feel like work, I sit down to it just the same. I cannot wait for inspiration, and inspiration at best is a force brought into action by effort…. Understanding is given only to those who make the active effort, and listening is not enough.12

[1926] When I start a work, an idea from inside has taken me, and, when starting, I may see the end or the middle but not the beginning. That has always to be found, has to be developed in the spirit of the composition, that discovery of the correct entrance to a piece.13

[1946] I wish people would let me have the privilege of being a little bit unconscious. It is so nice sometimes to go blind, just with the feeling for the right thing.14

[1928] The idea of the Concerto was not spontaneous…which is to say that at the beginning of the composition I did not see that it would take the form of a Concerto for piano and orchestra. Only gradually, while already composing, did I understand that the musical material could be used to most advantage in the piano, whose neat, clear sonority and polyphonic resources suited the dryness and neatness which I was seeking in the structure of the music I had composed…. I never said that my Concerto was written in the style of the seventeenth century. I did say that, while composing it, I encountered some of the same problems as the musicians of the seventeenth century, and also Bach. What are these problems? They are purely technical and refer to the form: how to build with the musical material that comes from my brain—themes, melodies, rhythms—everything that has power in a spirit dedicated to musical creation…. Beethoven had other problems, and you can readily see that those of my Concerto have nothing in common with his, just as Philippe de Champaigne had nothing in common with Delacroix.15

[1925] I was born under Das Wohl-temperiertes Clavier, and I write in the well-tempered scale. I have heard some of these experiments, Alois Haba and the rest. It seems to be like ordinary music just a little false—Es klingt falsch—all they succeed in writing is quarter-tone Brahms.16 [1930] I hear only in half-tones. Quarter-tones sound to me like portamentos, or glissandos between [half-tones]….17 [1937] Once when I was calling on Hindemith in Berlin he invited me to inspect a quarter-tone piano. It was an instrument that had been specially constructed in Berlin. It looked like any other piano, but with two keyboards—two floors…. Each half-tone had its division into halves; the first division on the upper floor, the other on the lower. After a few minutes I had no difficulty in thinking in quarter-tones, since it’s the same thing: turn everything into quarter-tones and you have the identical thing.

As soon as you had got accustomed to the quarter-tones and comprehended what they are capable of, you found it was a construction that had always existed in your head…. Through quarter-tones we are richer in the number of notes. But being richer in notes we are not richer in any other respect. We are enriched only unilaterally…. It is true that the Orientals have the small intervals…but we are not Orientals. Our music stems from the Greeks, and it is not easy to make over an educational system that has lasted for thousands of years. We would have to be made over ourselves…. The Oriental is attached to the symbol, the religious idea; he is concerned with the symbol of thought. To the Oriental, each melody must have a significance before he can accept it. So long as the melody presents the symbol, though in their procedure it presents nothing harmonically, the Oriental approves of it….18

[1926]…Atonality, polytonality, those do not concern me, and in fact I think that polytonality is nonsense; I have not been able to find anyone who could perpetuate this principle…. But nothing should be done according to theory.19

[1930] The sixth, mi-sol-do, is not at all the “inversion” of the fifth, do-mi-sol, but an entirely new chord with its own character and expressive construction: a third becomes a fourth…. Beethoven and the other old masters understood the character of the sixth perfectly clearly, of course, but the great art of a Palestrina in changing chords by suppressing and doubling notes has fallen into decline…. Composition was governed by merciless laws then, nevertheless they cultivated a taste that enabled people to distinguish good from bad. 20

[1930] Instrumentation? One instrumentates first and orchestrates afterward, arriving at mixtures of colors…. But what interests me is this: to place the music in the instruments. Each instrument must receive the music for which it has the best voice….21 [1925] But I don’t care if you count out tone color altogether and simply give me a piano. Cannot everything be said on the piano that needs to be?22

[1950]…I had to go through an extensive overhauling of whole sections of [the] piano reduction [of The Rake’s Progress]. My idea in doing this has been not only to give the piano reduction a better pianistic [style] but also and mainly to bring it acoustically closer to my original orchestra score…. Don’t waste your time in putting in instrumental indications as they only make the score harder to read. Besides, with my music, one cannot have the right idea by reading a vocal score where the instrumentation is given only piecemeal….23

[1928] Every revolution presupposes a doctrine. I had none when I was composing Le Sacre du printemps. I simply wanted to speak my own language, which might seem new, and, at first, incomprehensible, since it was contrary to certain rules, customs, and especially certain clichés. For me this new language was perfectly natural, but to others it seemed revolutionary….24

[1921]…in my stage works…I have always endeavored to find an architectural basis of connection. I produce music itself. Whenever music itself is not the aim, music suffers…. I have never made applied music of any kind. Even in the early days in The Firebird I was concerned with a purely musical construction.25

  1. 1

    Letter to Jacques Rivière, April 1919 (French).

  2. 2

    Neues Wiener Journal, March 17, 1926.

  3. 3

    New York World Telegram, January 23, 1937.

  4. 4

    Letter to Edwin Evans, December 13, 1929 (French).

  5. 5

    Neues Wiener Journal, March 17, 1926.

  6. 6

    Time magazine, July 26, 1948.

  7. 7

    Radio-Paris, March 23, 1936.

  8. 8

    Neues Wiener Journal, March 17, 1926.

  9. 9

    Beaux Arts, Paris, February 28, 1936.

  10. 10

    Musical America, January 10, 1937.

  11. 11

    Esquire, December 1953.

  12. 12

    Unidentified Boston newspaper.

  13. 13

    Neues Wiener Journal, March 17, 1926.

  14. 14

    Modern Music, summer 1946.

  15. 15

    Unpublished MS (French).

  16. 16

    Musical America, January 10, 1925.

  17. 17

    Praguer Presse, February 23, 1930.

  18. 18

    New York World Telegram, November 23, 1937.

  19. 19

    Neues Wiener Journal, March 17, 1926.

  20. 20

    Lidové Noviny, February 25, 1930 (Czech).

  21. 21

    Lidové Noviny, February 25, 1930 (Czech).

  22. 22

    Christian Science Monitor, January 7, 1925.

  23. 23

    Letter to Erwin Stein, October 16, 1950 (English).

  24. 24

    Journal de Genève, December 1928.

  25. 25

    The Observer, London, July 3, 1921.

  • Email
  • Single Page
  • Print