Stravinsky on the Musical Scene and Other Matters

Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky; drawing by David Levine

Where is any certain tune or measured music in notes such as these?

—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

N.Y.R.: Did you fly in from California, Mr. Stravinsky? How was it?

I.S.: If you mean Los Angeles, as sunless as a mushroom farm; if the flight, well, at least the muzak is no longer compulsory (speaking as one who prefers the aching void). But I will not complain about airplanes. I am unable to walk around the block any more, yet I can zoom around the world. There was some “turbulence,” though, which interfered with the inflight movie (a comedy that was no laughing matter) and the pilot made an announcement that has stuck in my mind ever since. He said that the IBM flight plan for the day had chosen 33,000 feet as the favored altitude, but in his opinion we should be higher. This unexpected and touchingly obsolete criticism of computer authority shocked me, I confess, and I sincerely hope that the relationships of men and their computerology (and, conversely, the computerology of men and their relationships) become more trusting in time. Part of my shock may also have come from the contrast inherent in the fact of a computerized flight control and my memories of the Homeric air age of Saint-Exupéry, who was guided at times by little more than his own apprehensions. But the principal part was due to the circumstance that in my own work I regard my feelings as more reliable than my calculations.

N.Y.R.: Would you explain the distinction, Mr. Stravinsky?

I.S.: It was an empty one, I suppose; and in any case it is as impossible to draw sharp lines between verbal concepts of this sort as it is to draw them between analytical and empirical truths, or between learned and innate behavior. Our calculations and our feelings overlap and they may even be congruent. I will persist, nevertheless, and say that I trust my musical glands above the foolproofing of my musical flight charts, though I realize that the flight charts are formed in part by these same glands; and add that I think the tendency which seeks to attribute every factor in a musical composition to a punch-card master plan could constrict the “free” options of the ear. If, however, I assert that the present supreme authority of mathematics in the arts is the result of a deep-rooted modern superstition, that is mere ipse dixit talk: It says something only about myself. And, please forgive me, now, at my age that is the kind of talk I prefer. For one thing, I do not have to use so many escape words, and for another, the subject—myself—is closer to home.

N.Y.R.: You have criticized option-of-the-moment arguments in the past, Mr. Stravinsky. Are you hinting at a reopening of the doors?

I.S.: I have criticized them not in composition but in performance—though that will be…

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